Whenever I mention that I’m going to be on sabbatical for the next year, the first question people ask is, “So where are you going?” This question is always a bit embarrassing for American literature scholars, because if we live in the U.S., we don’t usually go much of anywhere. Case in point: I am currently planning to spend a week or two in Columbus, OH, another week in NYC, many days shuttling back and forth between Baltimore & DC, and possibly a week in SF or LA–all research trips. (I am most excited about the week in Columbus–seriously.)
But I started wondering why people assume that sabbaticals involve travel. I thought it simply involved a break from the campus/office/classroom. So I did what I often tell my EN 101 students to do: I looked it up. And also in EN 101 fashion, I will now use the definition I found as a jumping-off point: according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a sabbatical is “a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.”
So travel is definitionally expected in a sabbatical, and I’m not doing a whole lot of it. So what will I be doing? Doing research, for sure. My main goal during the 15 months I will be on sabbatical (I know, that sounds obscene … I can hardly bring myself to say out loud how long this sabbatical is) is to finish writing a book. (In case you’re curious, the book is currently titled How the Other Half Laughs, and is on the influence of comic strips on early-20th-century American literature–a topic that sounds truly arcane, but one I’ve been assured is marketable and likely to find a publisher. But more on the book later.)
And rest? Yes! I’ll definitely be doing a lot of that. In fact, I’ve already been doing a lot of sleeping. I had no idea I was so tired.
But I’ll also be doing a lot of the “etc.” And I thought this blog might be a good way for me to create a log of sorts, where I keep track of the various threads I’ll be spinning out this year, and where I’ll attempt to braid or weave them together into something that makes sense. While I have always been a firm believer in the Deweyan principle that one learns by doing, as well as the liberal-artsy notion that one learns most and becomes the most complete person by doing many different things (intellectual, physical, artistic, spiritual), I’ve never tried to articulate what it all actually adds up to. So I’ll be making attempts to do so over the next year … er, 15 months. I hope those of you who read this may find it at least marginally interesting. Or it may simply give you a chance to experience a sabbatical vicariously (which I fully understand is a limited pleasure at best). But onward to my experiment.
One thing I try to use the sabbatical for is to pick up something new. And in typical me fashion, I couldn’t decide on just one. For the record, these are the things I am planning to do this year (aside from writing the book, of course!):
- Re-acquaint myself with the flute–taking bi-weekly lessons and possibly joining a chamber group. I miss playing music with other people.
- Do some plein-air painting and life drawing, to hone my visual sense, but also to learn new artistic techniques (plein-air, watercolor–which I’ve always despised). I hope all this will help inform my research on comic strips and comics artists. (A totally transparent attempt at rationalization? Perhaps.)
- Write a formal poem every week. Why this? Well, I’ve become fascinated by poetic form in teaching EN 101 (Understanding Literature) and have found that my students understand forms like the sonnet & the villanelle much better if they actually try to write them. So I am, again, following my own advice and will be exploring a variety of forms. I’ll post the poems I write, starting when my sabbatical officially begins, July 1. By the end of my official sabbatical year, I should have 52 poems, which is kind of mind boggling for me even to think about. Note that I am not trying to write good poems, just writing them to see how they work.
- Actually write something every day. As I am doing now. I’ve been reading various higher-ed advice columns and blogs, and everyone, everyone, swears that scholarly production skyrockets if you just write for 15 minutes a day. (Opinions differ on whether this writing should be scholarly or if it can be any type of writing.) Since I plan to spend more than 15 minutes per day writing altogether, I figure I can spend 15 doing “blog writing.”
And here is the first “product” of my sabbatical. Yesterday, I decided on the spur of the moment to take a 3-hour one-shot plein air painting class, at the Myerberg Center in Mt. Washington. I happened to be the only student who showed up, but Rachel Miller, the personable and inspiring instructor from Creative Alliance (also an amazing artist in her own right, though I could not find any of her paintings online) took me in hand and got me started. Here is my final painting of the day:
I’m not proud of it, but am excited about having done it.