WIMBERLEY, Texas, early morning, some day or other — This is my first vacation at my brother’s since I retired, and somehow I thought it would be different this time. Less relaxing, perhaps, and therefore less fulfilling.
Vacation, after all, means “an extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or traveling.” Its purpose is to leave everyday obligations and worries behind long enough for the batteries to recharge.
With most of my cares swept aside with the 9-to-5 job, how would I tell the difference between a vacation day in Texas and an ordinary day in Indiana? Exactly what would I be leaving behind?
A state of mind, it turns out.
Though ending a career lifts the daily grind of duty, it leaves in place the habits and routines that fueled the duty: Rising at the crack of dawn, weekly household chores precisely on time, evening TV newscasts obsessively watched even if the burden of editorializing about events has been lifted.
If you stay where you’ve always been (to paraphrase an aphorism), you’ll feel like you’ve always felt. If you want to feel better, go someplace else. When that plane lifts off from the layover in Atlanta and heads toward Austin, my mood lifts with it, yanking all tension and anxiety out by the roots.
Leaving a void to be filled with routines and habits of a different kind.
The best vacations, I’ve learned over the years, painfully, are not the ones spent frantically in search of new and exotic adventures, filling every minute of every precious day with shiny spectacles of sight and sound. It’s the kind of “relaxation” that leads people to lament, semi-facetiously, “Whew, need a vacation from my vacation.”
The real comfort, the kind that untangles the knots and smooths the rough edges, comes from the sharing of familiar rituals. The Saturday welcoming dinner is always pot roast. The Friday night excursion is always bingo at the VFW hall.In between there are always a steaks-on -the- grill night, a make-the-world-safe-from-paper-targets session at my brother’s shooting range, a trip to town for Mexican or barbecue.
In and around those touchstones are the small indulgences of sloth. Sleeping late. Snacking often. Wandering around sock-footed with tousled hair until the deck calls out for a sojourn with a cup of coffee and a good book. There are live oak trees in front of the deck, and deer and gray foxes often meander into their shade.
News about Indiana, my strongest pursuit in a lifelong newspaper career, follows me around, always ready to pounce on my well-being. But I am able to keep most of it filtered out, letting it dribble in a story at a time without the force necessary to upset my emotional equilibrium.
I see that Mayor Pete, in between lunatic socialist ravings disguised as Middle American common sense, has confessed to using marijuana “a handful of times a long time ago.” Everything he says, I have come to notice, sounds like a footnote being added to a term paper, so this is nothing to get outraged over.
Looks like Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Braun has joined the growing number of so-called conservatives trying to stay ahead of the Twitter mob by parroting progressive mantras. He has joined the climate-change-will-kill-us-all crowd. I should be bitterly disappointed, but I learned long ago never to trust any politician of any political stripe. They’ll break your heart every time.
Updates pop up for the stories that never go away. The opioid crisis hasn’t been solved. The state attorney general still says he never groped any women. Indiana University is still searching for a post-Bobby Knight identity. I promise to start caring about all that just as soon as I get back in state. I choose to focus on a Hoosier story that at least amuses me a little, finds my funny bone to tickle all the way to Texas.
Fans of Capt. Kathryn Janeway, starship commander in the “Star Trek: Voyager” TV series, have taken note of the fictional character’s Indiana roots. They plan to install a monument to her in Bloomington, “the place of her future birth.”
Her. Future. Birth. If we can make a habit of demolishing monuments honoring our actual past, I suppose there’s a certain balance in erecting ones to honor a pretend future. I wish them well, but it sounds like a monumental task with lots of tedious effort involved. If they need a break before the work is done, I know a place where the deck is always inviting and the coffee is always hot.
In the meantime, I notice that Hays County, Texas, in the gun-carrying, flag-respecting heart of Red State America, has decided to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Doesn’t bother me a bit, but I hope it doesn’t drive my brother crazy before my vacation is over.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.