Every year in August I go away on vacation -- and then I really go away.

I imagine I'm a brain surgeon and save the lives of people. Or I sell everything I own, move into a simple (walk-up and cold-water) garret and devote the rest of my life to the Great Book that is surely within me. I shiver and suffer, but I sit at my word processor (I have updated this fantasy), a shawl around my shoulders, and I write. I am poor, but not in debt.

Sometimes I dabble in politics to change the world. I make wonderful speeches that somehow all by themselves manage to eradicate poverty, bring happiness to everyone and fill all the potholes in America. People just listen to me and then march off to do good things -- don't ask me what. I am not a detail man.

I spend more time with my son, because that is the most valuable thing I can do. I fish with him, even though I hate fishing (it's boring and I can't stand worms) and I spend endless hours teaching him to perfect the hook shot that in the haze of nostalgia made me such a formidable basketball player when I was younger and (in my memory) taller.

All this is done at the beach and then later back in the house and even, after a while, in my sleep. After a week of unwinding, I go into my annual career crisis in which I reexamine what I do and why I am doing it. I think how I could live better and simpler with nothing but the people who mean most to me and, of course, a Sony Walkman. I review everything, find almost all of it wanting, and wonder how I have managed to waste the only life given to me.

Now in September, I am back and I find that I am not unique. All over America, the nation is undergoing the great apres-vacation soul-searching. I have colleagues who seem to do nothing but sit at their desk, a moony look in their eyes. They're not in love. They're merely practicing brain surgery at their desks. One of them walked in the other day, opened a letter and went straight home. She didn't come back for three days.

On vacation, I resolve to devote my life to reading great books. I read Proust and Jane Austen (even though she is only for women), and take another shot at appreciating poetry (are they serious about Wordsworth being great?) and delve in a serious and methodical way into music so I can understand it better.

I move into the mountains so I can be closer to nature and get out of Washington so I can meet and mingle with "real people." ("Real people" are forbidden to live in Washington.) I lead a clean and simple life and work with animals who, after a while, even talk to me.

I become a fisherman or a hunter, although the animals I shoot never bleed. (Blood is like worms.) I farm. I have fields of something and they wave in the wind. I have very rich dirt and a metal triangle on the porch to sound the call to dinner.

I chuck it all and become a forest ranger. (I love checked shirts.) I take up social work and change the lives of the poor who didn't hear the speeches I made as a politician. I resolve to work with the sick and handicapped and sometimes when a yacht passes by I even decide to become a stockbroker or plumber and make lots of money. I think of becoming an actor or a singer, appearing only before audiences who are tone deaf like me.

Meanwhile, I am trying very hard to get concerned about the federal budget and taxes and, of course, the fight with our allies about the Siberian gas pipeline. (Oh, how I would love to care about the pipeline!) But what sort of concerns are these for a brain surgeon or a forest ranger? On my farm, we do not care about budgets. In my garret, Ronald Reagan is an ephemeral figure -- here today, gone tomorrow. Do not bother me with Reagan. I am writing a Great Book.

One of my editors, probably after looking at something I just wrote, said it takes six weeks to get over the effects of a vacation. She is an optimist. I know people who have never come back. Only their bodies are here. Their minds are still in the mountains or on the beach.

Soon, though, the days will turn colder and the dreams of summer will fade. Already, I have a different perception. Today, for instance, the man came to repair the washing machine. In my garret, I didn't even have one.