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Jack Zaleski, Published December 01 2012

Zaleski: Putting vacation back in vacation

Chelsea, Vt.– I scheduled vacation after the Nov. 6 election – kind of a post-political campaign decompression. It worked.

The concept of vacation has changed but not for the better. I know of few people who really leave the job behind for a couple of weeks. Most are so “connected” now by the curse (not the miracle) of technology that they can’t free themselves from the pull, pressure and perceived responsibility of their work. Legitimate dedication to a job has been perverted by on-demand connectedness, wrought by sinister gadgets that for many are as essential as food and drink. It’s lunacy.

Endeavoring to avoid lunacy, I left my cellphone at home in Fargo. The sky did not fall. Oh, sure, The Forum newsroom had a contact number for emergencies – but only for emergencies. There were none, which speaks well of my colleagues who did double duty on the editorial pages while I was here in Vermont.

I imposed a news blackout on myself. I focused on the company of grandchildren and taking in the beautiful landscapes and villages of the Green Mountain state. The blackout was not total. I read a newspaper one day. I listened occasionally to Vermont Public Radio for weather forecasts. I completely skipped talk radio, so my brain did not atrophy. For an unrepentant newsman, it was a change – especially after the intensity of the political campaigns in North Dakota. Did not miss it much. A little, but not much.

That’s what I mean about vacation – or more to the point, the concept of vacation. The American workplace has become moveable and ubiquitous. If you allow it, the job goes with you on vacation. If you are culpable in letting that happen, a vacation is a sham. And if a vacation is a sham, why go? Why go to the mountains or seaside or big-city lights if all you do is transplant your job to those places? Am I alone in seeing the phoniness, the shallowness, the insult to family, and the ultimate personal cost of such “vacations”?

If we are only what we do, we are in trouble. If identity is defined by work, what happens if a job is lost or a business fails or retirement comes too early? Who are you then?

Most of us believe we are more than what we do at work, more than our jobs. But more and more of us are unwilling or unable to set aside work for even a relatively brief two-week break because we’re hooked on (by?) technological narcotics. Does anyone really need to be digitally connected to everybody all the time? The past two weeks have affirmed for me that the answer is a clear-headed “no.”

So, instead of political flaks and blinders-on partisan readers, it has been woodland hikes with triplet granddaughters; trying my hand at building a sheep shed (lots to learn); stacking firewood as an early snowfall sifted silently through the trees; a wonderful holiday meal with extended family I hadn’t seen in years; and the sweet drift of wood smoke at first light in the narrow mountain valleys of this place.

Rested and refreshed, perspective restored, I’m eager for the newsroom – ready to do what I do, knowing that what I do is only a part of who I am. Now that is what a genuine vacation can teach.

Readers can reach Forum Opinion Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.