Ah, sabbatical

I’m on sabbatical at UT Austin for fall and winter terms. Since sabbatical apparently means “long vacation” to people outside of academia, expect lots of blog posts in the near future. Or none. I’m not sure — does blogging count as work? (I guess as long as I don’t put it on my vita, the answer is “no.”)

The people who don’t think sabbatical=vacation keep asking me what my plan is. My dean wouldn’t approve “eat lots of breakfast tacos and go to SXSW” so I had to come up with something more legit sounding.

In seriousness, I do have real plans (which are on file with my dean). Oddly, though, I’ve been finding that I’m reluctant to talk about them — hence the deflecting jokes about breakfast tacos, which probably only reinforce the vacation stereotype. And lately I’ve been reflecting a little bit on why I feel that resistance.

One of the justifications for offering sabbaticals to researchers is to give you some space to get out of your routines and small daily obligations, to “break set” and expose yourself to new ideas and look at things from a different perspective for a while. In short, to foster creativity in your research. (Research being an intrinsically creative enterprise.) To borrow a concept from Michael Apter’s reversal theory — Apter taught my very first psychology course — I’m hoping to let my mind drift into the paratelic mode a little more often than it does back home. And for me, right now, telling everybody “this is what my plan is” is counterproductive because it shifts my mind into a nagging “I need tangible a achievement TODAY” mindset.

What’s been somewhat nice to discover is that when I talk about this feeling with other people who follow creative pursuits, whether it’s science or writing or art or something else, and whether professionally or avocationally, a lot of people seem to get it. It seems like for a lot of people, creativity has stages where it needs to be private — where it’s important not to have to talk about and justify what you are doing. Of course, that can’t be all there is to it: eventually you need something to show for it. (And report to your dean, who doesn’t think “go off and be creative for a while” is any more justifiable than “eat breakfast tacos.”) If this sabbatical doesn’t lead to me producing better research, or otherwise being better at my job, it won’t have been worth it.

Now, off to find some breakfast tacos.