Monday, May 9, 2011

Do You Need a "Vacation"?

I can't count the number of times friends have suggested to me that I need a vacation. While I'm inclined to agree, the truth is that the nature of my work is that research questions tend to try to fill any moment where my mind is not already thinking of something else. So the idea of me going on "vacation" is just as much mental for me as it is physical. To me a vacation is a way of relaxing to the point where I'm either thinking of positive thoughts or I've at least found a way to not think about whatever negative thoughts are trying to get me down. So here are a few ways that I take my "vacations".

  • Work
In my opinion, my tendency to overwork is not always a bad thing because I sometimes turn to work to provide relief (or a "vacation") from the seemingly unsolvable problems of my life (relationship stuff, employment issues, health related stuff, family matters, etc). When I've got a good lead on a problem, it provides a flow of thoughts that keeps my mind busy for hours at a time and this can be such a relief from those issues that its a welcome "vacation". But then the question becomes why don't I get good leads whenever I'm stressed out? Sometimes, the work can be stressful because I'm not progressing fast enough, or because I find a counterexample to an idea, or for a variety of other reasons. So then what should I turn to?

  • Conversations
One of my favorite "vacations" is an ol' fashioned conversation, whether it be with long time friends or somebody I just met at the bar. Sometimes, the procedure of sitting and talking to somebody else can else can seem to relieve a thousand burdens. Sometimes I don't even talk - I'll just sit and listen and hear stories that I can relate to. I think I read something somewhere about this being the human need for companionship, not necessarily on a bedroom sense, but more in a sense that you are not alone in this world, and you are not the only one who sees the world in a certain way.

Conversations, though are not without their limitations. One of the problems with conversations is that you don't really know where they'll lead (I guess thats a good thing and a bad thing). Sometimes a joke is misinterpreted; sometimes the other person will just want to vent (which isn't really a problem, unless you entered the conversation with a "no venting here" attitude); sometimes they want to vent about something you did (which can be really unpleasant, and probably not gonna provide that "vacation" type feeling); or sometimes they're (or you're) just not in a talkative mood. So if talking to a friend won't do it, what else is there?

  • Books
Lately I've gotten a lot of relief from reading books. The titles come mostly as a recommendation after a conversation with friends. After talking about whatever's on our minds, the friend will generally follow up with "you know, you sound like you'd be interested in reading ...". I'm not often disappointed, although I do know of one book that was recommended to me where I probably should have been more considerate of the recommender's feelings when I was asked how I liked it. 

I haven't decided the type of books that I like best, though, I do tend to get more of a "vacation" from works of fiction. Aside from taking me from the here-and-now (which most books tend to do), works of fiction (particularly sci-fi) have the ability to take me outside even the laws of the universe. Suddenly I can spend 500 pages imagining I'm the son of a Greek god (ala the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), or a wizard (ala the Harry Potter series), or that I have mutant powers (ala the Gone series). Most of the nonfiction I read gives me different perspectives and philosophies on life. I find those interesting and use them as good food for thought. MLK's autobiography and book "Strength to Love" are great examples of this. So is the book I just finished, James Weldon Johnson's "The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man". The main thing that interests me about biographies and autobiographies is the sequence of events that (at least in the writers eyes) helped chisel them into the person they grew to be. And again, thinking about their lives allows me to not think about my own.

  • Music
Those first three things I mentioned I normally normally take some time. Sometimes I only have a few minutes, if that, and still need to relax. This is especially true when I'm doing something like programming or debugging a program, or even grading. These are tasks that need to get done (hopefully quickly), so its not really easy for me to do work, hold a conversation, or read a book while doing them. So another of my favorite "vacations" is just music. The selection depends a lot on my mood and setting. For example, I try not to listen to Tupac in the office too much (even with headphones) because I don't think my officemates will get the same relief from his lyrics (if they overhear it) as myself, but most of my 70s stuff is fair game. 

I'm sure that others find this relief in different ways. So I'm curious, what provides a vacation for you?


Anonymous said...

Writing is my usual vacation. I can usually unload whatever is on my mind or escape into a creative world of my choosing. I was going to say music was a vacation for me, but since it is prominent in my everyday life, I guess it's more like medicine.

Blake said...

Yeah, how can I forget about writing? Writing is so relaxing for me. I used to write poetry too, but it takes too long to write and normally I go off on so many tangents from my original train of thought, but I still enjoy a freewrite every once in a while. But this blog in itself is my way of just clearing my mind and stuff.

And I like the 'medicine' comment too.

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