As a kid, I loved sick days. It helped that I wasn’t sick. No, aside from an early tangle with a forced air heater and the occasional stomach flu I was relatively injury and accident free. I attribute this natural good health, moderate cowardice, and after age 10 transitioning slowly into an indoor kid. I played sports when I was little, but after we moved to Minnesota pre-teen athletics turned into serious business. Girls were ultra-competitive and ice hockey was terrifying. This coincided neatly with my self-consciousness and angst hitting peak levels, culminating in a general feeling of “fuck teamwork, I’m going alternate between staring at my shitty complexion and reading a book for two hours, and fuck everything else too”. What a peach.
But back to sick days. Sick days were the greatest. Left home alone with large amounts of unstructured time – the luxury of a full eight hours (!) – I read, watched TV, and ate buttered noodles with parmesan. The house was gloriously quiet. My parents were at work. I wasn’t at school. No one was yelling, no girls were snickering as I walked past, and Ray Bradbury Theater reruns were playing on the Sci-Fi Channel. At that point we lived in the lower level of a duplex with large windows and a sunroom. Light streamed through, casting shadows on yellowing issues of Funny Times or The Mists of Avalon. It was peaceful and perfect.
Sick days are important. Maybe even more so as an adult, where being busy is the ultimate humble brag and working 60+ hours is a badge of screwy and terrible honor. Often it feels like people are convincing themselves that it’s a virtue to be a cog in a machine, a martyr to endless, churning productivity. And I feel like I’m sounding like the 13-year-old who hated gym class with that last part, but I owe a lot to the sick day. Through those hours, I figured out what made me excited, the words and pictures that came alive and stuck around, rattling for months and years and decades. This is probably why I still remember that episode of Legend of the Hidden Temple where Olmec’s face fell off, revealing the machinery beneath. It was intense.
Eventually I started to write little things – mostly lists, and then stories. They were pretty terrible. But still. It might not have happened without a pseudo-Mayan talking head, Lynda Barry comics, and the time to bury myself in them completely.
The sick day is not about being sick. It’s about free time, and a lot of it. No agenda and no expectation. No apologies, because free time is awesome. Free time is amazing. Free time is never wasted.
It’s also about buttered noodles. Feel free to sub out for a comfort food of your choice. Flexibility is what the the sick day is all about.