Mental Health Days

One of the blessings of my workplace is the ability to take impromptu (unpaid) days off as the need arises. As long as I have no pressing deadlines and my work is up to date, I can decide to take a “mental health day” as needed. Today was one of those days.

I’m not suffering through any sort of acute crisis, in case you were wondering. After weeks and weeks of some ups and and downs, I found myself able to build a lull into my work schedule, the girls were spending the weekend with their dad, and my partner is away at a conference. It seemed like an ideal time to take a 3-day weekend.

I had some snuggle time with sweetie, relaxed with the news (well, as much as one can relax with the news nowadays, but that’s another tangent), packed up my bike and headed over to Santa Cruz. First stop was Sylvan Music, a guitar retailer specializing in local builders, in particular Kenny Hill guitars. The market for classical guitars is not nearly as large as the steel-string market, so few retailers stock really high end classical models. It’s not unusual for local conservatory students to truck down to GSI in Santa Monica to pick out an instrument. Sylvan is an exception, largely (I suspect) due to Kenny Hill Guitars being located a stone’s throw away.

I’m paying close attention to how different guitars – even those with very similar geometries – express a particular flavor (technical word: timbre) of sound. Even within Kenny Hill’s particular line, I’m finding striking differences. I expect those with cedar tops to sound “mellower” than those with spruce tops, but Kenny Hill uses sort of space-age composite (a thin veneer of both spruce and cedar sandwiching a thin synthetic honeycomb for strength and weight reduction) with lattice bracing. Believe it or not, it matters whether the spruce layer is on the outside or inside of the top. One model also has a traditional construction where the neck/fingerboard interface is coplanar with the top of the body, while another uses a “raised” fingerboard (actually, a depressed upper bout) – this changes the angle at which the strings meet the body and consequently the resonant properties of the instrument.

Back when I started guitar #002 I wrote about parameter overload, the impossible number of factors to juggle in guitar design, all of which impact the timbre in tightly interactive, non-linear ways. Today, looking at guitars with relatively constrained options, I was still blown away at how differently each instrument sounded. Never mind picking up a Cervantes for comparison – totally different sound from the Kenny Hills. I’m realizing that I need to start keeping notes on which aspects of the sound I prefer. It’s a bit like trying to choose a favorite wine – while we may be partial to drier or sweeter varietals, the choice also depends on the occasion and mood. And of course, the most variable factor at the moment is my own playing. My practice is a bit spotty and my technique inconsistent as a result.

Back to the day off – after noodling with instruments that are worth more than my car (not hard – my car is 13 years old) I saddled up and rode the trails at Wilder Ranch. I haven’t been riding that much the past few weeks, but was pleased to see I still had the strength and stamina to ride one of my favorite loops through the park. Follow that up with yummy whole wheat crust pizza at Woodstock’s and coffee/blogging at Lulu Carpenters, and you have the start of a great weekend.

But what I really wanted to write about was the privilege I feel at even having the option to take a spontaneous day off. It’s both a combination of economic fortune (I can afford to lose a day’s pay) and being in a job that doesn’t require me to be in a particular locale at a particular time. If I were a college professor I couldn’t just cancel class to go mountain biking (hmmm… I’m remembering how few classes actually met on Fridays when I was last in school…); a doctor can’t just clear her calendar of appointments to take a mental health day. Chicago cab drivers working 51 hour weeks 50 weeks a year can expect to pull in around $32k; a day off can be costly.

And yet, I would wish this for everyone – that everyone could have the resources to just take an occasional day OFF. What would that take? I know some countries mandate a particular quota of paid time off – I can’t even imagine how that would work in the US.

My brother-in-law is a union telephone lineman in New England, currently in a labor dispute with Fairpoint Communications. I’ve been reading commentary about how “generous” these union benefits are – one new contract term under dispute would require workers to contribute to their own health insurance premiums for the first time ever. How about framing it this way: the unionized workers at Fairpoint have pay and benefits that ought to be the norm. Why aren’t we asking “why can’t we have pay/benefits like that?” rather than jealously resenting the dwindling proportion of unionized workers making living wages?

Bottom line: I wish everyone had the flexibility to afford and take days off when needed. There is really no reason this could not become a national norm.

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