Three weeks in…

…and already I feel so very, very tired.  But happy.  I’m glad to be back in the thick of things.

Today’s supposed to be a writing day, but I had an early morning meeting, followed by an hour and a half spent at a health care facility getting poked and prodded and giving the world’s longest personal health history (long story — may blog about it later), and then I called my sister to tell her some news, and now I’m too tired to do the hard writing.  So I shall write this blog post and then do some grading and service-related work and that will do very nicely today, since I actually already met my week’s writing goal anyway. So there!  (Woah, I just turned into Dr. Crazy there — I *never* use the verb “shall.”)

Anywho, I’m now three weeks into my first semester back from sabbatical and I have to say: I’m actually happier than I was during sabbatical.  Tired, but happy.  Seriously, I do not do well mentally in the slough of despond that is the isolation of sabbatical (or dissertation fellowship or whatever), at least not when it’s a whole year long and I don’t have a major project to *finish*. Don’t get me wrong — I got a lot accomplished over sabbatical.  I did the major chunk of the initial research for the still-inchoate second book (or whatever — it might not turn out to be a book, exactly, but it’s big) I’ve started; I edited most of my half of a co-edited anthology of primary texts and co-wrote its introduction; I drafted 15 pages of an article (ideally one I should’ve finished this past year, but which I’ve put off until this year and next summer to finish); and I read three books in the field of historical English linguistics to help make me a better teacher of Old and Middle English linguistics courses, and maybe more prepared to teach History of the English Language if we never get a line to replace our retired historical linguist after the VAP line we currently have runs out. Oh, and I also did a lot of preparatory reading for the brand new early medieval lit class I designed because I had never previously read all of The Tain or Grettir’s Saga, etc.  I did not get as far in my plan to re-read my undergraduate classical-to-renaissance great books syllabus (in prep for *another* new class next year), but I did at least re-read The Iliad, the Homeric hymns, and all of Sappho’s poetry.

So, I got stuff done.  But.  Even so, I felt like sabbatical kind of sucked. I think I might have done all of those things more efficiently with just a semester off.  Or maybe not — it did take me almost all of the first semester to remember how to organize my own time, and planning and preparing for the six-week research trip to England took a lot of time.  But still, I’m a lot happier with a lot of different tasks on my plate.  And I’m even making more headway on a couple of other writing tasks than I was making on them over sabbatical. (Good thing, too, since they’re due in November and December — though I can get, and will probably need, an extension on the November deadline.)  Check out the meters I added over in the sidebar of my homepage.  The first one is the one I’m working on now, so expect it to grow this semester more than the other one does.  The second one is the one I made headway on over sabbatical, but then stalled out on; however, as it’s related to a talk I’m giving in the spring, it might start to grow a little, too.  I also joined ADM’s and Notorious’s awesome bloggy writing group to help spur me to keep up the progress on number 1.

I think that I’m just a lot happier with multiple tasks going on at once, and with the adrenaline that juggling gives me. As tired as it makes me, it works for me better than the quiet contemplation of a year of reading and research.  However, *perhaps* if I’d had a discrete (but large) project to *finish*, I would’ve felt better about sabbatical  My second dissertation fellowship year was a *hell* of a lot more productive and satisfying than the first, but that’s because I had the dissertation all mapped out and just need to write the damn thing down.  I had a writing group of sorts, then, too, with the screenwriter across the courtyard from me. (Have I never told you that I spent my grad years in Melrose Place?  I kind of did — different address and no pool, but movie industry “aspiring types” and plenty of drama.  Beside the screenwriter across the courtyard and the costumer downstairs, one of my neighbors was this actress.) Anyway, the screenwriter guy decided that one page of my dissertation was about ten pages of his screenplays, and so we’d each try to write at least that much every day.  Some days I’d come out with ten pages (really!) and he’d be all like, “No way! I’d have to write a whole script to keep up!”  Hells yeah!

So, in short, I like structure, and sabbatical didn’t give me any.  I tried to *make* some for myself, but it never felt right.

Sabbatical was really good for me in some ways, though: in addition to the work I did get done, and which I couldn’t do during the school year (e.g., do manuscript research in the UK), the break from teaching alone did wonders for my morale and the teaching part of my job.  And it gave me a clear break from being grad director, since I wasn’t around for students to say, “I know this isn’t your job any more, but could you just…”  And man, was I burnt out from being grad director!  Teaching, too, though I think that may have been colored a lot by being grad director.  I like my professional distance and compartmentalization, and as grad director (which also means instructor of the intro to research course for the first year grad students), I saw some students way more than I might have liked — in class, in my office, in their exams.  Too much!  And that’s true of the easy students as well as the needy ones.  As the person teaching Old and Middle English, which a buttload of grad students take (both courses) to satisfy various language-related requirements, I still see a lot of the grad students, but outside of the bounds of the course, they are not my problem any more.  And since this is the first I’m meeting them, I also don’t have any history with them.  Clean slates are *awesome*.

But if I had to do it all over again — or in ideal circumstances, anyway — I might have waited to take sabbatical when I had a clearer long project to finish, some more concrete, anyway, and I might have taken only a semester.  Oh well, something to keep in mind in another seven years, if they haven’t done away with sabbaticals altogether.

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5 thoughts on “Three weeks in…

  1. Chicken and egg? Or, it takes two sabbaticals to tango? I know what you mean: it took all of my first year on leave to get enough traction on my second book project for me to feel like I could actually do with a year on leave. But it was also surprisingly hard working all by myself for that long, worse even than the dissertation or first book because, as you say, the deadline wasn’t quite as firm. Good to hear that it feels good to be back teaching!

  2. Yes! Teaching is sooooo much better after sabbatical! And that feeling doesn’t (at least for a long while) go away – I still feel that way and I taught last semester.

    I will say, I ended up feeling really happy that I only took one semester for my first sabbatical, not that a year was an option with my finances, but even if it were, I don’t think that I’d have done much more with a year than I did with a semester, not knowing how sabbatical would “feel,” if that makes sense. Having only a semester forced me to find a self-imposed schedule and a rhythm more quickly, and while I do mourn the end of my sabbatical still, I am glad that in this instance it was only one semester long. That said? I fully intend to try to take a year for my next one. Because, as Fencing Bear says, it takes two sabbaticals to tango. I now can see what I’d do with a year’s length of time, but more importantly, I see clearly *how* I would do it. Only six more years until I’m eligible for my next one 🙂

    (You know what’s funny, by the by? I hadn’t really realized that I use “shall” but I totally do. I think I do it when I’m feeling particularly like I have to announce things to make them happen…. not just, I’m going to go to the store, but rather, I SHALL go to the store!)

  3. Yes, Crazy, you totally do use “shall” all the time, and it’s exactly in that sense of obligation/imperative you point out — almost the original, Old English sense of shall, actually. (In OE, it really meant “must.”)

    I like this idea that it takes two sabbaticals to get the hang of it, Fencing Bear. I *shall* rock the next one! 🙂

  4. Do you know that in my M.A. program I took a seminar in Old English at the Newberry Library? Had the bug of Old English hit me earlier, I totally would have ended up a medievalist 🙂 In other words, I’m not surprised that I’m bringing sexy, er, Old English, back with use of “shall.”

  5. That’s really funny, because when I started investigating graduate programs, I was thinking of being a modernist! I was torn between modern and medieval, but medieval won out. The former modernist in me will just live vicariously through you, OK? 🙂

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