The Vacation Breakdown

I’m here:

It’s a vacation, and I’m taking it. Finally.

My ability to shift into low gear is hampered by my brain’s inability to stop circling around tasks and projects like a ravenous dog. I create them because I’m deathly afraid of boredom, so for the first few days of this beautiful Colorado vacation I was still in busywork mode. On Day Four I dumped the vacation tasks and projects. I decided to read books, take walks, enjoy naps, and sit on our patio table and have conversations. These are good things, and while they don’t allow me to point to tangible accomplishments (although I can list for you the books I’ve completed, but I won’t) they just might be doing me some good.

I used to think that boredom was a sin, but now I view it as an art. If you can do it without having a nervous breakdown, you’re getting somewhere. I’m viewing my boredom as a good thing – a kind of vacation breakdown. There is a rhythm to our days: lazy mornings of nothing, hiking, nothing, dinner and an evening walk, nothing. Now that our vacation is halfway through, I’ve stopped dreading the “nothing” segments of our day. Am I welcoming them? Maybe. I’m in the midst of one right now, so I really shouldn’t drag out this blog post. I’m going to upload a few photos and hop off. I have something else that I need to be doing right now. Nothing.

The Waves Break: My Deal With the Beach

For no good reason that I can think of, I’ve never been a beach person. There is no beach trauma in my childhood. I’m not afraid of water. I like catching rays. There is no explanation for my ambivalence, and I end up sounding snooty when I try to be honest and say, “There just isn’t that much to do.”

I realize this is a problem.

The other night, we were talking with a couple friend and the husband agreed with me, but he couldn’t really explain it either.

“It’s nice for a while-”

“-and then you have to go find something to do.” I finished his sentence for him and our spouses looked as us with pity as we nodded at one another.

do know how to relax. I’m just particular about where I do it.

But for the next couple of days, we’re at the beach. Alison has never been to the beach (she’s been to Galveston but she isn’t sure that counts) and she’s giddy and goofy with excitement. We ate dinner at a beachfront restaurant last night, and she was very patient until the meal was over. Then, finally, for the first time in her life, she was able to run on the beach with the sand between her toes and the waves breaking a few feet from her while she dashed in and out of the water. She’s been begging to visit the beach since she was six (she’s 11 now, poor kid) and I’m certain this is the fantasy picture she’s conjured up in her head. Last night, she was living the fantasy. And I was trying to plan how I was going to spend my time today when we were at the beach. I began to think about taking a journal and a pen, a paperback book (had to go buy one since I only packed my IPad), my phone for emailing. All of that  would probably only last me about an hour. And then it hit me: what about playing in the ocean?

How exactly, does one go about playing in the ocean? The first that comes to mind is that the water is really cold. I’m not into that. Also, those waves can be brutal. While we were eating our seafood dinner last night, I watched two men working their surfboards and they were having a rough time of it. I wasn’t eager to enter those waters.

Again, I realize this is a problem.

For those of you who are really into the beach, there’s no judging here. In fact, I’m a little envious. So how did it end up today? I took my purchased book, my phone, journal and pen and found an empty chaise lounge. The waves crashed noisily and then quieted to a whisper over and over again. It was beautiful. I never cracked the book and left the journal and pen in the bag. I did flip around on my phone for a while, but mostly, I watched this:

I discovered the secret to the beach – at least for me: a husband who loves it. This may be a wimpy way out of it, but it worked well for the three of us. Kyle taught Alison how to dive into the breaking waves, and I found something wonderful to do on the beach all afternoon. Am I beach person yet? Probably not, but I’m leaving the book, the journal, and pen back in the hotel tomorrow. I’ll take the phone though. You never know when I great photo opportunity might come along.

Road Trips, Starbursts, and Ram: A Technology Crisis

At the risk of redundancy, I’m writing again about technology. My last post (too many days ago) was about my father’s typewriter, which he believed was great technology. This post is about my own devices, the greatness of which I’m beginning to doubt.

Five days ago, my laptop had an accident that resulted in a busted screen. This produced an interesting right angle starburst effect that made me want to weep. The laptop is awaiting repair but unusable until the part comes in, which the Apple guy said would be “Friday-ish.” It’s Sunday, so he knew what he was talking about. The day before this tragedy I lost my cell phone for a day, then found it. It was rough. Now, the good folks at Apple tell me that I can’t upgrade the operating system on my desktop computer (which is my backup computer) because it doesn’t have enough mojo. I can’t afford more ram, however, because I have to pay for the busted screen on the laptop. Woe is me. I’m writing this on my IPad, which has so far escaped the week of technology disasters. But the Pad is jittery, sensing that perhaps its number is coming up.

Only last week, I confessed to a group of friends that perhaps my dependency on my devices was becoming a bit obsessive. This is a tired, familiar story. Everyone seems to be lamenting their phones, and pads, and laptop love. And we’re remembering (fondly?) the days when we communicated by letters and phones with cords. But our laments are insincere. No one wants to go back to those days, including me.

But I do want some balance. Some moderation. Perspective, perhaps?

Last night, as I was telling my oldest daughter to be sure and text me from her camping trip,  I was mentally reminding myself to charge my son with the same task. I want him to text me from the road trip he is going on, and then from the beach once he gets there. Really? Is that necessary? I think so. And they won’t mind because it’s easy. Just a quick text to say, “We’re all awake in the van,” or “We made it here safely.”

In 1987, I drove to Virginia to begin graduate school. I was on my own in a strange city for the first time, which was both exhilarating and frightening. The latter emotion won out when someone tried to enter my apartment four days after I moved in. I was home, listening to the doorknob jiggle and hearing the would-be intruder call me by name. He made a few threats as he continued his attempt to open my apartment door. I put a dining room chair under the doorknob and began to pack. A series of unfortunate events had culminated in this, and so I heard the clear message that I had chosen the wrong school. In a panic, I loaded up my car and headed to Athens, Georgia to enroll in school choice #2, only to find that they had no space until the spring semester. Crushed, I decided to take the long way home.

It took me two full days to drive from Athens to Tulsa. I took backroads, not because I was especially adventurous, but because I was lost. I passed through small town Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and then north to Arkansas. Yes, there were shorter routes, but I didn’t care. I was meandering in a state of sorrow. I stayed in a cheap motel one night – racing into my room in a thunderstorm and then listening to the crackle and explosions all night with a chair under the doorknob – again. I called my parents from a pay phone the next morning because it was the only way I knew to make a collect call. (Remember those?)

Last night, as I was thinking about my college kids on the camping and beach trips, I forced myself to imagine what my parents must have been going through during those two days I was making my way through the southern states. Only one phone call before I left, and then one after the thunderstorm. I admitted to them I was lost. I dismissed my father’s directives on how to get back to the interstate. I told them I didn’t know how long it would take me to get home. When I finally pulled into the driveway, my mother had every justification for unrolling herself from the fetal position she should have been in so she could grab both my shoulders and shake me silly. But instead, she hugged me and cried sloppily, which I now realize is because she had spent about 16 hours since the last phone call wondering if I was dead or alive.

When our older children travel, we can call them at any moment to ask, “Are you alive?” It’s a wonderful feeling of control in a world that gives us little. My cell phone provides me with this illusive feeling, and so do my computers and my IPad. The world is at my fingertips. I can learn, communicate, make plans, create, set alarms, plan meetings, organize my life in photos, make new friends and keep the old. Whatever would I do without all this? Now I know: I would fidget. Which is what I have done for exactly six days. I’m not sure what my mother would say about this. She never touched a computer and at the end of her life she did use a cell phone, but she was one of those people who didn’t understand that you need not yell into it. I am certain, however, that her faith was strengthened every time I walked out her door. She put me in God’s hands, knowing that there was no real line of communication. If I wanted to contact her, it was up to me. There was no pesky texts or annoying phone calls from her asking, “Where are you?”

I wouldn’t trade her life for mine. But I do wish I could release the control button a bit and stop thinking that the chair under the doorknob is going to protect me and mine from all the chaos in the world. My efforts to keep my children within my reach won’t keep them from harm. The technology that I think keeps me sane is probably rewiring my brain cells in frightening ways. So I’ve decided that when my laptop is finally returned to me, my software is upgraded, and all is well with my devices, I shall put them down for a spell here and there. Perhaps I’ll read a novel, take a walk in the sunshine, stand in line at the check-out while resisting the urge to check my email…just to see if I can do it. And then, of course, I will blog about these things, post them on Facebook, and send a tweet to let everyone know I’m resisting technology.