Metro, boulot, dodo — ras-le-bol!

By Caitlin Kelly

The French say it so much better, as usual — subway/train, work, sleep. (Enough already!)

That’s what “normal” life too often devolves into, a steady and numbing routine that continues unbroken, sometimes for decades.

The past 10 days’ break have been a blessing indeed, with a deliciously indolent rhythm of eat/sleep/repeat. Shop, visit a museum, see friends, read for pleasure, sit in the sun on the dock and listen to gulls squawking. Just slooooooooooooow down to whatever pace is ours alone.

Both of the friends we stayed with, both long-married couples with empty nests, are people we’ve known for many years, welcoming and gracious hosts who fed us well and stayed up into the night talking. Both have cats and large, affectionate dogs who would come and nose us awake in the silent mornings.

The husbands get along beautifully and the women, like me, love to make stuff, whether sewing or art or calligraphy — one is a fellow writer and the other is a graphic designer who teaches and runs her own firm. She helped me make this amazing bag with fabric I bought years ago in Toronto and a vintage watch face I found in Richmond and attached with a button — with a $ sign! — she just happened to have in her stash of antique buttons.

It’s the perfect bag for a freelance writer: time, words, money.


It was deeply refreshing to just not have to do anything. (That’s not entirely accurate, as two of my editors wanted more work on two stories I thought were fully tied off, but you ignore clients at your peril.)

This week back home in New York is a bit of the usual whirlwind — meeting a friend in from San Francisco Tuesday for a drink, an event at a local library for my book “Malled” on Wednesday, and Thursday night will join a group of New York Times staffers at a trivia contest — we won last year, so it’s time to defend our title against The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and a room filled with ferocious journalism competitors eager to prove who’s smartest.

It will be the usual blur of meetings, calls, emails, pitches, errands, follow-ups.

The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at su...
The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at sunset in Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson, Arizona. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But next Saturday we fly to Tucson, Arizona for two more weeks where Jose will be working long days teaching the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. I’ll be giving a lecture on freelancing, but the rest of my time there is pure rest and relaxation. I’m hoping to hike the Grand Canyon again — the last time was June 1994 — alone, as last time. I can’t wait to go horseback riding through one of my favorite parts of the country.

Our time off has let us feel human again, not just weary industrial cogs in machines moving far too quickly. We laughed a lot and slept deeply.

Have you been able to take a break recently?

Did it help?

29 thoughts on “Metro, boulot, dodo — ras-le-bol!

  1. Pour moi, la française, fini le “métro, boulot, dodo” J’ai pris une année sabbatique! Et j’en profite pour faire vraiment ce que j’ai envie de faire, sans contrainte. J’ai passé 3 mois à Vancouver et maintenant je suis à Montréal. Je vais même venir prochainement à New York, la ville tant aimée des français… C’est une expérience enrichissante qu’il faut vraiment faire une fois dans sa vie. Un break, un vrai 🙂

  2. KM

    Only tiny breaks for me right now.
    I love your bag though, what a great design and a totally unique, classy look! nice work! 🙂

  3. No breaks at all. I’m a teacher–that just doesn’t happen. But, my summer is coming. There I will need one week to lie on the floor and simply recover. After that, I’m outa here. I’ll keep you posted.

  4. The last break was a much needed break between my winter and spring trimesters. I get off in a month though, and then I can rest, read, write, and cook. CANNOT WAIT.

    Enjoy Arizona! I’ve always wanted to go there!

  5. I am finally starting work again, after 5 months of enforced light duties. And there’s not much light duty for a self employed builder. I did manage to complete National Poetry Writing Month for the first time though. A pleasant silver lining.


  6. I’m glad your break went so well and you’ve returned refreshed and entertained to the treadmill. I’m allowing the thought of a break soon to keep me going, and trying to arrange for my daughter, son in law and two nieces to be available at the same time so we can be our own entertainment wherever we are. A real family outing I hope.Deciding the when and where may have to be a dictatorial decision though as deciding by committee doesn’t seem to be working so far.

  7. I’m glad you had a good break, with another one in sight. You work hard, it’s important to take time to step back, rest, and recharge.
    I honestly don’t remember the last time I had a real break. No real vacation in sight for me, but I am going to try to pull back this summer.
    Love the bag!

    1. Thanks…Jose and I were quite different people with so much time to just chill out. We were also very very fortunate to have hosts who did everything for us. I have not been so well cared for in a long time, and that was an additional pleasure.

      Maybe we can catch up for another lunch in June?

      Isn’t it fun?!

  8. Love the bag – how much do you want for it? Enjoy your time in Arizona – it is a wonderful place as we both know. I have a friend who hikes up and down the Canyon like it is nothing but I know I wouldn’t make it.

    1. I suspect people may ask! I could see making more of them if I could find that fabric again.

      I am eager to do the Canyon but nervous as well. I started my hike (also in early June then) at 8:00 a.m., which was far too late, putting me walking across unshaded desert at noon alone. If I do it this time, I hope to be on the trail the second it is light enough to see properly.

      1. Personal question – have you been working out or walking a lot? It is a grueling trail. I can see the Phoenix headlines now “New York Times journalist rescued from Bright Angel Trail. Plans to write book about experience.”

      2. Of course a book is in it! 🙂

        I just got back from my weekly 60-minute grueling jazz dance class and have been doing elliptical 1-2 times a week on top of that, so I feel pretty fit. I’m not as fit as last time — 40 lbs lighter, 19 years younger and without a hip replacement — and freshly off of competing in fencing sabre at nationals in Salt Lake City.

      3. You are a marvel. You should be ok and in fact will leave others in the dust of your hiking boots. Salty-sweet snacks, too, not just water. Look forward to maybe some photos and certainly your comments on the ordeal you are about to put yourself through.

      4. Believe me, I was just discussing what I would take with me this time (food) with Jose. I may also decide to do only half of it — it was 4 hours down to the creek and another 8 back up. Not sure I am in the mood for 12 hours’ hiking in one day in that heat.

  9. ianprichard

    We were just in the Grand Canyon a couple weeks ago. It was great. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, and my fiancee Erin had never been. She’s such a New Yorker – up till the week before, she kept asking me, “Wait, where are we going camping again?” Natural Wonders Of The World aren’t exactly part of her daily thought process… But we had a grand time and she loved it. We had a couple good post-big-spaces discussions about this very thing you’re talking about, how important it is to take some time and get some perspective, about how places like the Grand Canyon remind us that we’re insignificant specks in the grand scheme of things and that letting the petty pet peeves of work and daily life annoy us is really rather silly. We spewed platitudes and really meant them, and I think it’s really important every once in a while to get to that level, to realize that those needlepoint sayings are actually really weighty and profound and hard to implement and live by.

    I used to think it was really important to go above and beyond – five years ago, I would have insisted on hiking from the rim to the Colorado and camping out of a backpack for a week or two, because why else would you even bother?

    But I’m beginning to realize that it’s okay to do quick getaways just like everyone else does, and allow them to work and function in my life like they’re supposed to. It’s been a process of letting go of my stupid pride and this stupid idea I had of myself as a World Traveler-Adventurer-Journeyer. Since giving that stuff up, I’ve been able to enjoy every little trip I take. It also has to do with the fact that, tiring as it is, I really enjoy my real-life life and don’t feel the need to escape forever-and-for-good all the time. I need to build these kinds of getaways into my life in order to give myself the space to remember how lucky I am and how good my life it.

    Thanks for posting this – always good to read that people as busy and successful as you are in this demanding line of work very consciously build in time for mental and emotional health.

    1. Thanks for such a cool comment…and so glad you got to the Grand Canyon. I think everyone who possibly can get there must try. I found it life-changingly silent and beautiful…you literally descend through milennia.

      I really agree (shock, horror) that the toughest way to do everything (also my default mode) is not necessary or even fun. I do hope to camp there (I got a tent for my 55th!) and hike in, but likely not nearly as extensively as before. I hope to stay for two or three days to simply experience as much of it as I can without dying of hyperthermia (quite possible with temps now up to 100 degrees.)

      It was a real shock this week to return to the insane haste and pace of “normal life” after 10 days of quiet relaxation. Even turning on the radio, I realize (a habit I enjoy) saps my energy sometimes more than energizes me. These breaks are so important to re-calibrate what we REALLY want from the day-to-day madness of more-more-more/faster-faster-faster. It’s very counter-cultural to commit to breaks, let alone long ones but I fail to see the point of working all the time.

      I know I could not last in this work without breaks, naps and time to myself, no matter how difficult it is (and it is) to carve it out. The stress of unpaid time off means working crazy hard to afford it, but I cannot wait to just chill…

      1. ianprichard

        Totally counterculture – my coworkers and friends poke fun at my “European length” vacations. “What do you think this is, Switzerland? We don’t take three weeks off in August in America.”

        And it really is true that you can miss out on entire cultural trends in a matter of a few weeks. When I was living in Colombia (granted it was six months, a little longer), Blue Ray discs came out, hit their newness zenith, and returned to part of tech status quo, all while I was gone — and I still haven’t really figured out what they are or what the big deal is supposed to be…

        Have tons of fun and enjoy your new tent.

      2. Three weeks…that’s nothing! 🙂

        I am really eager to see if I can take off for six and tootle around Europe visiting pals and crossing off some countries I have not seen (Croatia and Balkans, Hungary, Greece, more of Germany, Belgium, Scandinavia and Netherlands…) I just miss being in a totally foreign environment.


      3. ianprichard

        I know, that’s the irony – “Try three MONTHS!” I tell them.

        We’re thinking of doing the Adriatic/Balkans/Aegean for our honeymoon! Croatia especially looks absolutely gorgeous. And no cognates in the language, different kinds of food – totally foreign. I’m sure you’ll keep us all posted and I look forward to reading about it all.

      4. Oooooooh. That sounds fantastic! I am dying to visit Hvar. One friend who has visited Montenegro raved about it and Jose (my husband) has been to Bosnia and would like to return. It’s a place with such history and physical beauty. I am also eager to see Dubrovnik.

        I’ll blog and post pix from Arizona. Super excited.

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