Work in Progress is going on holiday. I mean it.
On Sunday, I’m going to take my little one and travel 8,000 miles to my hometown in Japan. My mom has advanced cancer, and my pop is old, so my three siblings and I—none of whom live in the country anymore—take turns making the international house calls. For two weeks, I’ll trade reporting and writing for the more glamourous duties of chauffering old people to hospitals, making my mom comfortable during her chemo, preparing dinner, scrubbing floors, hauling trash—all to her highly exacting specifications. Ah, vacation.
The thing is, every time I take a break from work, work reels me back in. The last time I was in Japan was in April, and a few days before I left to return home, I received the e-mail: “We might want to run your story this week. Can you wrap it up?” I’d spent the past couple of months reporting a piece about unemployed Iraq war vets, and so I scrambled to scratch it out over the next days. I parked my little one in front of bizarro Japanese kid shows on TV and broke only to make lunch and cut down a mimosa tree.
You might ask why I wouldn’t just tell my editor, “You know what? I’m on holiday, and plus I’m really busy taking care of my really sick mom. Couldja cut me a break and let me write it in a few days, when I’m back at work?” Yes, I ask myself that too. The answer is that my workplace is so competitive that we writers jump at the chance for publication. And you know, I wouldn’t have minded squandering that time to write the story for my magazine, honest—if it had run. Then. Or ever. (It wound up here, on TIME.com, where I should have pitched it in the first place. I still think it’s a damn good story.)
But what am I whining about? You’re all familiar. As Lisa Belkin writes in this Sunday’s New York Times (bolds mine),
I don’t mean to give the impression that I never work on vacation. I almost always do, which makes me all too typical. According to a survey this year of more than 6,800 workers by CareerBuilder.com, 33 percent stay in touch with the office while they are away. My most memorable work-infected vacation was in an era before laptops, when a deadline on a magazine article collided with two prepaid weeks at a beach house. So I dragged the computer and the printer and the fax machine and the dial-up modem to the beach.
She reports that big insurers are beginning to offer policies that cover travelers who have to cancel vacations due to work:
AIG, which introduced its plan just a few weeks ago, charges $24 to add the “cancel for work reasons” option to a travel insurance plan, while Access America, which created the category just last year, charges $19.
It’s one thing if I skip a cruise. But how do I quantify the loss of two days I could have spent conducting an annual reorganization of my mom’s futon closet? How do I monetize hanging out on her bed and gossiping about her friends? What’s the financial value of watching her delight at a special delivery of bamboo shoots and cooking them as per her precise instructions?
More and more these days, our work seeps into our non-work lives. I know I’ll succumb to checking e-mail while I’m there. I have two stories in the hopper that may suddenly find themselves in contention for publication, meaning I might very well find myself in a reprise of last April. And I’ll feel a great urge to blog.
But I won’t. Much as I’ll miss you, friends, I’ll just have to trust you’ll be back to check in after Dec. 3. In the meantime, I’ll be baking a ham my mom has ordered me to sneak through customs and clearing out the tool shed. Happy Thanksgiving, folks.