My sabbatical is not what I expected. My “time off from teaching” has made me feel vulnerable and I am still trying to figure out why.
I feel like I am standing still thinking and the world is spinning, turning, churning and blowing up all around me. This is what my post-tenure feels like. It is not what I expected, in fact, most of this journey has been a bit of the unexpected. During my time off, I had plans. I had lots of plans, yet, I feel as if my feet are solidly in mud, not quicksand, just mud. I am not moving and writing and producing with the speed I thought would come naturally. The things I accomplish seem selfish, they seem as if they do not matter in the scheme of things. I am not always sure about exactly what I am doing most of the time or why.
Taking on this new identity as writer has also added a level of uncertainty. I thought it would be easier – this writer thing, not sure why, but I felt so liberated when I stepped off that ledge and claimed myself a writer, but now I feel as if I am in an abyss (with feet in mud, which is hard to do at the same time). So many things are happening in the world, in the country, at my university, in my own house, that I want to write about it all, but the thoughts and the words seem so jumbled and complicated that sentences escape me.
I wanted to go to Ferguson for Moral Monday [#FergusonOctober] or at least write about my feelings on the current state of affairs there, but the moment was fleeting and it passed quickly. I still had to attend to affairs at home, especially at some critical moments with my oldest child.
I wanted to write a strong piece about my decision to no longer celebrate Columbus Day [#IndigenousPeoplesDay] and my process of re-connecting with my Eastern Band Cherokee roots, but I missed that moment as well. On that day, I thought a lot about my family origins in Eastern North Carolina, my great-great grandparents, Ransom and Elizabeth Shaw, but that is a far as I was able to go with that moment and those feelings.
Recently, there have been some disturbing moments at UMass Amherst, as students find more and more racist and threatening graffiti on the doors of their dormitory rooms [#WrongDoor]. These realities are not surprising to me, for I have been listening to our undergraduate population talking about issues such as these on our campus, but now that it is being put on display for all to see, the larger conversation has to happen (and our Chancellor is on it in a good way). This campus, where I call home is reflective of larger evils – and yet, again, I could not find the words to express my thoughts on the subject fast enough.
And I cannot forget the topic of Ebola and the panic the media re-packages as information. The approach to how we in this country understand the disease is frightening. I am more concerned about the lack of awareness and preparation for the thousands and thousands of health workers in our fair nation, than thinking that I am going to get it by walking down the street in Western Massachusetts. The real tragedy is the thousands of people who have lost their lives to the disease in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. I am not sure that cutting off flights to certain countries is going to keep the disease in one place. However, in this country the disease brings to light disparities in health care, the villainization of countries in West Africa and all of the people from there [#IamLiberianNotaVirus] becoming the target of a new form of racism. I swear I feel like it is a flashback to another deadly disease and the association with a particular country and people some 20 years ago. Yet, my strong feelings and opinions stay trapped in my head with no way out and really nowhere to go.
Because, what is time off to a person who has never really understood what taking time off really means. To a person who realizes that even when the body is at rest, the mind is still in action, in movement and in process (at least mine is). I think I am beginning to understand the real meaning of the post-tenure sabbatical. Or at least be at the cusp of understanding what it might mean for some of us. I have three children and a husband, so going off to travel for a semester or a year to write and research is not really an option for me, but I am in the process of healing or trying to understand who and what I am in this universe of scholar. For without this ability, the words may begin to mean less and less – even if they come out quickly enough.
My sabbatical is not what I expected. For the first time in a long time, I am standing in place and learning how to be okay with the stillness.