I'm not sure that holidays work.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the ritual of taking a week or two off during the summer months meant to relax a person? If so, why is the prospect of walking away from work for a week about as calming as a handful of wake-up pills washed down with Coke?
Last time I checked, vacations exist to make us feel better. By breaking from the daily grind, we allow the body to rest and the mind to replenish itself. That's the theory, anyway. Many of my friends admit they find the prospect of taking time off more stressful than the thought of never leaving work at all. Which is why a lot of people I know never take a proper holiday, choosing instead to haul their portable laptops and BlackBerries with them all the way to Fiji or Georgian Bay and continue their labour, albeit in a more idyllic setting.
While well-adjusted people sniff at these holiday labourers as pathetic corporate slaves, I can sympathize. This is my last week before the first holiday I've had since Christmas. I'm flying to France to stay in a villa with some London friends, which sounds very relaxing, but as my departure date looms, it is beginning to seem like anything but. Between now and the time I leave (only a couple of days), I have to write three columns, drop off and pick up my dry cleaning, get a manicure, pedicure, bikini wax and eyebrow wax, buy a new bathing suit, find my chartreuse beach towel, which was supposed to be in the hall closet but for some reason is not, finish the first draft of a novel, agonize over whether to vote strategically or locally, get my hair cut and highlighted, meet with my insurance broker and my mortgage broker, remember to call my father and mother and give them my British cellphone number (again -- why can they never write anything down?), vote in advance, leave a cheque out for the cleaning lady, pack, meet with my lawyer to finalize the purchase of my first house, take my car in for a tune-up, get new running shoes and check to make sure my passport is up to date. And those are just the things I can remember.
At least I'm not alone in my preholiday madness. In a recent interview with W magazine, designer Tom Ford explained why he is spending the tail end of his tenure with the Gucci group running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Instead of coming in for a leisurely landing after years of hard work, Ford, the interviewer discovered, was obsessing over trunk shows and new ad campaigns two weeks before his departure.
"You wouldn't think that I'd have a lot to do. But I do, oddly enough," explained the famously charming workaholic. "It's kind of like when you're going on vacation and you work really hard to get everything finished before you walk out the door, so you can take two weeks off. This is a kind of permanent vacation from Gucci, so there seems to be just a million loose ends."
If God is in the details, the devil is definitely in the loose ends. That's why the prospect of going on holiday becomes increasingly anxiety-making as the departure date approaches. Instead of being freeing, the thought of walking away and leaving behind all those unreturned phone calls and endlessly put-off projects suddenly seems more daunting than just dealing with them in the first place. This is why my crazy busy girlfriends are opting for stay-at-home holidays, the kind of vacation where you take a week off and stay in town to catch up on laundry and sleep. They say it's more relaxing (not to mention fiscally prudent) than planning a getaway you have to spend two weeks preparing for.
Preholiday stress can be so bad that people fall ill from exhaustion when they finally get away. Half the times my friends go on holiday, they come home looking worse than before, with the same sob story: Everything was fine until they got off the plane and then -- whammo -- they were laid up for a week in a hotel with the worst flu of their lives.
Sometimes just getting on the plane is the biggest challenge of all. The offices of this newspaper are located in downtown Toronto, just off the expressway that begins the speedy route to the airport. More than once I have found myself so wound up with preholiday jitters I felt compelled to make the limo driver stop so I could run inside and check once more that everything was under control. Other colleagues have admitted to the same panic. I now tell the limo driver to take a different road.
Last week, a screenwriter girlfriend told me she's considering cancelling a holiday she had planned to take between the wrap of one movie and the beginning of the television season. "It's just too stressful to think about stopping at this point," she said, underlining the sad irony of modern life -- that the need to reduce your stress often becomes a whole new source of stress in itself.
Not being one to preach what I practise, I told her she really owes it to herself to take a break. "Oh, I'm going to," she said. "I plan on taking all of next year off. Seriously."
As if. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a laptop to pack.