• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


Vacation Is Good

Sometimes I need reminding of the obvious.

October 22, 2015

Vacation is good.

Obvious, no doubt, but sometimes I need reminding of the obvious.

As I type I am flying home from my first ever mid-semester vacation. College of Charleston has a fall break that cancels a Monday and Tuesday of classes, and with a Tuesday/Thursday schedule, my wife and I were able to escape to the Sonoma Valley for three days of hiking from vineyard to vineyard, tasting wines along the way[1].

I have left home during the mid-semester breaks before, ostensibly on vacations, but this is the first time I’ve done so without bringing a pile of work with me. Normally, I have a stack of grading or a deadline to hit, even as I’m away, but this time, the decks were cleared, all copy had been filed, I told my IHE overlords not to expect anything, and I barely even checked email.

Like I said, good. Glorious, even. I’d sort of forgotten what a true break actually feels like.

This is not a complaint about overwork. One of my favorite parts of the life I’ve chosen for myself is the absorbing nature of writing and teaching. Since I started teaching alongside my writing work, I do not remember a time when I’ve been bored[2].

I think work is that which gives vacation meaning, so I imagine if I were retired or less absorbed in my jobs, I wouldn’t have found our most recent trip so great, but I was surprised at how different it felt to have three days where my only responsibilities were to put one foot in front of the other, pausing every few hours to sit and gaze at some mountains while tasting one varietal after another[3].

While this is not a complaint about overwork, it is a reminder of the necessity of something I believe our culture allows us too little of…slack. While the “work hard, and if that doesn’t pay off, work harder,” American ethos is one of our greatest collective strengths, it is also our Achilles Heel, as we look at those whose lives never allow even a moment of slack, let alone three days, and blame them for…what exactly? Sloth? Work harder so you don’t have to work so much?

There is an assumption that somehow hard work will eventually pay the dividend of slack, but I think the reality of our contemporary society shows that this is an unlikely outcome for most, and that those of us who are fortunate should count our blessings and advocate for a world that extends those blessings to others[4].

Because I have to believe that just about everyone deserves a chance to visit with a man named Bruce Rector, owner/proprietor of Ahh Wines, at his home/production facility nestled on the side of a mountain ridge in Glen Ellen, CA as my wife and I did yesterday afternoon.

Ahh Wines are named for your reaction after tasting the product, and it’s exactly what we did after our first sip of Bruce Rector’s sparkling syrah. For the next nearly three hours we listened to the story of Bruce and his amazing wine. Once a winemaker and consultant to some of the largest producers around the world, Ahh Wines limits itself to six barrels of production a year, produced entirely by Bruce and his wife, Krassimira.

When he is not tending to his wine, he paints, and writes, and hosts people like us. It is a life that appears worthy of envy, earned after years of work and passion and obsession. Bruce Rector made his first wine at age twelve. His first “successful” wine at twenty. He has built Ahh Wines bit by bit from scratch not to make a fortune, but to make wine to be proud of, to share with others.

And because I had nowhere to be and nothing to do, I could be there[5].

Unlike the other tastings, if we liked the wine (and we did), Bruce Rector poured us more, which meant we fairly stumbled down the hill towards town when we finally had to leave.

A wave of melancholy struck me as we arrived at our final destination, break over, save the travel home.

But isn’t that sense of loss the greatest gift, only felt in the presence of something worthwhile?

[1] Highly recommended. Perfect weather, beautiful scenery, and there’s something different about walking through a place than driving or even biking. We didn’t cover much ground, but less seemed to be more in this particular case. The last miles of the day were particularly painless after a final tasting. We booked our trip through Wine Country Trekking.

[2] I sometimes experience too much of one thing, i.e., grading, but this is not boredom as I see it.

[3] I know nothing about wine other than if imbibed in appropriately moderate amounts it induces a pleasant floaty feeling in my head. At each tasting you have about the equivalent of one glass, so one glass every couple of hours seems to be my sweet spot.

[4] And really, there are many many many many people who live lives of abundant slack through no work of their own, so it’s hard to see this as anything other than myth.

[5] As we prepared to leave, I checked my phone for the time and Bruce Rector remarked that we had been “good about our phones,” I suppose implying that others check them more often. During the time we spent at Ahh Wines I honestly forgot my phone even existed.


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