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Pickle Me This

July 18, 2017

The Weekend Effect, by Katrina Onstad

The very best phone I ever had was a little red flip phone which was ahead of its time in 2004, but this was Japan where all the phones were from the future. The phone fit perfectly inside my hand, and I remember the grip of it, the ringtone,  how coloured lights on the outside lit up when it rang, and mostly what I remember is standing on the train platform at the beginning of another week at work and sending a text to Stuart (who was not yet my husband) that would say something like, “Thank you for another excellent weekend.”

Part of this is that we were living abroad, and I’d been doing so for a few years by then, which had got me into the habit of making the most of my time in a place that wouldn’t be home forever. Part of it too was that we had very few holidays and long workdays, and we were living in a culture that draws a firm line between work and leisure, although with the latter pursued with the same regimented approach as the former. There is nothing casual about leisure in Japan—pursuing hobbies seemed to be more important than actually having passion for the hobbies one is pursuing. While we were living in Japan, I took up yoga, French, cycling, pickling, hiking, and breakdancing, all with varying degrees of failure, and actually contemplated spending a week in silence at a Buddhist retreat, but couldn’t get the time off for that. And the same determined sense of openness and possibility permeated our weekends, which were not actually the weekend, but fell on Thursday and Friday, if I recall correctly. “We take train trips like they’re vitamin pills,” I noted in a poem I wrote about that period, and it definitely helped that the trains were cheap. And so off we’d go on our days off on various adventures, always taking care to return with omiyage, as well as a story to tell.

And so this is the ethos we’ve brought with us through the years, a serious approach to the weekend. I figured that in her new book, The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork, Katrina Onstad would be preaching to the choir, but I picked up the book anyway because I’ve been a fan of Onstad’s writing for as long as I’ve loved weekends. “Weekends are my religion,” I wrote in an instagram post to this effect, somewhat sacrilegiously, I figured, but then I was stirred to encounter in the book on Page 16, “The outline of the weekend is etched in the sacred.” Most religions, Onstad writes, exhort a day of rest—Muslims pray and congregate on Fridays, Jews on Saturday and Christians on Sunday. Perhaps I’m more religious than I know.

Onstad begins her book with history, with the weekend as a labour issue whose origins are much more recent than I would have imagined. Weekends are also an issue of class and consumption, and she explores the idea of leisure and its own changing history. And leisure remains much of the focus of the rest of the book, as Onstad considers what might give a weekend meaning—connection, volunteerism, rest, religion, sports, nature—and those things that might detract from it—shopping, housework, the internet, binge-watching TV. Onstad travels around North America speaking to people who are reinventing the weekend, pushing its limits and making the most of their time off, to demonstrate how the rest of us might do a better job of doing so. And even for me, someone pretty weekend-devout, there was lots of food-for-thought here about how we might make better use of ours, which matters, because—as Annie Dillard wrote—of course, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

We’ve got two things on our side in our family—the first is that I work from home with flexible hours, which means that I can get our household chores out of the way during the drudgery of Monday to Friday 9-5 (although this also means that I’ve spent plenty of time on the weekend huddle over my laptop on a deadline, but sometimes that the price you pay). The second is that our children are not particularly sporty and even if they were, we don’t have a car or the inclination to spend those precious weekend days ferrying them to hockey arenas and gymnastics tournaments. There is an upside to the fact that no one in our household possesses the physical prowess to turn a cartwheel, and so it goes. This winter, we didn’t sign our children up for anything, which meant that we had free Saturdays—for things like the neighbourhood community cleanup, and marching with placards on International Women’s Day, and it gave me a real appreciation for the possibilities of openness and where a single can take you—or even two.

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