Every year, I take a week off. Ostensibly, it’s a vacation in Cape Cod, but it always turns into a mini writing retreat. I unplug; and once I’ve done so, what happens?
I Read. I wRite. I Relax.
Why is it that relaxation in the 21st century feels like a luxury? In my childhood, adults didn’t have to decide to relax. They just did it; exhaustion forced relaxation on them. My family didn’t need to go to Fine Dining Establishments (FDE) to prove they were doing The Third R. In fact, we only did the FDEs on special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. The rest of the time we made Sunday into A Day of Rest. Which meant friends and family—who all lived within a zero-point-something- to a ten-mile radius of one another—dropped by for English tea or Cypriot chai or Turkish coffee. Or they showed up, en masse, for a large, prearranged, Sunday lunch.
And when I say “they” rested, I supposed I mean The Men rested. The story is different for The Women; their Sunday was modified—more like A Day of Partial Rest. They were the ones who made the tea, the chai, and the coffee, and the large midday meal; they were the ones who washed and dried the dishes and the glasses. (This was before working-class families had the dishwashers). And they were the ones who put everything back in their places so that the kitchen was pristine.
The Women were also the ones who made the baklava, the apple pies, the honey cake, and the trifles; and they were the ones who took these desserts into The Men who were watching Arsenal play some other team on TV. They were also the ones who stayed in the kitchen; who did not sprawl on the livingroom couch, but sat in a circle of chairs around the kitchen table, talking about whatever made them/us laugh.
And there we sat for hours—Relaxing.
Where are these women now? They have Retired. Another R that seems to come into our lives later and later in the 21st century. 20th century Britain allowed working-class people to retire at retirement age. (But now?) I will finish paying my mortgage at age 77, which means I will be working until then. My hope is that I will have at least seven years of Retirement before I die. My wish is that I will be able to pay the mortgage early and get a decade and a half of retirement before I die.
Where are The Men of my childhood? Sadly, most of them are dead. Does the Third R—Relaxation—hasten your demise, if you’re a man? Is this an argument against it? God, I hope not. I’m trying to argue for more time for The Three Rs—for both women and men, equally—not less.
Even while I’m unplugged, practicing The Rs, I yearn for more I remember a time—before the advent of the virtual world—when reading was not something that felt like One of Life’s Little Luxuries, but an integral part of my day-to-day living. Whenever I’m on vacation/mini writing retreat, my body holds the same two questions: How did my life get to the place where reading feels like a luxury? What can I do to get back to my pre-virtual life?
Today, I’m also thinking: I wish I lived closer to people who had the time to drop by—just for an hour or possibly two on a Sunday afternoon—for Turkish coffee or English tea or Cypriot chai. Dear Reader, if you decide to take next Sunday off and you find yourself in my neighborhood around 2pm, you’re welcome to drop by. I’ll be the one in the kitchen slicing the warm baklava into diamonds.
(This post was first published on the Pele’s Fire blog before the Covid pandemic.)