Thursday, June 2, 2016

Vacation or Vocation

Vacation means vacating, that is to say, leaving home, customarily in town, to spend time elsewhere, more often in the countryside which conventionally suggests the seashore or the mountains, sometimes abroad, in order to escape the seasonal discomfort like the summer heat and winter cold.  Vacationers go to live  in a country house or a beach house, owned or rented, or else stay in an inn or a hotel.  Underlying the notion of vacation is the urban living, which developed into a norm with the rise of the industrialization.  The more strict sense of vacation, dictionaries explain, is a scheduled period of closing the shop as applied to schools and law courts.  The term vacation, meaning the leave of absence from a regular occupation is a more recent usage, and it is a notion integral in that of the wage, also a product of industrial revolution, by which a worker is paid by the hour rather than by the output of the work.  Since work by wage is bound to be tedious in so far as it is the result of the division of labor and imposes a high degree of repetition and monotony, work came to mean something onerous which requires the worker to “take a break” from now and then to provide a respite, to recuperate. So, vacation in contemporary usage came to mean, especially for wage earners, an escape not so much from any climatic discomfort but from boredom of work and as such a necessity verging on obligation. 

In the preindustrial society before the coinage of the term, presumably early in the nineteenth century, work was self-motivated, certainly for artisans, merchants, and farmers. The modern connotation of work as something that has to be done obligatorily to earn a living and thus opposed to play and pleasure was unknown in old times as for old-style artists and craftspersons today who work with pride in the works they produce, for whom work is a vocation.  A priest, if he takes a vacation, does not stop being a priest; but a lawyer away from her or his office on vacation apparently ceases his lawyerly work.  Anyone who keeps working while allegedly on vacation, unable to escape deploying all the modern means of communication to stay in touch with the office, is thought to be wasting a vacation time by neglecting the obligation to “take a break.”  This is not to say that old-time and old-style craftspersons did not have a break; breaks were interspersed in their day.  A potter does not necessarily stay at the wheel all day; a novelist does not necessarily sit to write all day.  On the other hand, any creative work basically has no scheduled vacation.  A writer walking down the street is likely to be rewriting in her or his mind a section of the work in progress; a composer slurping ramen noodle may be rolling in her or his mind a motif in the piece currently being composed. An architect, jostled in a crowded subway, could well be mentally redrawing an elevation.  A creative artist’s work continues while traveling, probably even more intensely in new environments as being abroad.  In creative efforts, work is play and vice versa; so, the notion of vacation understood in the contemporary office culture does not exist.  The idea of “paid vacation” is a modified bonus; paid as it is, it paradoxically makes vacations a part of office work away from the office.  Curiously, creative work, like vocation, is continually a vacation, while uncreative work, typically in office culture, is obligatorily a work even on vacation. 

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