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Caring for the Self

My sister demonstrates the all-important technique of napping.

 

My sister demonstrates the all-important technique of napping.

“Being bored helps us to see the big picture- the picture we are too busy to see in our day-to-day lives.” -Marianne Power

In many ways, there’s nothing like the thrill of travel. Fueled by foreign foods, the adrenaline of attempting to communicate across language barriers, jet lag, and the feeling that one’s always on the verge of discovering something new, each new village or vista tends to send us spiraling into paroxysms of delight. Vacations become a series of adventurous travel-gasms, carefully recorded in diaries and photographs for the sake of recounting them to our friends and families back home. We’re pushing ourselves. We’re pushing gender boundaries. We’re storing up a rich trove of experiences to savour repeatedly when such travel is eventually beyond our capabilities.

Recently, Nick and I traveled home for a reunion. The whole trip was four days, of which the bulk of three were spent in transit. We didn’t go anywhere spectacular, really, by tourist or adventurist standards — simply to a family farm in upstate New York. We set up a tent in a wildflower field, took a nap in a hammock, and the most exotic or thrilling thing we did was go skinny-dipping at midnight each night. Boring, right?

Except it wasn’t. Most of the time, my entire life is in motion. I’m commuting to work; I’m jogging after work; I’m hiking on the weekends; I’m teaching myself a new language in the evenings. Vacations turn into a subtle contest to see how many people I can pack into my limited trips around the country. With my recent self-discovery that my entire life can’t centre around work, I’ve started pushing my already-busy schedule to accommodate knitting groups, book clubs, and other opportunities to find as many local circles of friends as possible. And we don’t have children! Sometimes, I try to imagine my current life with children in the mix- and all I can think is “HOW do working moms find time to sleep? Or even have a moment to themselves?” (The answer, of course, is that many of them — maybe even most of them — don’t.) Having a weekend where my biggest responsibility was trying to remember peoples’ names was incredibly relaxing.

Something that’s been a unique result of second-wave feminism in the United States has been the push for (cis) women to “have it all”- a good career, a satisfying home life including children, plenty of involvement in community activities- because, for a lot of women, having the opportunity to have all of the above has been historically limited. Even my mom has told me on more than one occasion how being a female in botany meant that she effectively had to choose between her research career and her family life — in the ’80s. Unfortunately, even when women do seem to get everything they want, we’re finding that it costs us in terms of depression, eating disorders, self-loathing, and stress-related problems. This might be a mostly middle-class White phenomenon- after all, who else in the US is told that they can and should have everything they want?- but it’s troubling nonetheless. It’s even more troubling to realize that my ambitious self is playing a role in it.

On the plane ride home from the reunion, I started debating the merits of taking time for me. American culture, broadly speaking, has an obsession with laziness and tends to confuse all leisure activities — including things like watching clouds — with the great sin of sloth. Women are pressured to have it all, but Americans in general are taught that mellow activities are wastes of time. If we have vacation hours, we should use them to expand our horizons and see the world, not to spend an entire morning throwing a stick for the dogs to fetch. If we have the hours AND the money, then it’s doubly shameful to waste those resources for a lazy summer day on the farm.

But what’s wrong with being lazy, truly? One of my favourite bloggers once said “I work hard so that I can play hard.” She was talking about being able to afford weekends of Hollywood partying, but the message still applies. When we have the resources to take time off, what’s the great shame of spending that week doing nothing in particular? Being Go Girls means that we’re constantly seeking new adventures and new things to do, whether on the road or not, but sometimes that comes with a price. Sometimes, the best we can do for ourselves- and yes, I know how much many women are raised to put others first as a matter of routine- is simply to be for ourselves. Take that vacation time and use it to lay dozing in the hammock. Rejuvenate ourselves with afternoons in a river. Use those paid hours, if we get them, to sit on the couch and do nothing except let ourselves relax. When we’re able to do that for ourselves, we’re able to extend our drive and energy further in our lives and the lives of others.

Erica Laue
Erica first set foot on a plane when she was ten months old. 28 years, 18 countries, and four continents later, the travel bug’s still strong in her veins, and she's become increasingly engaged with issues of power, gender, sex, equality, and access around the world.

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