And, if you're sitting there thinking you missed the boat, never fear! We're going to keep accepting VACATION submissions until the end of July, too. That means that whatever here moves you to write your own piece won't be for naught: we'll read it right up to the end. So keep sending us your tales of frolic and your flights of fancy -- we want it all.
Grab a fancy drink (you know: the kind with an umbrella) and join us here every Monday. We're living it up for two months, and you're invited.
As I envision myself sitting poolside in the sun, ordering expensive, colorful drinks, eating out every night, popping into local shops with my wife, and exploring an unfamiliar city or town by foot, it’s almost enough to make me stop this whole train right now. I could save myself the agony of all that if I just closed these discount travel website tabs immediately. But I won’t. I can’t. Because the hunt is too good.
Dmitri finds himself on a celebrity slaveholder's house tour. He's not sure of how events have contrived to bring him there. The last thing he remembers is packing a bag, he was folding clothes and packing them, though he'd be at a loss to say where he was originally going or why. Outside the heat is murderous. While walking down a wide hall behind an oblivious but garrulous guide, Dmitri's distracted by the virtuosity inherent in the hand that made a certain crown moulding, stops to admire it, fails to take his meds as he should every day at this time, and has an episode. He denounces Stalin, Jefferson Davis, and the mother of Jefferson Davis. He is incoherent and has to be restrained. In the ambulance he wets himself. Following a brief chat with a state psychiatrist, he receives a new prescription and is discharged. Once outside, he throws away the prescription, which the lady at the discharge desk pronounced per-skip-shin, and begins a slow walk to nowhere.
He must have heard the squeals from all the way up in the pavilion where I assume he sat on the edge of a picnic table strategizing how this year, the green team would dominate in Capture the Flag. Word had spread fast among the girls who attended Camp Sassacus the session before, and bore witness to “the face of God” a.k.a. Counselor Steve. I had heard this sort of dramatic declaration before from the boy crazy committee at school. These were the girls who leeched onto every new boy and tried to make him their boyfriend between homeroom and closing bell. They hyped up new student arrivals with salacious rumors no one knew what to do with.
Dear Sarah Carpenter,
It is the tail end of twilight on a New Orleans Saturday night and it’s true what they say about living in the south during the summer, things are slower. Liking moving through molasses.
Now imagine living through molasses, and cooking a lot in a hot kitchen, and sweat running down your back, and being constantly sticky, and being constantly with your lover, and constantly cooking and cleaning up the kitchen, and writing, and sweating, and thinking about your lover, and writing letters and receiving letters that may or may not inflame your lover because some of the letters received may be deemed love letters from certain members of certain villages. Because it is too hot to tan in the sun, the only time I spend in it is when I am riding in the back of his truck with the black wolf dog, which is glorious.
smoked salmon on a warm night by the campfire
after a day of fishing
barbecue will turn that salmon
from white to pink
the stars half an hour high
the mists of Lake Arrowhead
spraying our breaths
spiky pine trees waft through the woods
For my whole life, I've felt like Europe is kind of winning. In America, we constantly hear about our gun crime, our terrible education, our hypocritically nosy government, our over-sized, well, everything. Europe is a quieter, friendlier, and more environmentally conscious place to be. And if someone had asked me a few years ago where the best examples of these admirable traits might be found, I would have said Scandinavia, and specifically Iceland.
Memphis, Tennessee: August 16, 1977. We are passing through on our way from Morgantown, West Virginia to Greenville, Mississippi. We have driven, flown, or bussed down south as far back as I can remember to spend our summer vacations with Mom’s people, who live in Mississippi and Louisiana. When we fly, Daddy stays behind for a couple of weeks—he can’t afford to take off work for too long—and later drives down to bring us back home. It’s a long, lonely drive, but he does it dutifully and without complaint. He probably enjoys the peace and quiet.
Experiences I Had in a Sensory Deprivation Tank
1. This isn’t scary. This isn’t claustrophobic. The box is the perfect size. The water is heated perfectly to the temperature of my skin. There's even a little night-light if you are scared of the dark.
2. It’s so quiet! I can hear everything my body is doing. I thought someone was tapping on my tank just now, but I realize that thump is actually my own heartbeat. It is that quiet.
"Everybody wants to visit the moon." When I got here, that's what I told myself. "Everybody wants to be here." "It's important to be here." "I'm so lucky to be here." But when I strapped into the pod and blasted through the atmosphere at g-force speeds sending my guts into another dimension and my body into a place only a chosen few have seen and will ever see up close, it all felt, well, dumb.
Tourist propaganda may have you believe that vacations are all about mountains, the Grand Canyon, cruises and sipping out of margarita glasses with giant lime fetuses (I think there’s a general consensus among all DECENT human beings that fruit has no place in any beverage—save for orange juice on the occasions you’ve got terrible drip from the drugs you just snorted) and other stuff like that.
What if I told you that you could experience the most rewarding vacations while not blowing that stack of cash you (don’t) have?
My family has taken three trips to Disney World. Once when I was four, then eight, then twelve. The last trip was made possible because we sold the family farm in Virginia. My grandma’s daddy, his daddy, and his daddy before him were tobacco farmers. And finally in the early '90s, my family decided to leave the tobacco industry to spend one last time together at the happiest place on earth. I have a distinct and wonderful memory of our first family vacation there when I was four. I don’t have too many memories from this time in my life, so it is a particularly cherished one.
The Promise of Novelty
You are excited. You are going on a trip to a new place. You are leaving behind the things you are used to, the things that make you the way you are. A lot of the way you are is shitty. You oversleep. You don’t bathe or brush your teeth enough. You don’t eat well. You are mean to your sister, and you are too nice to boys who don’t listen to you. So you are going on a trip. For a long time: four months. For school. To a different country. To be somewhere different. To be someone different.
By the way, you are me.
I was trying to focus on the light itself
ignoring the mass grave through which
the pink desert whipped.
The murderous Texan air sent
to rest on our windshield, frayed
before the light, now tangent to the earth,
seared through their bodies
dancing opalescent patterns on the dashboard.
by Sarah Ruttinger
If I had to distill the mission of my life, it would be that I want to have the full range of human experiences. We won’t get into my reservations about childbirth here, but it’s fair to say that I want to experience everything at least once, and I like to do the thing you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to reach these milestones. Since I am approaching 30, I realized that time was running out to do the backpacking-through-Europe-with-friends thing while I was still young. So against all better judgment, I took a large chunk of my savings and embarked on a three-week adventure.
Modern traveling can be awfully complicated. Many people are looking for more authentic experiences abroad and are taking vacations off the beaten path. However, most travelers are embarrassingly ignorant of the cultures of modern day guerrilla groups, cult leaders, and international despots. I often get asked questions like “Is it impolite to ask my guerrilla captor if I can have my own machete?” Or, “Is it necessary to participate in all cult rituals when I know I am facing imminent escape/rescue?”
We are parked on a very steep hill with our backs to Monterey Bay, fighting and crying. We have had this fight before: at first it is about the fact that we live in California when we both wish we were living in Oregon, but then it becomes, as our fights almost always do, a fight about how we fight, about whether the way we fight means that our relationship is doomed and that we’re two unfixable humans. What makes this fight different is that we’re having it during what was supposed to be a spontaneous romantic weekend getaway, and that I have one extra thing to be angry about: there is a giant weeping sore on my chin, and I keep catching him looking at it and I’m positive he’s congratulating himself for having the everyday courage to stay married to a woman whose face is being eaten away, zombie-like, by a bacteria most often found in the nostrils of preschoolers.
1. A morning message is a text that a teacher writes to his/her students. Generally, it begins with a greeting and is often signed by the teacher. These messages are written before the students arrive and are read by the whole class at the start of the day.
April 14, 2014
Good Morning 3rd Grade Bobcats! Happy Monday! As you have probably noticed, I’m not here today. My in-laws were in town over the weekend, and I just knew I was going to have to take a day to recover. Trust me, in twenty years you’ll understand. But I did come in over the weekend to write this message to you! I’m sure today will be full of surprises and learning. Please be kind to your substitute, Ms. Wilson (formerly Mrs. Brooks). She just went through a divorce, so she’s kind of fragile right now.
Sincerely, Ms. Sarasohn
5: The house on Wooddale Drive. Biting my best friend on the forehead. The waxy blue chair my mom nursed me in. The hill of Queen Anne’s lace.
7: The house with the blue roof. Getting stung by twenty one bees in my scalp, and all the hornets that would accumulate in the sun room and then die there. My brother sitting on the open door of the dishwasher eating a bagel.
18: The house on Snowline Road. The bag of white chocolate chips I ate while I sat in the corner, listening to Little Women on tape. Ripping up my carpet and painting a Jackson Pollock floor, and painting my walls sunflower yellow and my ceiling green. The three maple trees outside my windows and the creaky window handle that would get stuck when you tried to turn it. The wall I covered in magazine pages and a Heath bar wrapper in honor of my first celebrity crush. Carving my initials under a shelf in the closet when I moved out.
Last year I left my home in Portland, Oregon to go to South Africa with my family of six. Here is an excerpt from my journal. I drew a tarot card a day to prompt me and keep writing.
On our graduation trip to the ski hill I repeatedly caught my student, Andre, eyeing the advanced slope. He and his classmates were at the foot of the beginner’s hill trying to figure out how to ski or snowboard without falling down, while the instructors stood nearby giving tips and encouragement. It was one week before Andre would graduate from our program and two weeks before he would be arrested again for armed robbery, but in this moment there was only one challenge on my most ambitious student’s mind. The spastic intensity I had always known to be definitive of Andre’s disposition had given way to a peaceful, lithe kind of determination; his hands, normally shaking in the aftermath of fistfight fractures, hung at ease now that they were sheathed in ski gloves. That mountain had his attention. It presented to Andre a swath of possibility tempting in its utter foreignness, a dare he had never fathomed, only 90 minutes north on the map yet so far removed from Queens, where he lived.
1) Please bring between one (1) and two (2) tents. Additional tents are frowned upon, and the park ranger will be very disappointed in you if he finds more than two (2) tents on your campsite. Two tents is actually pushing it. You’re only supposed to have the second tent if you have children under the age of twelve (12) in your party. You probably only have children if last year’s passionate music festival romance was illtimed with regard to reproductive cycles.
Hanging from his review mirror is a keychain: a token that says, “don’t drive faster than your guardian angel can fly!” It's printed in a childish font, with a small charm in the shape of an angel. It was a gift from his mother. Whenever he takes a corner too fast or hits a pothole, the two metal pieces jingle together. It makes me think of It’s A Wonderful Life, but I doubt this tinkling could give even a fruit fly wings. The entire interior of the car is beige, but that’s easy to forget. Three months and 3,000 miles has compressed year's worth of long talks and nights out and midnight snacks and singing too loud and too off-key to care. Sometimes when he sings, he puts his elbow on the center console and an extended index finger pointing out the windshield, as if he’s proving a point in an argument instead of delivering a line from a Katy Perry song. He turns down the radio.
Being a white woman in Uganda, there is, inevitably, a lot of staring that happens in my daily life. A LOT. People stare at me -- all the time. Some of the stares are curious, some are friendly, some are suspicious, some are ogling, some are wondering, some are judgmental, some are dumbfounded. In response, depending on the “vibe” of the stare, combined with my mood, I have found myself responding in a variety of ways. Sometimes I find that I “match” the stare. If I feel that it is rude and ogling, I often end up glaring back. If the stare is innocently curious, I usually smile and wave. It always feels better to be stared at when the other person is sharing some level of vulnerability. For example, when I am swimming in the Nile, I really don’t mind being stared at by a woman who is bathing herself and her child. Whereas, when a boat full of fishermen come by to lurk and ogle, I want to go tip over the boat or run far away. It is when I feel like a spectacle, an object, a “thing to be viewed” that I find the hackles rising on the back of my neck.
Sex was infrequent and we peed with the door open.
It was the beginning of the end.
We were in bed one gray Sunday in November eating ham sandwiches when she asked me if I was still in love with her. The truth was that I didn’t know. I mean… I did love her. But my uncertainty as to whether I was still in love with her was a sign that I probably was not. In any case, I lied. I couldn’t tell if she believed me, but it was clear that she wanted to. Sunlight poured through the window, baking a blanket covered in stale crumbs.
“A vacation is when you get to do exactly what you want all the time.”
–Angelica Pickles, 1997
Wiser words were never spoken -- at least not by another cartoon toddler. I recently realized that humorous television series of the late 1990s often used a vacation as an opportunity to create higher-stakes plot lines for their homebody characters. In an act of blatant nostalgia, I’ve revisited three of my favorite shows from the that era and found that, according to the characters I spent every evening of my childhood with, vacation allows for the impossible to suddenly be possible; it makes you do things you never imagined you would do; and, often, it could change your life forever.
Last April, my aunt invited me to join her and her family at their rented beach house for spring break. I accepted in an act of desperation.
At the time I very much needed to figure things out. Exactly what needed figuring out was part of the problem. Until recently, I kind of thought I had things more or less, figured out. I was a writer who did various part time jobs until the day his ship sailed in and his writing endeavors paid off. Seemed fine to me.
But then one day it came to my attention that I was only a few months away from hitting 30; and that’s when I realized I had nothing figured out. Not. One. Thing.
Cue the music. We’re going for a long ride.
It’s hot and still as any summer weekend should be allowed to be, and we have our windows down. Hard to imagine so much rain is less than two hundred miles away. Our music is passing between cars and mixing muddy in the space between, pidgin notes and lyrics. We’re listening to the few radio stations that aren’t on a constant bulletin loop or our MP3 players as they suck up juice from the cigarette lighters, lighting our jawlines with blue light. A few of us have old tape decks on their last legs. We represent all formats, all genres, all decibels. You could confuse us for a tailgating party. You could confuse us with a parking lot. Half a mile an hour on the interstate that dips down into our city, half a mile an hour memorizing the license plates in front of us on the overpass high above our neighborhoods. Amongst us are the showoffs, the ones who piled luggage on top of 14-inch speakers and expensive amps, bass heavy and proud. Amongst us are the classicists, Bach to calm our nerves. Nothing moves as fast as the beats or the trills. Even slow jazz outpaces us. We pull forward in the space between the notes.
Hey kids! I know it’s hard dressing for a family vacation, but don't worry your little heads any further because I'm here to help! I've got three simple looks that will make you say, "I nailed that vacation!" when you look back on your family photos.