Last weekend I escaped from all the distractions of daily life in Durham to our mountain retreat in order to write. I’m here in solitude, Sarah is in London for the holidays. I’ll be joining her next week. I have all the amenities of modern life here: but no TV, no neighbors, no noise, no traffic.
Writing is very hard under the best of circumstances. But oh boy is it easier in the best of circumstances. Most scholars find it literally impossible to write during the semester. Just can’t do it. You have classes. Class preparation. Students to meet. Departmental meetings. Committee meetings. University commitments. If you have a graduate program there is a constant flow of work: advising, scheduling, working with students on exams, directing master’s theses and PhD dissertations, helping students with pedagogy, counselling them about professionalization, reading their prospective conference papers and articles for publication, oral defenses, reading groups. It’s a lot. Then if you have an active speaking schedule or do other local service commitments… well not much writing gets done. For most of the even best intentioned professors, very little indeed during term time.
The upside of the university professorship, of course, is the time off. Holiday time is highly welcome, but most of the free time is spent first grading then getting ready for the next semester’s courses. For most professors, the summer is the one time they can do any serious work. A lot of my colleagues are so mentally exhausted at that point that it’s hard to do as much as they’d like, even if they put in the hours.
That’s why the beneficent cosmos created sabbaticals, time off from other duties to do research and writing. It wasn’t so professors could watch soaps and eat bon-bons for a semester, or a year. It’s so they can do what they’re getting paid to do: be active and productive scholars.
I have taken full advantage of my academic leave, and am now at a point where I can start showing it. This ten-day retreat is my burst into it.
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