On the Perils of Relaxation

YellowstoneRelaxation can be dangerous.  I avoided it completely from September 2007 through the end of 2008. In those fifteen months, my wife and I both left years of corporate servitude behind, started consulting and freelance businesses, and I joined with some former colleagues to re-startup a divested division of my former company. Our toddler son had the only stable gig in our family, working the nine-to-five daycare shift. I’m glad to say that my time was his on weekday evenings before bedtime, and all weekend between naps (his and/or mine), and for this I have no regrets. He’s way cool. But the balance of all other waking hours melted into work. Usually this was the fun and engaging type of work, but it wouldn’t ever be confused with relaxation. When I got away from it for a few days here and there, it would stay on my mind; the gears were always turning; the laptop, iPhone, or VPN never far from reach. Until this week.

YellowstoneWe packed up our operation and headed for Florida to hang out with my parents for the week between Christmas and the New Year. Great weather, beach, pool, grandma and grandpa, and all that good stuff. Everything was rosy. Then I got an idea: let’s cash in a babysitting coupon, so my wife and I could escape for a micro-vacation — like grown-ups! I booked the Ritz up the road in Sarasota, dinner at a great restaurant in town, spa and massages, the works. It was so very excellent. By the time our 24 hour escape had concluded, I felt something I don’t recall experiencing for years: complete and total relaxation. The sound of gears not turning. Mental energy dissipated. Worries forgotten. Brain idle.

Yellowstone Mammoth TerracesThen, in an instant, this state of placid harmony was shattered. And I blame the blogosphere. Because it was about at that moment that I came across a BoingBoing post about some 250 earthquakes at Yellowstone in the last few days. Not long thereafter, a similar post appeared on Slashdot. Thus both of my trustworthy sources for important information about the world had independently confirmed that a super-volcanic apocalypse was imminent. It should be noted that I didn’t actually read either of the posts or any of the details; just the headlines. And I vaguely recall having seen a Discovery Channel special about the Yellowstone caldera blowing out half of North America, plunging the Earth into a volcanic winter, and exterminating mankind (or something like that). But I became increasingly paralyzed with anxiety about the untimely arrival of the end of days. Suddenly, fundamentalist terrorism, the threat of nuclear conflict on the Asian subcontinent, and various client deadlines seemed like rather trivial matters.

I had to explain my anxiety to my wife, who promised to stock up on canned goods and large bags of rice, just in case. And after pondering my suddenly emergent state of mental instability, the root cause hit me like a chunk of boiling magma: I was relaxed. Nature is completely intolerant of a vacuum, so the Volcanic Apocalypse rushed in to fill the void.

I’ve been working on purging this virus, with the help of some Wii Bowling, reading, and music. The gears are going to have to start turning again by Monday, so I think I should be safe for a while. But I’m hoping the present blog provides another outlet to diversify my mental energy in the months to come. If it gets quiet for too long, I’ve probably either reverted to my old ways, or perhaps we’re all just buried under several feet of ash.

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