In high school, my brother’s pals had an expression they would yell it at a basketball player after missing a free throw. They’d use it behind the back of a teacher who didn’t seem to have a grasp on his subject. They’d slap the label on a friend who committed some horrible infraction such as running out of gas or messing up the tap on a keg.


At Wildwood High School, at least for a few years, SNP stood for Serve No Purpose.

To be fair, it was tough to tell what purpose any of us were serving back then. We played. We argued. We worked. We tried to find people to make out with. We drank — some more than others. I don’t remember studying much but apparently some people did that. And we got by. Most of us.

Some of us moved away. Some didn’t. I have no idea how many took the idea of SNP with them. How many wondered over and over again if they served no purpose.

A few decades later, I’m lucky to be working at a job I like. A job that is purpose driven. I’m also lucky that my employer grants time off between Christmas and the turning of the year.

Allegedly, it’s a time to relax. That’s the theory. For me, though, that’s been a challenge.

Some of that may stem from growing up in a summer resort town — a place where, if you were a white kid, you probably had a ‘summer” job that stretched from Good Friday to the end of September. Vacation and relaxation was something other people did.

Maybe part of that comes from having to pay my own way through life post-college. Time off meant time to do freelance work. Travel meant lining up travel stories (Personal best: Three stories from one four-hour visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). When there wasn’t a story attached, travel meant taking care of my family, making sure they got to see relatives, etc. The idea of actually spending money to go somewhere purely for pleasure seemed economically and parentally indefensible. There were real bills to pay, dammit. What’s the point in adding to them? How dare I serve no purpose, even for a week?

Even when there’s nowhere to go and nothing to spend on, I still carry that with me, whether it’s for a holiday break or even a weekend.

I’ve had losses. My father died in his 30s. My mother died too young as well. I haven’t had a living grandparent this century. I lost a daughter. I’ve lost friends. With each loss, I became more aware of the single direction of time. If I didn’t fill it, I feel like I served no purpose.

So I get antsy watching something on TV if I don’t have even a pro bono reason to write about it. I feel a bit of guilt when reading a book purely for pleasure. I do mental time/motion studies when emptying the dishwasher, trying to do it in the most efficient way.

And I approach this end of a generous stretch of time off from work feeling like I didn’t do enough, obsessing about the time I wasted rather than being able to focus on what I’ve accomplished or accepting that this was a time when accomplishment was not necessary.

I’m working on it, though. I’m trying to find a way to rest without feeling I’ve lost something. I hope you have been able to find what has eluded me.

Now, back to work. Or something…