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Vacation Productivity

Vacations are meant for relaxation, for getting away from the daily routines, for engaging in things you normally don't do in the regular work-a-day world. Holiday vacations, especially, are meant for such relaxation, preferably among friends and family members.

My Christmas vacation was that, but it was also much more than I expected in the way of work productivity. Although I didn't take with me any manuscripts to be proofed or edited and no writing to be done when we went to Florida for Christmas with my father-in-law, aunt-in-law, and sister-in-law, I did surprise myself in how much I was able to accomplish in the way of reading. Just for fun. But it all also proved beneficial to my writing. A double win!

When one is with two nonagenarians who don't rise until 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and who retire at 7:00 p.m., he doesn't expect to do anything strenuous or adrenalin producing or heart-rate elevating. But for someone like myself, there surely is more to do than watch Fox Business News and put together jigsaw puzzles during the waking hours in between. There must be something that is at least mentally stimulating to occupy one's time in such a circumstance.

So, with that reality in mind, I took with me a little book titled The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick. That would give me something to do--and perhaps I might even improve my writing as a result.

"Every work of literature," Gornick wrote, "has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer; the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say."

She also wisely stated the writer's dilemma: "If you don't leave home you suffocate, if you go too far you lose oxygen."

Important points for any writer to ponder.

But I finished that book in the first two days I was in Florida. Now what? I searched for both the location and the opportunity to visit any available bookstore. I had to get something to read! My father-in-law decided he wanted us to take him to the mall so he could walk a little. Bingo! The bookstore was on the way. I came out with three books. I read two and a third of them before leaving Florida to return home.

The first one I read was Fearless Writing by William Kenower. It was filled with helpful gems of writerly wisdom, but the big takeaway for me was this, which he reiterated throughout the book albeit in different wording : "[E]very writer's pet fear stems from the mother of all fears: What other people think of what I write. . . ." This has always been the case, but it is accentuated and exaggerated in our current age of "wokeness" when almost anything one writes is bound to offend someone, if not today, then tomorrow or next week or next month. Eliminate that fear, and one can write freely and honestly and certainly more effectively. (Doesn't the Bible warn us of the effects of the fear of man?)

Kenower's book finished in short order, I started the diamond of all the books I read over the vacation period, The Rifle by Andrew Biggio. I had heard about the book from my son-in-law, but I had never seen it. It was twice as long as the two previous books I read during my vacation, but it was one that I couldn't put down.

Biggio, a military veteran of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan had begun searching for information concerning his great uncle and his experiences fighting in Italy during World War II, much as I had traced my own uncle's footsteps through northern Europe during that war. (By the way, Dillon's War is due to be edited this spring in preparation for a release soon thereafter. Stay tuned!)

Biggio read a letter that his great uncle had sent home in which he remarked about how he loved shooting the M1 Garand rifle that the Army issued to him. Biggio decided to buy one so that he could feel what his great uncle had felt and somehow create a connection to him. After all, he had never known his great uncle because he had been killed during combat in Italy.

After buying the M1 Garand and doing more research, Biggio decided that he should try to interview as many World War II veterans from all possible campaigns and theaters before they passed forever from the scene. He would have them autograph his rifle. Then, perhaps he could use their stories of survival, both during and after the war, to help modern combat veterans who were suffering from PTSD, proving to them that others had been able to deal with their war terrors and fears and memories and not only survive but also thrive as civilians during peacetime. "I knew I could prove," Biggio wrote, "that veterans can live long, successful lives after near-death military experiences."

Each chapter of The Rifle tells the story of one of those World War II veterans. The youngest one was 92, the oldest 101. Many of them had been reluctant to talk about their war experiences, but once they saw and held that M1 rifle, their tongues were suddenly loosed and they related those memories. Seeing firsthand how that rifle helped those nonagenarians, Biggio realized that perhaps he should take to some of the interviews with him one of his friends who was dealing badly with his own wartime memories. Included in one chapter is a photo of that friend sitting beside the World War II veteran, who is holding the M1. Each man is wearing a prosthesis, both having lost a leg in combat. Both men were helped by the elder's relating of his war experiences. I, too, was helped by the stories to get a clearer mental picture of what my uncle must have experienced both during and after the war.

The last book I had started but was unable to finish before having to drive back home was Great Military Blunders by Geoffrey Regan. It relates some sad but interesting (and in a few cases funny) mistakes by military leaders down through history, from the days of Greece and Rome to the modern day. Since I got only one-third of the way through the book, I'll have to reserve judgment of my overall impression until I can find time to finish it.

So even vacations can be productive, often in unexpected ways. Of all the books I read during those two weeks, however, The Rifle was undoubtedly the best.

The next time you take a vacation, plan to take a few books along with you. Maybe you'll have an experience similar to mine.

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