As Sabbaticals End

I return to campus tomorrow, May 2, following a research leave that relieved me teaching and service responsibilities at EMU during Winter 2016. The four month leave allowed me to put the finishing touches on a collaborative monograph and to get the other book I have contracted with the WAC Clearinghouse #writing series substantially closer to a full draft. At the start of the sabbatical, the introduction and first chapter were already sent off, in the editor’s hands (these amount to 57 ms. pages). Over the past four months, I submitted three more chapters, which amounts to 129 ms. pages. I still have some work to do on Chapter Five, which I plan to send by the end of May, and Chapter Six, which I’ll turn over by the end of June. With that, a full draft of the monograph and then on to other things. I just turned off my email autoreply, and I’ll be in Pray-Harrold 613M tomorrow for most of the day, doling out numerous emails related to scheduling for this year’s first-year writing sections. Before the leave officially officially concludes, I wanted to capture a few impressions about the sabbatical, its accomplishments, and its occasional struggles.

  • Winter 2016 was only the second semester in 18 years that I didn’t teach a class. And the summer ahead, which is filled with administrative responsibilities, will be only the second summer in 16 years that I won’t be teaching a class. These patterns crept up on me; as I counted them and as I write them here, it seems like too much. I understand better than ever before the risks of burnout (or call it boredom, disinterest, complacency, checking out, whatever), and I have realized this winter how precariously close I have been to shrugging off many of the priorities I held when I started began down this career path during doctoral work.
  • As this was my first sabbatical, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect about work rhythms. The nearest I’ve come to having this kind of time to devote entirely to scholarship was all the way back in 2008 when I was working on the dissertation. A sabbatical takes some getting used to, and I suspect this is especially true when the leave is taken from a quasi-administrative post, such as directing a first-year writing program. The interim director and associate director did a fine job, as far as I can tell, but the hand off involved a fair amount of leading communication, pointers to where various documents were stored, how to handle everyday operations, and so on. Likewise, as the return from sabbatical approaches, there has been in uptick in email, requests for scheduling various things for the first half of May. I’m not sure I was especially well prepared for the fuzziness of transitioning onto sabbatical and back off again, particularly as relates to this administrative work. And the lessons about how to transition on and off more gracefully, although they are fresh with me now, probably won’t be especially helpful when my next sabbatical comes around.
  • I’m reasonably pleased with my productivity on sabbatical. I didn’t travel much–only a couple of out of town trips, primarily for conferences and an invited talk and workshop. I asked around, and some colleagues said things like, “don’t expect to get anything done during the first month” and “remember to rest.” These were helpful reminders, and now looking back, I suppose I could have worked harder and gotten more done, but I am more or less still on track with the timeline for the book, and I don’t at all have the sense that I squandered huge chunks of time.
  • Sabbaticals are isolating and on some days very strange. This much free time? I worked out. I read a few books that don’t have anything to do with my writing. I shitted around. Watched TV. Cooked. Dabbled at home improvement stuff. I regard most of this as run of the mill and routine–nothing here I would describe as radically transformative. The bouts of isolation got me thinking a lot more about social balance, about how much of my social world is constituted by work interactions, conversations with colleagues who are also friends. But sabbaticals are socially bizarre in that people want to leave you alone and respect your time, which is at the same time, of course, estranging from familiar routines and conversations that can prove supportive or generative. At one point I considered trying to convene some kind of writer’s group, but after talking to another colleague who was sabbaticalling at the same time as me, I decided better of it. No need to attempt to be a social leader at the same time my purest focus should be on the book’s development.
  • I can’t say yet whether I am fully restored, recharged, rested, and ready for what’s ahead. I jump back into the directorship of the first-year writing program, and while I was away there were a handful of institutional changes that make my return cautious insofar as I can’t quite tell how some of these questions will settle out (most of them relate to labor; who teaches composition as well as how composition sections are weighted for equivalencies). I thought long and hard beforehand about extending the sabbatical for four months through September 1, the start of Fall 2016, and while I could have chosen this alternative, by returning early I am able to earn additional pay in the summer months and continue as director.

Now having listed these few notes, they re-read to me as banalities, though not as too banal to post, if only so I can return to them in a few years when I put in for another research leave. And I think I will. That is, I know people who swear they don’t want or need a sabbatical, but as I have been reflecting on this time for the past ten days or so (the reprieve window of repatriation and conserving effortfully to make the most of what remained), I regard this time as invaluable to my well-being, to my research and scholarship, and to my sense of reinvigorated responsibility as a tenured professor. It surprises me a little bit that I am both excited to return to campus and that I got as much done as I did. I suppose that in itself is as much conviction as anyone can have about a sabbatical’s worth.

Right Foot, Right

Exactly five weeks ago–and I do mean exactly…at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, September 3–in the middle of a pick-up basketball game I leapt many many inches (±3) into the air to intercept a three-quarter court pass. The ball reached my hands, it stopped there, and gravity brought me back to where I’d started. Only, the landing, settling down on Earth again, dear ground control, didn’t go so well. Right landing gear crumpled, an old black shoe sole gripped and wrenched counter-clockwise against the freshly polyeurethaned floors, many thickly tackily coated planks, cork-screwing my shoe+foot and the bones inside until the fifth metatarsal said, “Fuck it. I give up.”

Sometimes bones give up. They break.

Landings are so common in jumping sports that I would guess on any given night, through 90 minutes of pick-up ball, there are 1,000 successful landings by any given player. And years ago, the tip-toe landing would have resulted for me in a sprained ankle. I’ve had tens of sprained ankles, mostly on the right side–so many in fact that I had a knuckle-sized bone spur surgically chiseled off the south-most tip of my right tibia in 1995 because so many bone chips had rustled and rattled in there, nomadic calcifying teasers making the bone think it needed to grown even though it didn’t need to grow. But grow it did until sprain sprain sprain, I couldn’t lift my toes toward my knee without bone-bone pinching. I’m not complaining, only historicizing the ways some ankle area bones try to retrieve their loose chips, advancing gradually as if to bring them home again. The spur was with a couple of knocks taken away and the ankle more or less as good as new. Refurbished, at least.

But the broken fifth metatarsal was new, a first. I’d only broken any bone once before, my left wrist during a 1990 high school basketball game against Leroy-Pine River, a game we lost, a game I continued to play in after halftime despite having fractured the wrist you guessed it intercepting a goddamned three-quarter court pass. A pass I caught. A landing I flubbed. I recall Pine River (the Bucks) had a couple of giants in the post, immovable trees who we kept fouling and fouling but still could not overcome.

Last month’s broken foot popped audibly, a long-faced spiral fracture that left me in a huddled pile on the sticky floor, polyeurewincing with the sensation that something extra was in my shoe–a feeling similar to when, as a kid, my brother and I rode bikes (without helmets!) up Winn Road to the Kountry Korner to buy a Sunday newspaper but didn’t have pockets and so carried home loose change in my shoe. That’s what it reminded me of: shoe as coin purse, jangling. At least two quarters in there.

Back on September 3, an hour and three wins into our weekly run, I told my teammates I was through, that I’d felt a bona fide pop, and then hobbled to gather my gym bag, fish out five dollars for Brandon “The Commissioner”, and without peeking inside the shoe to count the coins (dime and a nickel?), wobbled out to the Element and drove straightaway to Canton’s emergency care outfit. They took three x-rays, but they only showed me this one:

“You might need surgery. This is a very serious break. I’m sorry your basketball career had to end this way.” They said more, but this is most of what I remember.

By the following Monday, after a five day wait, I finally sat down with an orthopedic surgeon who assured me that it wasn’t as bad as I was led to believe, that I would be fitted for an orthotic walking boot, and that I was only to listen to my pain and to return in a month. Before the boot, this:

And after:

And so I’m taking a few minutes here–tapping out a few lines–to commemorate the ordeal because tomorrow is that one-month follow-up. The foot has, as far as I can tell, mended to a point of allowing me to walk (but not jog) without pain. I’ve been on campus for the last two days without the boot, negotiating the craggy asphalt around Pray-Harrold and having an okay time of it. I hope to retire the walking boot officially and to shift next to a physical therapy regimen that will, whatever else comes of it, get me back to a more runnerly routine and, if I’m lucky, eventually give me the choice to take another trip or two up and down the hardwoods.


Today is Monday of Spring Break.

I started the day at the YMCA.  D. took Is. to "Short Sports," where
Coach Tina yelled out colors and then everyone ran to the hula hoop of
that color and put one foot inside the circle. The hula hoops were lying flat on
the floor, like big Os:

O    O    O    O
    O    O    O  
O    O    O    O 

Meanwhile, I went to the fitness room and ran on the treadmill until I fell.
You’re probably thinking I ran 10 or 11 miles, was tired, stumbled from fatigue. 
Not so.  And in case
you are worried about me, I’m fine, although I later realized the skin-matter
from the full length of my left shin must still be pasted to the conveyor belt. 
That, or some poor soul fresh off a jog has it stuck to the soles of their tennis shoes at this very moment.

I don’t even like running.

Tomorrow, it will be Tuesday of Spring Break. Time to pack!

Because later this week I will jet to San Francisco for the annual CCCC convention,
making it the second consecutive "break" I’ll spend at a conference in SF. I’m
counting on a powerful wave of enthusiasm to sweep over me, oh, sometime late Wednesday.