The Accidental Tourist, Unplugged

Frozen Lake at Kripalu

[Footprints across a frozen lake, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Massachusetts.]

One of the hardest things to do—for freelancers or anyone—can be to stop and make yourself take a vacation.

On the surface, it seems impossible that a freelancer would have any trouble arranging a vacation. If I’m in charge of my own schedule, what’s the problem? But generally, the freelance life is less predictable than a nine-to-five one, and harder to tame. I’ve traded an infinitely structured life for an infinitely flexible one. I never know when a contract might come in, so am always hesitant to plan anything at all, including a trip to visit my grandmother. And if I do, be darn sure I’m not entirely escaping—I’ll have my laptop in tow.

Well, at least I’ll try to have my laptop in tow.

Over and over again, I put off this trip to the Berkshires, during which I wanted to combine R&R at a yoga center with a visit to see a dear friend. Given my two-week dry spell with work, I felt incredibly guilty taking time off. Ultimately, could I really afford it? (No.) Shouldn’t I be looking for work? (Yes.)

Ultimately, my husband practically booted me out the door. Thank goodness. By the end of February, I was on a train cruising through the winter wonderland of the Hudson River Valley. It all happened so quickly that I had the distinctive feeling I’d forgotten something. By the time I got to my friend’s house in New York and broke out my laptop, I realized what it was—my power cord.

Oh, God. Surge of panic. Any semblance of routine that I’d ever had as a freelancer was tied to this machine. It had traveled tens of thousands of miles with me, and always—yes, even on the sunny coast of Spain—I’d managed to eke out a bit of work on it. Often this meant propping it open on a park bench, in a metro station, or in a cramped hotel room while my poor husband tried in vain to sleep beside me.

But here I was in the capital of the Empire State, where my host worked in the booming tech industry making computer microchips, with no Internet access. As if this weren’t ironic enough, the microchip in my cell phone inexplicably went kaput.

What could I do but roll with it all? Apparently the gods had conspired to deprogram me.

It worked. I took a real, uninterrupted vacation. To some, it may seem an unlikely one—tromping through a foot of snow in the Berkshires, and holing up with fellow yogis to engage in day after day of holistic contemplation and indulgence. But for me, it was just right. I remember sitting in meditation and observing my breath, suddenly getting distracted by what felt like a swarm of stinging insects gathering in my forehead. I’m convinced they were electromagnetic cooties leftover from computer overuse, screaming their way out of my brain, flocking toward my third eye like an open window.

In all of this, I not only pledged to spend less time on the computer, but was reminded of the enormous importance of structuring time when freelancing. Work hard, play hard. Too much in-between is not only nonproductive, it can lead to burnout. The first thing I did when I arrived home—and not a moment before—was sit down and hammer out a daily schedule. Of course, I’ve done this before, but lately, my schedule has been a blur.

As the Celtic saying goes, “When God made time, He made enough of it.” It’s our job to figure out how to use it wisely … and when to spend it in a hot tub overlooking the snow!

One thought on “The Accidental Tourist, Unplugged

  1. Matthew says:

    Great post, with several points that resonate strongly with me. The in-between time (neither productive work nor enjoyable play) that I spend on the computer is entirely too large a chunk of my life right now. Though I’m not freelancing, it’s clearly important to structure my keyboard-and-screen time – to know what I’m planning to do on this infernal machine and how long I’m going to do it, whether it’s surfing friends’ blogs (including this one!) or planning tomorrow’s lesson.
    And your vacation experience reinforces my growing conviction that, come this summer’s Europe trip, I should leave behind the laptop and go with the ring-bound notebook…

    Like

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