There are certain professions that may never allow for a decent vacation. Not in the way I think of a decent vacation, anyway. I think of vacation as a time to shed my working self and relax into a liminal space of almost no identity. Outside the environment where I am known and perhaps categorized, I can sink into whatever are the essential bits of me. And for me, those essential bits involve lots of long, solitary walks and reading while absorbing views of nature.
Eventually, though, I do enjoy a bit of human interaction. Soon into most human interaction, we come upon that standard American getting-to-know-you question, What do you do? Meaning, what is your job? Or possibly, how do you make the money you needed to be on this vacation?
I don’t mind that question. I love what I “do,” and consider it one of the things that informs my whole life. I try to be of service to people in this very particular way — I am a massage therapist. (Of course, when I answer the question, it is usually shortened to “I am a massage therapist.” Like “how are you,” the what do you do question is one that requires a superficial answer in most cases.)
When I was a newer therapist, I kind of enjoyed it when people would suggest that maybe I ply my trade to pay for this vacation, or when they started turning their aching shoulders or necks in my direction. In my ignorance, I thought that maybe I could help all kinds of people, and, let’s be honest, I enjoyed the attention.
Very soon, the attention grew wearying. I suppose it’s something akin to when doctors or other medical professionals go on vacation and find themselves being asked to diagnose every rash or sniffle or odd lump they come across. It is a much smaller scale for me, but it is still an intrusion. I love what I do for work, almost along the lines of a vocation, yet it is still not the full measure of my life.
And when I’m on vacation, I’m there to very definitely do something other than my work.
I struggled for a long time with how to politely and definitively steer away from the “my shoulder is sore, what is that?” conversations. Walking away was never an option for me. Nodding and smiling and speculating felt wrong. This year, I decided to try something revolutionary, radical and life-changing — to simply say the truth.
Here’s how it goes:
“What do you do?”
“I’m a massage therapist.”
“Ooo! I love massages! You could pay for your vacation doing shoulder rubs, I bet.”
Smile. “I’m here to rest.”
Or to write. Or to see the whales. Whatever. The point is, there is a time to massage and a time to do other things. I discovered I can very simply point out that this is the time to do other things.
The time to massage is listed on my schedule, and you can claim your time there. Meanwhile, I am sitting on the porch at my mother’s house, looking out at her luscious garden, about to put on my gloves and get to work. I’m here to pull weeds.