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Putting the Labor Back Into Labor Day: Did You Get a Rejuvenating Summer Vacation or Did You Work Yourself to Exhaustion?

Why do holidays no longer feel like holidays?  Modern technological innovations have brought us pagers, cellphones, laptop computers, Skype and all manner of electronic leashes to our work.  Communication is fast, and the pace of work has ramped up to match it.  How many times have you sent a text and waited impatiently for the response?  Or wondered why the email you sent this morning hasn’t been responded to by the afternoon.  We have become an “always on” culture with high expectations and short attention spans.  When computer nerds talk about the holy grail of “ambient findability” (the availability of whatever information you want, whenever you want it, wherever you are), we didn’t realize that this amounted to the ambient findability of people.  Wherever you are in the world, someone can get in touch with you, and are puzzled when you don’t respond instantaneously.  Our perception of time is becoming warped.  Comedian Dane Cook once observed that when we’ve perfected teleportation, and can transport ourselves anywhere in a second, the DMV line will still take seven seconds to get through, and it will piss us off.  Downtime doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and the mythological “summer vacation” seems like a fairy tale.

Those of us brought up in the American educational system have been indoctrinated in the sanctity of summer vacation – our childhoods are measured in spans of time between school years and summer breaks, where kids, teenagers, and college students rested, recharged, or even worked, but no matter whether your summers involved hard labor, camp, or hanging out on the street corner, it was a distinct change of pace, a variation in the routine that helped change one’s perspective and prepared one for a new year.  The origins of summer break are in the agrarian history of our country, designed to accommodate the schedule of rural farmers who needed the extra hands, but educational reformers like Horace Mann believed children needed the time to revitalize, as well as expressing concern that in the days before air conditioning, packing a bunch of children into a sweltering classroom in the middle of summer would likely lead to the spread of disease.  Since these are no longer big concerns, there is periodically talk of extending the school year through the summer.

Which leads me to my main point – oh where, oh where has the summer gone?  As I get older, which I hate to admit, the pace of life seems to be accelerating.  I seem to remember it being Memorial Day weekend not too long ago, and here we are at Labor Day weekend, and like an alien abductee, I don’t feel like I can account for the days in between.  Life has left me out of breath with its speed, and measuring days by whether I’m having heart palpitations or not. TV has spread the nasty rumor that at one point in history, people actually had a summer respite (it was probably never actually true – read the fascinating book, The Way We Never Were, all about the idealization of a social past that never actually existed) and truly felt rejuvenated by it.  Certainly, tons of folks take summer vacations, but nobody ever seems rejuvenated.  We all look haggard, worn, and torn (myself included) when we return from our ostensible break.

The build-up to the vacation contains excitement and trepidation. We are often scared of what will await us when we get back from vacation, but the excitement of something new or relaxing can be intoxicating. Yet, at the same time, before we go on vacation, there are so many things and people to prep to handle things in our absence that it becomes all-consuming.  So much so, that you may develop pains and aches that your medical provider is perplexed by because your diagnostic and screening tests show you are completely healthy.  As a matter of fact not only healthy but perfect- on key indicators such as cholesterol, sugar, weight, kidney function, blood pressure, etc.  Hypothetically speaking, of course.  So, you make it through the prep work and actually go on vacation (the flying part is not very relaxing either, particularly in the Caribbean during hurricane season).

Then even while on vacation, stranded due to a hurricane, you may take a work call through the great technological innovation of Skype. Ok, I’m talking about me and I was at the pool with a drink in hand at the time, but I still couldn’t escape work. Mind you, I brought it on myself. I could have said no, but it is not in my DNA to not be there for the team, plus, it’s really not so hard to take a call by the pool, really AND lastly, I actually like my job and haven’t figured out a way to disconnect from it.  If you need me I will be there regardless of rain, sleet or snow (the way the Post Office used to work back in the days of yore).  There is such a fine line between being addicted to one’s job and being burnt out.  As they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

This summer I did slow down my pace of work. I went on only 5 business trips, co-hosted a day-long research forum at the International AIDS Conference, did 6 presentations, wrote over 12 reports, ran countless data sets, revised over 100 documents, and was in over 300 meetings.  All I needed was a partridge in a pear tree and I could have written a Christmas song. That’s actually a slower pace than the rest of the year, but that, ladies and gents ain’t no summer respite.

In September I fly down to Atlanta every week. I imagine I’ll be tight with several of the Delta flight attendants at years end and on first name basis with the Delta Airlines white wine selection.

Well, Happy Labor Day. Or rather, may you survive the increased demands on your labor. Salut!

4 replies »

  1. Hope you take a well-deserved break from labor this weekend!SInce my work schedule never slowed, I didn’t have the lazy-hazy summer we like to imagine. However, I relished some of the moments: blueberry picking with friends, kayaking at sunset, bike rides along country roads.
    Thanks for the post!


  2. or what the hell odd crap was this summer about anyways?! hee hee! i moved away from an apartment in Lawrence Kansas in May and now i suddenly find myself unable to get back into an apartment at all, even back in Lawrence Kansas now! What Kind Of Odd Summer Has This Been Or What?! OR WHAT!! 😦 Hee Hee!!!!!!


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