I was on vacation this past week, home just this minute. We went to Newport, RI, which I'd never seen before. There was lots of walking along the ocean, a tour of a “cottage,” and some nice meals. A colonial-era church one day (Trinity); a colonial-era synagogue (Tuoro) the next. A trip to a cool museum in Providence. We saw Doris Duke's summer home (mansion), Rough Point, and it had topiary camels (below)! Real low drag, but high interest, which was absolutely called for.
Take it from me: relaxing take practice. It demands discipline. My agent, Josh Getzler, discussed this idea (here), and he's right. I'm still learning this lesson, that's why I'm sharing it with you.
A decade or two ago, we were lucky enough to go to Moorea, French Polynesia. We stayed in a thatched hut over the water. Seriously. Nothing to do but lie around and...read. Doze. Swim. We took two tours of the island (one by four-by-four, one on a 33-meter yacht—which they let me steer; I was pretty good!), a sandbar picnic. That's it. For two weeks. It sounds great, and it was, but there was a learning curve.
We both were used to email and 24-hour news cycles (this trip was pre-Internet, and pre-digital camera), lots of writing and researching in our work, lots of stimulus. But at our hotel there was a television only in the lobby, mostly tuned to French-language cartoons for the owners' kids, and a payphone. In our room, there was no television, no phone, no radio, no air-conditioning, no computer. No CLOCKS.
The first two days were great—we were getting over jetlag and about twenty-two hours of flying. Days three and four, however, we started jonesing for more outside input. It was weird, with actual pacing and muttering. We should be DOING something—but what? There should be more information coming in, but we could only hear the surf and the chickens and palm trees. The very rare jeep or moped, way out on the road.
Two more days until we figured it out. We had to give in. We'd each pick out a book and settle down to read. Napping, with the occasional swim. Feeding the fish off the lanai with fragments of that morning's croissant. The power would go off periodically, but they had a generator in the bar (genius!). Cocktail hour started when you heard drums across the lagoon. Disturbing the first time (“cannibals!”), it became a delight, one of our only time markers besides sunrise and sunset.
By the end of the second week, I swore they'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to get me off the island. Mr. G (my husband, not my agent) only convinced me to leave by saying the cats would pine. Changing planes in California was a shock: Noise! People! Busy-ness! Someone asked me what time it was; I said, quite honestly, I had no idea what day it was.
There was a great lesson there: SURRENDER, DOROTHY!
I've worked through vacations before, and I'll try my very best never, ever to do it again. I told myself I could handle it, that I'll just do a little, but even taking notes on a manuscript on a beach changes the whole tenor of the time. It's not a break, until you commit to changing your headspace, just a little. Cut down on screen time, cut down or eliminate email and web-surfing. Go see something that has nothing to do with your usual routine. Turn off the news.
At other times, we've spent our vacation time at home, but we've learned to be very jealous of it and worked hard (yes, it's a paradox) to keep it vacation-y. No work. Scheduled outings to museums or hikes. Preparing special meals or going out. Donuts instead of oatmeal. Easy on the computers. It can be done.
My advice to you: recharge those batteries when you can, at home or away. You'll be happier when you have to go back to work and your head is full of new ideas and clear of cobwebs.
P.S. I learned Monday my Anna Hoyt colonial noir story "Disarming," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, was nominated for an Anthony. Yesterday, I learned it was also up for a Macavity award; I've linked so you can find the complete slate of nominees. This has been an astonishing week, and I'd like to thank EVERYONE for their support and these honors! See you at Bouchercon in October!