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Michael Bettencourt

The Thing About Vacations

Over Christmas and New Year's in 2014 I was in Argentina with the Marvelous María Beatriz visiting family.  As always, traveling is a mixed effort for me, since I enjoy the comforts of being planted yet also like disrupting the usual.  Once I'm out, I'm okay – getting me out can take a bit of effort.


This is because I am not a big believer in the enlarging effects of travel.  I don't think skimming through places while on vacation enlarges much of anything except one's expenses, if we mean by "enlarge" to broaden and deepen one's sense of being a world citizen, not parochial or tribal, more accepting of difference and protective of liberty, less ideologically hardened.


What travel does for most of us is allow us to indulge in things we don't allow ourselves during our harnessed and obligated daily lives.  In this sense, travel does enlarge our appetites, both literal and emotional, and for the moment we can feel liberated. Well, liberated in a certain way, the way the rich must feel liberated by their wealth, where things are done because they are wanted to be done and one has a sense of possibilities without interference.  If only we could live our lives in the daily run the way we live them on vacation. (But then it wouldn't be vacation, would it, but just life, from which we'd need a vacation….)


I do like how being on a vacation does offer some relief from my "I" by requiring me to pay attention and improvise, especially when there is a language involved that is not my own and I have to expend energy to follow (really, half-follow, quarter-follow) what is going on around me. One attains humility through exhaustion, an excellent way to reduce the ego and damp down the scrum of brain chatter I often mistake for thinking.


Of course, for most of us, vacations are tied to work – it's the sop the job gives us because the organization knows that it can't squeeze maximum productivity out of a work-force without giving it a little rest and detachment (though that latter is getting more and more limited, since being connected is supposed to take precedence over being out of the office – you are supposed to sacrifice a bit of your own time for the good of the company without being compensated for it – the return of indentured servitude, though much milder).


So off we go to increase the GDP by spending money we mostly don't have to live life liberally, only to have to come back to the harness and lose all of the benefits of the living large.


This is why I almost choose each year to not take vacation days, since they're just a cheat, a left-handed gift (like casual Fridays), and by not using the days I make a choice, however stupid and adolescent, to live my life by my own rules.  I usually end up taking some vacation days just to "vacate" the office (after all, is that not the root meaning of the word?) and shovel out the accumulated nonsense.


What is very disturbing to me is that the wealth created by all the increases in productivity has been stolen from the people who have made the increase possible.  The 40-hour week, the "job," the work ethic – we are still nailed to these concepts long after they should have been retired, and our time on this earth is still being sucked dry by ancient forces dedicated to control and exploitation.  If we had a proper allocation of wealth, we wouldn't need the sop of vacations.


There can be a fair amount of self-blame here – "If only I'd played the game better, I'd have made more money and freed myself from the chains."  And that's true – I could have gone that way, probably should have gone that way. Rather than teach people that a work ethic is good in and of itself for the health of our character and souls, we should teach children that the real game in town is to make as much money as you can legally so that you no longer have to work for anyone else – everything should be aimed at getting people to retire as early as possible and escape the exploitation.  This doesn't necessarily mean that everyone becomes "retired" – a lot of people will actually go to work because they love what they do, and can love it even more because they don't have to do it for money.  Others won't ever go to the office again (count me in for that!) 


Of course this won't happen without bodies hitting the barricades, but it's refreshing to think about an alternative to the crappy set-up we have to live under today.


At lunch on Friday, January 2, at the house of our friend María Celia and Ernesto, the group conversation turned to morals, decadence, faith (there were two former nuns and a current priest in the house).  I followed as best I could, and then eventually threw out a question meant to shift their tone of resignation and dismay at living in such a fallen world: if all their concerns could be met and the world re-assembled to their satisfaction, what would that world be and (more important to me), what would each of them be willing to do to make that world possible?


The question slid to the side for a little while, but then María Celia brought it up again, and she said that for her it's all about creating a world of love, and I added in that I agreed, which leads us to the strange questions of what would a politics of love look like, an economics of love look like. A little more conversation about this, then some lightness with more champagne, and the group photo, and the afternoon was done.


But, yes, the questions still stand: what would a politics and economics of love be like?  How would the world be re-shaped if everything were re-directed to promote the welfare of women and children (because if the world is safe for them, it'll be safe for everyone)?


Would we need vacations, then?  Of course.  But then we might just call them "continuations" instead of "vacations."  We might just call it being alive.

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Michael Bettencourt is a playwright and essayist.
He also writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
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Scene4 Magazine: Perspectives - Audio | Theatre Thoughts  | Michael Bettencourt September 2014 |




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