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Life’s work

Lezlie Lowe says two weeks a year isn’t the point.


One too many rounds of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” has finally taken its toll on us. Canadians, according to and Ipsos-Reid, are taking fewer vacation days per year. But at the risk of being run down in the street by minivans full of early-in-the-roadtrip, not-yet-ready-to-kill-each-other families, might I suggest this isn’t really a big problem?

We’ve slipped, says the May 2006 study, from taking an average of 21 days off per year to 19. Americans take the fewest—about 14 days per year; in France they take the most—39.

It’s the changing nature of the workforce, a CBC News piece says. I can tell you all about that. I’m a freelancer. When I take time off, it’s only when I’ve doubled up my workload in the preceding weeks. I can’t afford to lose the income. In fact, I’m writing this column a week early so I can be away for the weekend at a festival.

It’s not good. And I don’t need CBC-quoted stress expert Beverly Beuermann-King to tell me, either. Lack of down-time, Beuermann-King says, “weakens immune system, strains their personal relationships, and inevitably worsens their work performance.” It makes you jeesly cranky too.

But, frankly, we’ve got bigger problems.

Canadians overwork. Everyday. Office employees slip their chairs to the side of the keyboard and slurp soup at their desks. Service industry workers go to work even when they’re sick because they’ll lose tips. We bring our paperwork home to clutter up our kitchen tables and cloud our dreams.

Vacations—if we take them at all, or even if we take 19 days instead of 21—don’t wipe clean the mess of going too hard for too long.

You don’t beat up your body for a year, alternating between sitting on your ass for eight hours and running around trying to get errands done before you collapse into bed, and then go for a massage and expect it to take out all the knots, take away all the tension and take 10 years off your craggy, sleep-deprived face.

You don’t ignore regular exercise for 20 years and expect one ride on a recumbent bike to undo the dire state of your body.

Vacations are like sleep—easy to forsake (according to the poll, one in five Canadians who plans a vacation will in turn cancel it or postpone it because of work), but you can’t expect to have reasonable quality of life without them.

And just like one eight-hour stint in the sack doesn’t cure a stretch of down-at-2am, up-at-7am, a two-week vacation doesn’t erase the tension that breeds in your body and your brain from a year at your desk with your back hunched into a candy cane and your fingers curled into keyboard claws.

It’s possible to come back from a vacation refreshed, but only if you left in a reasonable mental state to begin with.

So forget vacations. We’ve got bigger fish to fry. And they’re smaller fish, ultimately—just going to pee when you need to instead of holding it until you finish with the next customer is a coup for some people.

We need to sort out our everyday vacations before we take on the task of becoming like the vacation-sane French. And it’s going to take a lot of work.

Reading notes from you is like a vacation. Email:

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