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Productivity ideology translates into haggard lifestyle

Not everyone gets to take a summer vacation, of course. Sadder still, most of those who do will focus way too much on using it wisely.

A lot of folks spend summer working hard at having fun, or creating the appearance of having fun, or doing things that someone else told them were fun. They talk about "the pursuit of leisure" as though it were a mechanical rabbit and they were greyhounds, or worse, as if it were a calling.

Others have a vacation agenda, the way President Clinton's vacations are interlarded with television appearances in which you see him jogging on the beach to show the public that the American economy is quite healthy, or at least getting healthy-not becoming more fat and soft as you might have heard.

A third set of people scorns the very idea of vacation as a bore and a waste. America not only invented the working vacation to please them, but what with pandemic overtime and downsized corporations, we've ensured that we have the longest labor year of any country in the world.

And it's getting worse. On average, according to The Economist, Americans will work 160 hours more-that's four weeks' worth if you only work 40 per week, but who does?-in 1997 than our parents did in 1960. Is it worth it, or is it just possible that more damage has been wrought in the name of Productivity than in the name of God?

Recently, we hosted two pair of southern California retirees who dropped by for lunch when they were traveling through the South in a rented car. If you subscribe to the West Coast's reputation for mellowness, these overachievers would have reeducated you. They had "done" the entire Outer Banks on Saturday and then rose at 4:00 a.m. Sunday to drive to Durham and meet us for lunch before hightailing it to Radford, Va., in time to meet someone else for supper. Americans are like that.

We took them through town, pointing out old tobacco warehouses and other architectural and horticultural beauties, but they were so busy thumbing through a guidebook for the next stop that they were unable to attend to what lay before them. After a cursory inspection, they pronounced the Duke Chapel satisfactory and the gardens wet and hit the road. I had to recover at Francesca's for an hour.

Now I don't know about your constitution, but mine was made for torpor. I can personally testify to the salubrious effects of sauntering, lounging, puttering and daydreaming. I honor Walt Whitman: "I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease... observing a spear of summer grass." Don't let the orthography fool you: Whitman knew exactly what he was doing. Plenty of time, plenty of extra letters.

You know those commercials that advise you to work hard and play harder? Don't! When recreation ceases to be recreative, it's work. Fortunately, it is possible to make work into recreation, too, like our Medical Center colleagues who spent spring break giving free care to indigent Hondurans. Something tells me that these are not the same folks who glare at you when you leave the office and are there to glare at you again when you arrive in the morning. Their values are too sound.

Me, I spent my last vacation at a Dharma boot camp keeping silence, sitting still and teaching myself to breathe. We dug ditches during a downpour and unlearned foolish habits such as sleeping on a mattress; 22 people made the sound of one hand clapping at a birthday party, and once I mistook the sound of my own breathing for a bird in the bushes. At night you could see all the stars.

One afternoon I stood motionless for an hour in the woods above a garden and finally stopped not listening to the tumbling of a nearby stream, which sang over a ledge and divided itself into as many distinct water sounds as there are voices in a choir. I began to sense the auras of the trees, and the cold spots where limbs had been lopped off to make the path.

It wasn't a bad way to spend an afternoon, though some would call it irremediably nonproductive.

And how, class, will you spend your summer vacation?

Paul Baerman, Fuqua '90, left his job at the University last fall to work fewer hours.


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