For three and a half years, I lived and worked in New Rochelle at the same school in the same place. Every day, it was just me and my work and my room. The same four walls, silence, and solitude and nothing else. Sure the rent was next to nothing and I was able to get my Masters and pay off any undergraduate debt I had. However, at what cost to my own mental health? Snow days were The Shining recreated, to say the least.
It was then that I understood why my father had always been so steadfast in his desire to get away from work and Long Island traffic and all its chaotic congestion. For as long as I can remember, he dreamed of buying a farm. After scouring the market for years, he finally found the antithesis of the cacophony of his over-saturated suburb: Ringtown, Pennsylvania.
Driving through town the first time, I felt like I was in an Old West ghost town. I waited for a tumble weed to blow across the street. It was deserted, the sun seemingly avoiding the shuttered storefronts, sad houses – no life.
Eventually, I discovered one restaurant at the bottom of his hill. Apparently, there’s a golf course somewhere although I have yet to confirm that it actually is in operation. Twenty minutes away, there’s a supermarket. And that’s pretty much it. Exactly what he wanted.
With no internet, limited television, bad cell phone reception, few people, and infinite darkness, my father found the quiet that had eluded him on the Island. There, in Ringtown, it’s just you, a bottle of scotch, a cigar, a smoked piece of meat, the fire pit, and the stars. And, of course, my father and uncle calling each other “brother” incessantly until they lull each other to sleep.
That’s not to say that everyone has to go off the grid and go up to Ulster County or Middle of Nowhere, PA. My father’s place in Ringtown is symbolic of all the retreats, from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Georgia to Lake George. I was thinking about it out on the North Fork with my old roommate a few weeks ago. His parents don’t allow him to come up to their summer house alone because they know he’ll throw a booze-fueled, stripper-heavy rager. It makes complete sense: they have a pristine house they’ve almost completely remodeled. This is quite the contrast to my father’s 70s-era house that still has many of the same decorations. But that’s not important to him. Different ambitions, different expectations, same idea of finding solace away from the wear of the work week.
Sure, a summer house is a luxury few can afford, but the the house itself isn’t even a necessity. It’s the act of getting away to a place that offers the peace to reflect, whether that’s a cabana on the beach, a camping trip in Minnesota, or a hike in Bear Mountain.
Why can’t it just be “work, work, work, work, work”? After all, work provides the means for the summer hideaway, the excursion, the reprieve. And that’s true, but it can’t only be that pursuit. Life can’t be solely about just that and the interplay between professional obligations and personal obligations. There has to be some pause and reflection – some downtime, some leisure, some peace.
Or else it really might become…