I have been avoiding writing this post, because once I write it that means--performatively--my sabbatical is over. And so given that classes start tomorrow, it is (over), and so I will (write about it), with the cold grammatical comfort of the adjective "first," helpfully implying that there will be more. I have decided that sabbatical is, hands down, the very best thing about this profession. It's better than being able to go biking at 1 p.m. on a gorgeous afternoon if you don't have a meeting scheduled (and that's pretty damn good). It's better than May, June, and July (anyone who claims that August counts as summer in this profession is either delusional, high, or on the quarter system).
My sabbatical had a nice mix of professional and personal schtuff, of finished and launched projects, of travel (for work and for play), and staying at home for days on end, writing, gardening, and learning to make indian food. I liked that mix.
The biggest thing I noticed, though, is that it takes work to make a sabbatical good. First off, you have to say no repeatedly. I learned that at this university, the sabbatical is the only time one has license to do that. And even though I was asked to do things I would normally say yes to--like be on a search committee for a new classics head--I had to force myself say no. That was harder than it sounds. I did a (mostly) in-town sabbatical, and that meant that I needed to stay away from campus, to make my house my work spot, especially during the week. I managed that by working out a deal with my advisee, K, who managed my mail in exchange for the use of my campus office. I couldn't sneak in there, then, without getting caught by K. As part of our deal, every other Sunday I would go in and sift through mail stuff. This only took an hour or two. This meant that my office was remarkably tidy all semester long. It's already getting messy again.
Also hard was the need to regulate contact with graduate students. But I got good advice from experienced sabbaticalers, and I limited contact to 1) when they had amassed a number of pressing questions, or 2) when they had writing ready for me to read. It turns out that for the most part, the dissertators got a lot done, and no one else lost their way.
Including the buffer summer, I was able to wrap up four writing projects, including two wee little ones start to finish, and two larger ones that had been ongoing. I also started a habit of reading through new journal issues while working out at the gym, so I feel a little more in touch with "the field" than I do when I'm covered up with teaching and meetings. I hope to continue that, but I'm not sure my unsabbaticaled brain can take it. I may need to revert to the trash I normally read. Today, for example, I dipped into the latest Vanity Fair. How about that Christopher Hitchens going and getting himself waterboarded?
The travels in April were definitely the peak of sabbatical. I went to Dublin as a conference spouse, which meant I didn't do anything related to work, and even went on to Portugal with JM's sister. I also got to visit a couple of places to give talks. It's always nice to test-drive new writing, to meet new people, and to see old friends.
I thought I would miss the daily interactions with colleagues a bit more, and now that I'm back at it--poking my head in people's offices, stopping and chatting in the hall--I realize I probably did miss that. But a break from the dailies can be quite good, and a break I had. I can't say I'm totally ready to get back into it all, but the energy level is good, I am feeling grateful to have such a good job, and as my Greek teacher used to say at the beginning of every class, "ho kairos estin." It is time.