It’s like one of those light-bulb jokes: “How many suitcases does a writer take with her on vacation?” One carry-on with clothes and a computer, and an extra-large checked Pullman filled with papers and books.
At least that’s how I’ve traveled in the past, packing reading for writing projects right along side reading for pleasure. Packing professional journals along side my backlog of New Yorkers. Bringing along some fat, dry, tome of background reading as well as a paperback best seller. In the past, I’ve packed work under the misapprehension that vacation was a time to catch up. But not this time.
This time, I’m really going on vacation. I’m going far away and I’m packing light. I’m taking my smart phone but not my computer. I’m taking my eReader, but only downloading fun reads. Most notably, I’m not taking a typescript or work-in-progress to review. I’m really going on vacation to see new sights, to learn about new places, and to rest and recharge. I’m looking forward to it.
Like most jokes, the one about a writer schlepping work with her through the national parks and parts west is only part funny – and part true. I am that writer who in the past has said she doesn’t really like vacations. Given my druthers, I’d rather stay home and write. But this time, that’s not true.
This time, I’m handing in a novel before I get on a plane, and I’m going to hike in territory unknown to me. And I’ve convinced my husband that we must not just walk eight hours a day but also plan a few hours every evening for the pleasures of reading whatever we want to, and not anything we must.
Vacations have been difficult for me, I think, because to some degree, a writer is always at work. Every new sight and experience is a potentially new story, new image, new metaphor. Traveling is nothing if not collecting new stories. All experience is grist for my mill.
And writing – the physical act of putting pen to paper – is how I negotiate the world. So while I’m not taking my computer or any current work project, I will of course keep a journal. I don’t think I can make it through a day without writing my Morning Pages – that exercise of emptying my morning mind, my writing meditation. But that’s become my spiritual practice, not work. And I’ll take that practice with me out west.
Because we’ll be hiking, I know my mind will freewheel while I walk. Typically, this results in new narrative insights, outlines, plots and characters. It’s an occupational habit, and it’s okay. I’ll probably even try to capture these ideas in my journal just as I’ll try to capture the scenery on my new camera. Again, this isn’t work, per se: I’m not going on this trip for the purpose of collecting new ideas. More accurately: while on vacation, ideas happen.
In the past few years, I’ve buckled down and been writing full time. Writing full-time means not just initiating new ideas, but honing them, editing them, placing them for publication and making author appearances. Mostly fun work – but unquestionably work. I’ve done enough of it that I’m ready for some real time off.
I could take my computer with me, or I could find a public connection at some local library or internet café. I could post a blog from somewhere in Utah, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll be back on this page in four weeks. Meanwhile – Happy Trails.
Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com