Relaxing the rules for relaxing

Those of us about to start vacations have mixed feelings, at best, toward the experts who presume to tell us how to take them - worse, how to enjoy them, or else.

There's something just a little topsy-turvy about a world where, after being whipped for 11 months of the year into overachievement by pretty much the same experts, one has to be debriefed and instructed how to RELAX!

We're digging in our bare feet and going a little stubborn this summer. The pop-psychologists have had the whole year to advise us not only how to overachieve but how to relate (meaningfully), how to parent (toughly), and all the rest. Now we're drawing a line in the sand with our very tan toe and saying: No further. Enough.

It's obvious that pop-psychologists have a summer employment problem. But we're not about to help them solve it by paying them to teach us how to have fun.

If one cannot be a do-it-yourselfer at having fun, what is left?

Yet here they come, the fun-authorities, cautioning us - and we quote - against the ''vacation blues,'' not to mention ''post-vacation depression.'' And this before we've even had day one in the sun!

You thought, fellow vacationer, that you were about to collect your reward for the year? Not so. In the jargon of one spoilsport, we're about to take on ''the stress of having leisure time.''

''The best of vacations,'' we are warned, ''is seldom as rewarding as we expected it to be.''

The final ominous word is: ''Expect things to go wrong.''

Are these folk talking about our vacation or our job? There seems to be a confusion here, especially when they tell us that the only way not to be totally miserable on vacation is to set ''goals.''

And all these years we thought vacation was the goal!

The current issue of Success magazine (''The Magazine for Achievers'') advises a reader how to manage ''Competitive Drive,'' how to write ''Masterful Memos'' - and ''How to Take a Real Vacation.'' As a special feature, there are ''vacation secrets'' from distinguished ''achievers.''

Further bad news!

Just as we were packing our favorite sand pail with the sugar-scoop shovel, we had to read that ''balmy beaches hold no appeal'' for Diane Sawyer. The CBS news star bicycled through 20 towns in France in four days, and then ''did the whole country of Morocco'' in six.

''That's what restores me,'' she told Success.

Just reading about the Sawyer method made us feel like taking an extra vacation. But the other ''vacation secrets'' were, if anything, even more agitating.

A ''New York entrepreneur'' confessed: ''I like to stay in touch with what is happening in the office.''

The chairman of Remington admitted shamelessly: ''After about five days I'm chomping at the bit.''

But the most dubious comment came from a leisure editor who said: ''The secret to enjoying a vacation is to psych yourself up.''

These grim words sum up all that is wrong about the vacation-advice industry.

''Psych yourself up'' - as if for work, if not for some dread ordeal!

What is it that makes us turn even ''having a good time'' into a problem, then bringing on the paid consultants to solve it?

Walt Whitman's advice for vacations was to loaf and invite your soul - but he meant that for all year around. If the rest of us can't fill a month of freedom with our own inventions, civilization is in a lot of trouble.

We could imagine those experts closing in for the kill with the ultimate advice-article: ''How to Cope With Happiness.''

Don't you vacationers with goals ever say you weren't warned.

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