Local Lifestyle

Wednesday, Sep 26 2012 02:51 PM

VALERIE SCHULTZ: Doing nothing takes some doing

By The Bakersfield Californian

We state workers have been given these things called PLP days this year, which stands for Personal Leave Program. PLP days (we no longer call them "furlough" days) are the result of this year's budget crunch. Some workers, like me, are lucky -- or unlucky -- enough to have our yearly move up the pay scale coincide with the first month of California's fiscal year, and so our annual raise is absorbed by our annual cut in pay. In one bureaucratic motion, the state gives, and the state takes away. Good news: no net pay cut. Bad news: no raise.

And I know I shouldn't complain. I am fortunate to be employed, even if it may not be for much longer. I know that the monthly PLP day is not technically a pay cut, because we get one day off in exchange for a nearly 5 percent reduction in pay, but most of us would rather work that day and have a full paycheck, mainly because the bills we have to pay do not take a PLP day. In the past, we have been given three furlough days each month, which roughly came out to a 15 percent pay cut. A lot of workers saved up their furlough days, or just weren't able to get away from their jobs to use the time off, so the little twist of the fiscal knife this year is that a worker must take that PLP during the month it is earned, or else lose it.

We are now mandated, I suppose, to take a vacation day every month.

Americans are not very adept at vacationing, because we often don't take our earned time off. About 226 million vacation days went unused in 2011, with 57 percent of workers sitting on unused vacation time at the end of the year. We may worry that we can't afford to spend money on a vacation, or we may feel insecure about our jobs: If we ask for vacation time, we may be next on the list to be downsized. If we do get away, we often take work along with us. If work virtually accompanies us, that is not a real vacation.

When we do use our time, a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that an average day off for Americans mostly involves sleep. We spend 9.5 hours sleeping, followed by 6.5 hours of relaxing, gaming, socializing, and/or watching TV. We use 2.5 hours on practical things like cooking, cleaning, paying bills, doing housework, or repairing things. We spend 1.5 hours eating. The few hours left are for shopping, volunteering, grooming, and lesser tasks known as "other." Combining usefulness and frivolity, a typical day off describes a monthly PLP day.

But I decided that if I just add the letter "o," my PLP day becomes a PLoP day, which gives me permission to plop somewhere -- a couch, a lawn chair, a blanket on the grass, or even remaining in bed -- and do the kinds of things that you can only do when you are plopped somewhere. Today, for example, I plopped for several hours with a cup of coffee and a detective novel. I may spend some time later plopped on my laptop or phone to catch up with friends and family. Plopping encompasses non-essential, that is to say, fun things I've been meaning to do.

If I get in the car, I can plop myself at Starbucks, or the movie theater, or any other place of sedentary leisure. Errands and other missions of purpose, however, are anti-plopping, and are thereby forbidden on a PLoP day. If everyone I know thinks I am at work, I can put on sunglasses and spend my PLoP day incognito. Pay no attention to that woman you see plopping.

My PLoP day may involve physical exertion, but only the elective kind: a hike, or a bike ride, or a walk not dictated by my dogs. (The dog walk is a daily, mandatory task, if you ask the dogs, which I don't.) Exercise such as scrubbing the kitchen floor or rearranging the garage is not PLoP-worthy activity. Volunteering on a PLoP day is tricky, because although it is beneficial to help others and give of our time, the PLoP-day volunteering commitment is only permissible if freely chosen and free of stress.

Since my PLoP day is a normal working day for most other people, I can luxuriate in self-centered PLoP choices. If, in the middle of doing nothing productive, my brain starts to fret about deep cleaning the bathroom or balancing the checkbook, I simply remind my brain: "Hey, we're plopping here."

I invoke the spirit of my departed dad in defense of the PLoP day. He used to lie in the sun and, as he described it, "think about nothing." My mother insisted that it was impossible to think about nothing. But I am suspecting, with the help of PLoP days, that it's possible. What's more, it's good for body and soul. Turns out a day of nothing is really something.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at vschultz22@gmail.com

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