This may come as a surprise to many of my tens of dear readers, but: I am alive and well and although I haven’t posted on here for over a year (SORRY MOM) I have been working super hard, which has kept me in pasta and wine, so it’s all good.
But my big news is that for the first time since September 11, 2001 I am going on vacation.
You may recognize the date. On that fateful day, I’d just finished three weeks in Rome making my ad agency job virtual on a test run. Before I returned home, I decided to spend a couple of off-season days on the Med.
I arrived at my beachfront hotel in Anzio around noon, had a marvelous seafood lunch down the road, and went to soak in the sun. And when I returned to the hotel around 5:30pm (11:30am EST), the entire world had changed.
Needless to say, it was the worst ever vacation, even though it was extended by several days due to grounded flights.
I have now been a freelancer for almost 10 years, and as the song goes, erryday I’m hustlin’. I have recently turned down work that is simply not worth the time/money ratio (ghostwriting relationship advice books and IT>EN translating top that list), but I haven’t stopped working since.
That’s the thing that comes as a shock to people, and something I haven’t talked about, because people don’t believe me – and they sure as hell don’t have any sympathy. I don’t blame them; if you look at my social media, you’re getting a very different picture. Hell, just this year I left the South of France to spend three months in Rome, during which time I also jetted off to Madrid, Berlin and Paris. I’ve been around most of Italy and France, and I’ve also got a good chunk of Spain under my belt. I speak three languages, and have friends on several continents. It’s not like I’m not having amazing experiences.
What you don’t see – because let’s face it, who wants to see it? – is me staying in the vacation rental while friends go off and explore, or waking up at ungodly hours of the morning, so I can get some work done. It’s taking client calls or texts 24/7. (Time zones, amirite?) It’s spending days before a guest arrives getting as caught up as I can to have as much time as I can with them, and even then, there is still work on my mind (and my laptop). I don’t get paid days off.
If I didn’t love my life just the way it is, I’d change my circumstances. And yes, I’ve had a long weekend here and there when I’ve had nothing on the agenda. But when your life is “a vacation,” it becomes almost impossible to take an actual vacation.
This is the flip side to the lesson I learned from my parents, who moved us to their favorite vacation spot on the South Jersey Shore when I was six. From then on, excluding visits to see family, we’d gone on two actual vacations. Both were to Disney World.
I still remember those trips. The first one, when I was eight, was during the school year; I think it was October. The weather was perfect. We had dinner in the Magic Castle. My mother cried meeting Mickey Mouse. My father and I rode Space Mountain. There was a fire alarm in our hotel in the middle of the night, and a New Yorker came down wrapped in her voluminous fur coat, glamorous and jaded.
(May I digress for a moment to say that from the ages of 9-12 I was in two touring companies of Annie, doing eight shows a week in I think 42 states total. Was it awesome? Absolutely. It changed my life. But it wasn’t a vacation.)
I was probably 27 for our second trip to Disney World. This time the whole extended family came, and we rented two villas on a golf course. The younger cousins went to the park each day, while the grownups signed up for (absolutely amazing!) classes at the Disney Institute, and otherwise pretty much did whenever we wanted.
I was working for Famous American Designer at the time; I was too young for the job and it stressed me out almost to my breaking point. It took two of the five days of the trip simply to stop worrying about something I might have missed before I left.
On the last day of the vacation, I rented a bike and rode around the grounds of where we were staying and came upon a pool where there was no one. I jumped in, swam a few laps and then floated for what seemed like a long time, looking up at the sky and thinking. And what I thought was: I can’t do this. I can’t work crazy hours at a crazy stressful job so that for a few days every year I can do this. It’s not right. It was then that my evil plan to move abroad had sewn its seeds.
And now here I am, almost 20 years later, absolutely, 100% living the life I want. I’m equally proud of myself and humble about it. I know not everyone has this unique privilege, and I’ve had unimaginable experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
But this life, here in Montpellier with Cal and my fantastic, fun friends, is not a vacation. It’s my life. When I go to Rome and live with my friend Marco and hang out with the Gay Mafia, it’s more wonderful than words can express, and I’m as happy as can be – but it’s not a vacation. It’s just the other half of my life.
Given the fact that I ostensibly make a living advising people how to spend their vacations, it’s ironic that the other day, it occurred to me everything I’ve just written above. And so many people I love and respect in my industry do the same; in fact, at our TBEX conferences, I am one of the few who spend their time focused solely on the conference itself. Many others scurry around seeing all they can in the host city, simply so they can turn around and pitch to editors.
Also? Just to add a pinch of spice? I have depression. I’ve got it under control with meds, exercise and therapy, but it’s like having a bum knee – it’s just a part of my day, and some days are worse than others. Combine that with being plain old burnt out from working non-stop for so long, and it’s not a good combination – annoying at best and debilitating at worst. My work, my deadlines, and my clients have borne the brunt of this.
When I talked to Cal about the whole vacation thing, he was as surprised as anyone. Although when I’m away we are in contact every day, and he knows I’m working and invoicing clients, he always saw it as away=vacation. Ever quick to rectify the situation, when I told him that the lady I dog sit for asked me to go up to the Jura for a week this month, Cal suggested that it might be the perfect vacation.
As usual, he’s right. It’s perfect. It’s an old pile of a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with a pool, a wine fridge, my all-time favorite dog, and silence for miles. I’ll stock up on groceries before she leaves on her own vacation, and then I’ll spend the week taking long walks in the forest with the pup, reading, swimming, sunning, napping, cooking.
I’ll float in the pool for a while, too. Who knows what new seeds will be sewn?