The Lost Art of Staring Into Space

Freelancers never take vacations. The ones at my house don’t, anyway. My husband and I, both freelancers, haven’t taken a non-working vacation together since our honeymoon ten years ago.

He’s spent Christmas vacations in Alberta working on his laptop at the dining room table. I spent evenings on last summer’s trip to Nelson, BC scheduling tweets and blog posts in the bedroom of our rented cottage. A few years ago, we left our kids with their grandparents and went on a romantic weekend getaway to Salt Spring Island. Inspired by the atmosphere of the artsy B&B we stayed at, we spent the whole second day of our trip working on a couple of long-neglected creative projects.

Back-to-back, in total silence.

It was great.

But it’s not just us. I polled my freelance network about their vacation habits last month and received the following responses:

“On my first week of vacation, last week, I jumped head first into 3 freelance projects and a new website!”

and:

“What’s a vacation? For that matter what is a weekend? Haven’t had a non-working vacation since I went full-time freelance seven years ago.”

and:

“I actually never take a vacation or break with no work at all, but I don’t mind. A partial shut-down is all I need.”

A “partial shut-down” is all I’ve had for the past ten years, too. And for the most part I’ve been fine with that. I, like most freelancers, am not big on “real” vacations for several reasons.

First of all, they’re difficult to organize. Freelancers hate to turn down work, and it can be hard to time deadlines to neatly coincide with a scheduled vacation.

Secondly, freelancers don’t get paid holiday time. If we take vacations, we don’t get a paycheque.

Third, we freelancers are able to spread out our relaxation time throughout the year – a Tuesday afternoon at the fairground here, a mid-week day at the beach there – so we never feel as desperate for a full-on break as 9-to-5ers do.

Finally, and I’m speaking only for the members of my own household now, when you enjoy what you do for a living, vacations become less of a priority.

So after a decade of “partial shut-downs” it was disconcerting for my husband and me when we had to take a “real” vacation last month. My mother-in-law hit a milestone birthday and asked the whole family to come and help her celebrate it.

In Varadero, Cuba.

Having heard that internet access would be expensive and extremely unreliable, I decided, for once, to give up on the idea of doing any blogging or social media work.

But I didn’t give up on the idea of work altogether. I figured without internet access maybe I’d have time to spend on a few creative projects. I thought I’d be able to work for an hour or so each day on story pitches or new ideas. But it didn’t happen.

With the temperature above 30 degrees and the humidity at 85%, my brain slid quickly into a state of total sloth. I found myself sitting on a deck chair poolside most afternoons, staring into space, with a drink in my hand and a closed book on my lap.

Remember staring into space? I’d almost forgotten all about it.

It didn’t take long to come back to me, though. Without the infinite scroll of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to keep it busy, my brain quickly remembered how to do nothing again. And since I wasn’t even able to access the endless info-gush, my low-level sense of anxiety about trying to keep up dissipated.

Turns out it feels really good to unplug completely once in a while. And if that’s not enough to convince my freelance friends to try it, how about this nugget: according to recent research, boredom spurs creativity.

Taking a few days off work to stare into space recharges your batteries and refreshes your energy. And it provides opportunities for inspiration to surface from deeply buried corners of your brain.

Not that that happened to me. Mostly all I thought about was which of the hotel bars mixed the best mojitos.

But my mind is quieter after a week without a constant flow of information. My thoughts feel less fractured. It made me realize that I should unplug regularly and give my tightly coiled brain a chance to ease up a bit.

Ideally in a location with views like this:

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2 Responses to “The Lost Art of Staring Into Space”

  1. Andrea says:

    I try to take an “unplugged” vacation at least twice a year. One of them is a week long, the other is usually just a weekend. I always come back with more energy and new ideas. Definitely worth it, even if the first day or so is spent desperately trying to resist checking my email!

  2. rachel says:

    This will definitely be a new habit for me. I already feel like I need another internet-free break.

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