Monday, May 03, 2010

Days of Our Leaves

Or, Things We Learned Out of School

Click on that sound file, darlings, or my typist will feel that her long hours of trolling the Interwebs looking for snort-inducing tidbits for you are in vain.

First Things First: Our sincere apologies to Tenured Radical, who offered a wonderful post yesterday called “Like Sands Through The Hourglass, So Are The Days of Our Lives: Having the Courage Not to Go to Graduate School.” It’s chockfull of TR’s characteristically shrewd analysis and advice, though we would probably still tell the best and brightest to give grad school a shot, as long as they have their eyes wide open about the prospects for a tenure-track job at the end of the dissertation rainbow. I mean, heck, it’s not like the quote, unquote real world is chomping at the bit to hire English and history majors right now either.

Anyway, go read TR if you need to get your knickers in a wad over your future as an exceedingly well-read barista. We just riffed on her title because we are strict adherents to Rule #1 of the Blogosphere: Why go to the trouble to make something up when you can steal something from someone else? Also, TR's evocation of sand moving inexorably through the hourglass of spring made my typist realize that the clock on her academic-year leave is now truly, officially, sadly winding down. Yes, she will still have the summer free from teaching and most bureaucratic responsibilities to make progress on the long list of things she would assuredly accomplish over the course of this year. It was a totally realistic list that looked something like this:

Moose’s Sabbatical To-Do List

1. Lose 40 pounds.

2. Finish the Most Overdue Project in the History of American Publishing.

3. Organize study.

4. Get a handle on the difference between Digital Humanities and New Media Studies and decide which it is I now do.

5. Organize pantry.

6. Draft an outline and a couple of chapters on the Amazing Book on Blogging That Is Going to Transform the Humanities and Save the World.

7. Read Proust.

8. Organize shed.

9. Reduce carbon footprint.

10. Propose an MLA session.

She made progress on, um, a number of those goals and managed to check off a few other items that weren’t on her original list, as you can see:

Moose’s Sabbatical Got-Done List

1. Embrace fat acceptance, because, srsly, I am 50 + 1 years old, female, and I enjoy eating and drinking too much to subsist on salads and water for the rest of my life.

2. Survive three blizzards and ice dams without going insane.

3. Embrace disorganization, because it’s perfectly obvious that organization is a bourgeois plot to keep people from ever getting any real work done.

4. Get published in Inside Higher Ed, because academic punditry is really where it’s at.

5. Learn to be a dog person who doesn’t, for the time being, have a dog.

6. Read Clay Shirky, Donna Haraway, Marilynne. Robinson, Cary Nelson, Jaron Lanier, Patti Smith.

7. Fall, break wrist, and sit through meeting with dean with only brief pause for near-tears and confession of injury.

8. Imagine heaven, with dogs, and figure out how to write from there.

9. Stop having hot flashes. I think. For now.

10. When in doubt, take a walk.

So, what did Moose learn during her year, mostly, out of school? This is an important question, not just because there is pressure on academics to account for what they do with their quote, unquote time off these days, but because we’d like to help our pals who have upcoming leaves of their own – real-world buddies like June Star, blogospheric ones like Dr. Crazy – to make the most of their well-deserved respites from teaching. I asked my typist to come up with one last list, which we happily pass along -- and which we invite you to add to in comments:

Moose’s Mostly Serious Tips for Making the Most of the Days of Your Leave

1. If you only have a semester off and you have a choice, take the fall rather than the spring term. You can use the summer to settle into sabbatical time and feel truly away when fall classes begin. It will be easier to stay away from campus when that feeling has taken hold. In the spring, as the year winds down, certain tasks and responsibilities – reports, defenses, planning for next year – are going to demand your attention regardless of how disciplined you are about saying no in order to protect your time. I've gotten pretty good at that, and I still barely felt that I was on leave in April.

2. Get the hell out of Dodge. Even if your research doesn’t require you to travel to remote archives in exotic locations, try to spend some time away from home during your time off. Neither Goose nor I had ever done that before, but the seven weeks I spent in my undisclosed location in the fall were enormously beneficial. I rested. I detached. I did a kind of deep, concentrated reading and thinking that I probably hadn't done since I was reading for my qualifying exams. Could I have done all that if I had just hunkered down at home and resolutely ignored the distractions of my (wonderful) everyday life? Perhaps, but there is something to be said for breathing a different air and seeing a different sky. Try it if you can.

3. Allow yourself some – or many – moments of Zen. Ignore the to-do list and the pressure to produce, at least some of the time. Remember that non-doing is as necessary to your creativity and learning as doing is. Sabbaticals are all about getting off the treadmills of the usual routines. Give yourself permission to float or fly or nap or dream. My inspiration for this kind of creative (in)activity is, natch, Thea Kronborg, the protagonist of Willa Cather's 1915 novel, The Song of the Lark. In the middle of that big, busy book, Cather sends her fiercely driven aspiring opera singer to a remote part of northern Arizona, where she spends a great deal of time seeming to do nothing. In fact, the heroine is letting go of the mundane pressures of the ego and connecting with the unconscious knowledge she will need in order to become a truly great artist. Yeah, it all sounds kind of woo-woo and weird, but Thea ends up on stage at the Met. You could do worse than to emulate her process of discovery. Even a history geek or a humble lit critter can dream of being a diva, after all.

4. If you don’t have a blog, now is not the time to start one. If you do have a blog, set limits on the time you devote to it. Blogging is one of those activities that will expand to fill the amount of time available for it. Goose assures me that the time I spend typing for Roxie's World is time spent on fieldwork for the Amazing Book on Blogging That Is Going to Transform the Humanities and Save the World. In a sense she's right, but I've still tried to restrain myself some this year. I've been content to put up fewer or shorter posts in order to give greater priority to other kinds of work. We can't all be Historiann, who consistently manages to feed the horses, take a run, and get up a devastatingly smart blog post before most of us have sucked down our first cup of coffee. (Love you, girlfriend. Mean it!) Know your limits, and try to stay within them. Your audience won't desert you, because they love you, too, darling, I swear they do! Shut down that hit counter, and open that book! The blogosphere will be here when you get back.

The grains of sand are moving through the hourglass, my pretties, so we've got to go. Make sure to pass along your own brilliant advice for making good use of time off. What's worked for you? What hasn't? Do you recommend getting away, or do you have Goose's knack for closing the valves of your attention like stone and getting work done, no matter where you are? Wow -- And just to prove this topic is what's buzzing around in the hive mind today, we just this moment stumbled upon a brand new ProfHacker post by Kathleen Fitzpatrick called "How to Get More Than You Think Out of a Semester's Leave."

Goodness, we do have our paws on the pulse of the zeitgeist, don't we? Peace out, darlings, and take time to smell the roses. You will never regret it.


  1. Heh. That sound file was like sticking a Madeline in my ear. I was three years old again, in my parents' "rec room" in their split level and my mother was sitting down to watch DOOL (as the trade mags call it.)

    Thanks for the compliments. I totally agree that starting a blog on sabbatical is NOT the best way to go. (That's what I did, and now, I jus can't get out!)

  2. And I agree that semester-long leaves are best taken in the fall. A spring leave just gets frittered away, no matter how tough one is about keeping a distance. And hey. . .spending time in that undisclosed location AWAY from the usual routines of life are definitely in order. If your partner and family love you, they'll fully support that. If she/he/they don't support your getting away like Thea or like Moose, then you need to check out what's really what in your relationship.

    Moose has gotten a phenomenal amount done during her sabbatical, much, much more than she realizes. But dammit. . .our pantry remains unorganized. So. . .don't listen to the next person who tells you we have fallen for any bourgeois plots!

    Keep up the fabulous writing. You're well on your way to delivering that Amazing Book on Blogging That Is Going to Transform the Humanities and Save the World.

    Love always from your Goose!!!

    PS - Don't worry about the Digital Humanities/New Media definition. About the former, there are almost as many definitions as there are "leaders in the field," and that' probably true of the latter ;)

  3. June Star8:55 AM EDT

    Thanks for the advice and links, Moose. Since the only things standing between me and my leave at this point are three sets of papers and a program retreat, they couldn't have come at a better time.

    Admittedly my pre-leave to-do list looks much like your pre-leave to-do list with substitutions for subject matter on the professional projects and the Russians for Proust.

    I'm adding "learn German," which has been a staple of my summer to-do list for some years now.

    It's hard for me to give up my grand plans at this point. (Again: "learn German." Every summer. For years.) When time stretches out before me pristine and new, I fill it up with everything I want to do and be.

    So I'll grade my papers and dream my dreams of some hyperefficient me for a bit before I settle down to the realities of who I am and how I work (and don't work). I'm looking forward to some deep reading and meditation.

    May the summer be good to both of us.

    Auf weidershehen.

  4. Bestes des Gl├╝cks, June Star! You deserve a MOST productive, restful leave. And we hope you'll spend part of it down here in RW.

  5. Oh, June Star, you crack us up. We might have to rescind the rule about not starting blogs while on leave in order to get you up and running on the Interwebs. Learn German! Yes -- Because The Critique of Pure Reason is so much better in the original! Moose promises that if you learn German she will lose not 40 pounds but 50 -- by 4th of July! And, she is going to start tutoring inner-city children to make up for budget cuts!

    Oh, it's so pretty to think so. Meanwhile, the next defense is tomorrow afternoon . . . .

    Thanks for listening to that sound file, Historiann. It hurled my typist back in time to a burnt orange couch where she watched soaps every afternoon from 3 to 5, because that's what latch-key kids did in the olden times.

  6. June Star11:32 AM EDT

    Geez--if I'm going to learn German, I should probably also spend a little more time proofreading. I put too many h's in auf weidersehen.

    I do hope to get round to see you, Moose and Goose, in nonvirtual reality. In the meantime, there are always our beloved landlines with their delightful unlimited long distance packages.

    So, again, and correctly, and only for now,

    Auf weidersehen.

    Thus concludes our first lesson.

  7. dudley the beagle12:06 AM EDT

    We here at the House of Ironical Beagles have Item #3 covered, for the Human has been reading (via audio book) A Perfect Mess, which argues that neatness is overrated and may even interfere with productivity. We feel all inspired here.

  8. Thanks for the shout-out, Roxie, and I love the list of things to do on sabbatical. And your reasons for taking fall rather than spring if you can't swing an entire year off? This is EXACTLY one of the things that motivated me to request the fall and then later, when I was asked to be "flexible" to insist on it. :)


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