For readers curious how Flavia is spending her sweet sweet sabbatical year, I'm here to assure you that it's not just about arising late, debating which exotic shade to paint my toenails, and getting quietly blitzed on gin. (I do all those things in a regular semester.)
Mainly, I'm trying to arrive at a negotiated settlement with Time. If life during an ordinary semester means doing battle with clock and calendar--trying to fit everything into an already jam-packed schedule--life on leave involves a different kind of struggle: the effort to impose a schedule on endless days during which no one particularly cares where I am or what I do. (Except for the cats, whose only requirements are that I hang around and produce body heat and feed them once a day.)
If you're lucky enough to have a year or semester "off," how do you ensure that you're using it well? And at a more basic level, how do you fill each day in a way that allows you to go to bed without a gut full of guilt and self-loathing?
I've known since grad school that maximal free time does not make me maximally productive. When I was teaching, I wrote an average of two dissertation chapters a year (usually one during the academic year and one during the summer). But the year I was on fellowship and relieved of my teaching duties, I wrote exactly one new chapter. Now, I wasn't loafing around; in addition to research for my new chapter, I got two articles based on earlier chapters accepted for publication, I went to a couple of conferences, and I continued working two full days a week at my publishing job. But though I may not have done any less scholarly work that year than the previous one, it's impossible to argue that I did more.
A tenure-line job ties up my time as grad school never could, and it's much harder to get work done during the academic term. Still, my progress during summers and my pre-tenure leave suggests that when I have no obligations other than writing and research, I do not get a strictly proportionate amount of work done (which is to say, I don't fill up my normal 40- or 60- or whatever hour work weeks with scholarship). That's not something I fret about, particularly: people in intellectual and creative fields need time to recharge, to read widely, and to pursue tangential interests; if I succeeded in spending even 25 hours a week, every week, for an entire year, reading and writing within my field, I'd consider my sabbatical a screaming success.
The problem, then, is how to get those hours in, how to make them feel worthwhile, and what to do with all the other hours in a day.
So for now, this is how I'm getting through the days and weeks with a reasonable sense of purpose: I'm taking Italian classes Monday-Wednesday-Friday, which also involves a commute. Initially I was worried about all the extra time this would suck up (just going to class takes approximately three and a half hours each day we meet), but in fact it's turning out to be exactly the structure I need: three days a week, I have to get up and get out of the house at a halfway normal hour, put on something other than yoga pants, and pay some attention to my hair and makeup. I take the light rail downtown and have a pleasant walk to campus. That's also my exercise for the day, which amounts to about two and a half miles total, between getting to my neighborhood rail stop and the walk to and from campus.
I walk up one of the city's grand old nineteenth-century boulevards, lined with beaux-arts buildings, past the theatre district, restaurant row, a sports stadium, and a public library that looks like the NYPL's younger sister. I know from experience that parts of that walk are deserted and even ominous at night or on the weekends, but at lunchtime on a weekday the street is filled with office workers, tourists, and sports fans. It's nice to participate in the regular, workaday rhythms, nice to have some human interactions, and nice to see more of the city and its citizens.
I get home at 3.30, which still gives me plenty of time to work if I want to--and on the days I don't have class, I have wonderful long blocks of time to immerse myself in my work; blocks I wouldn't value or get excited about if every day were similarly open and unplanned.
It's been working well so far, but up to now I've been working on deadline for a few discrete projects--proofreading and indexing my book, writing a short commissioned article, that sort of thing--which has helped my sense of focus. Starting the second week in October, though, it'll just be me and Book Two, which remains a vast, amorphous, and somewhat intimidating project. I'll report back then.
Readers: how have you dealt with unstructured time or made the most of any research fellowships or leaves?