A holiday at home

The Wednesday and Thursday of the week just gone were public holidays here in Timor-Leste, and a lot of my friends took leave from work on the Friday to get a five-day break of just a day’s leave.

I had groups of friends go to Jaco Island and Mount Ramelau; mates jet off to next-door Bali; and people joining colleagues and friends returning to their districts to pay All Saints’ Day respects at family gravesites. I could have joined any of those trips, and I thought about it — but decided in the end that all I really wanted was a week at home in Dili.

I’ve been out of Dili on three separate trips this month, I’ll go on two or three more before the end of the year, and thanks to booking Christmas flights my bank account has been scraped clean. Am I just looking for a trip to go on to feel like I’m using my break well, I wondered? And if I am, what do I mean by well?

I’ve been holidaying in Dili, removed from normal work responsibilities, for four days now. I’ve organised a lot: my car is clean and on the way to get repaired; the air conditioner repair man is coming later today; my flights to Perth for Christmas are locked in; my house is clean and my wardrobe half the size it was last week; my insurance claim is finally in; my invoices are organised and my writing for next year planned out. I’m making headway with the novel I’m reading, the articles clogging up my Facebook’s saved links, and Joni Mitchell’s back catalogue; I’m skyping friends and emailing home and calling my representatives; I’ve started a compost bin and have made a new friend and organised a new volunteering job and hung out with my landlady and slept in and spent good time with a special guy and, notable for this movie-avoider, even visited the Cineplex.

The next thing on my dot-pointed list of things-to-do-this-weekend reads ‘Sunday, 05/11: RELAX.”

The irony doesn’t escape me.

“It’ll be fuuunnn,” friends enthused, when I told them I was planning on spending the weekend in Dili. “No one will be there; it’ll be so nice and quiet.”

They were right — but we all appear to have forgotten how utterly incapable I am of functioning without a whole lot happening to drown out the chatter in my head.

So, of course, I made some.

The neat, handwritten list of things to do, with arbitrary deadlines assigned to each by me. The Big Projects: car repair, start vegetable garden, clean out wardrobe, do profile writing course purchased last month from the Australian Writers’ Centre, finish communications strategy for work. The Big Thoughts: contemplate masters’ degree, set goals for November, identify writing competitions and events for next year, brood over what scares me. The smaller things I’ve procrastinated with work in the way — make muesli, buy groceries, sleep more, spend more time with my neighbours, get that damn insurance form in, all of it tied in some way to the neat package of the five-day weekend and the fake urgency of completing it all now and the phantom carrot of done-ness.

And now I’ve done most of it, or enough of it to discharge obligation to complete the rest, and all that’s staring back unchecked is RELAX, RELAX, Sophie, schedule some time to relax, yeah?

Four days into my long break, it’s finally feeling like a holiday.

I’m glad to have done what I have this weekend — these are the tasks and errands and things I keep meaning to do, but never seem to have enough time in my regular work to focus on.

But I’m also glad to give myself permission to turn down the chatter in my head, check out from my to-do list, and go to the beach for sunset without feeling like I need a reason or a tick-box. That would be the biggest change from normal life of all — the best vacation.

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