What's it like to be on a semester of research leave?
I kind of feel bad saying that when everyone else is in the throes of mid-term grading, when people I know are in crappy jobs, and when there are much more serious problems in the world than the textual and historical questions I've been spending my time on.
But it is true. And no one ever explained this to me before. I have two close friends who had year-long leaves recently and did not seem to be enjoying them at all. They were each in her own way consumed with anxiety about not producing enough, not having enough time, not being enough of whatever she thought she should be. Colleagues in my own department who have had leaves in recent years similarly reported to me that they wished they had written more, travelled more, or slept more.
With my colleagues, most of whom I'm only casually friendly with, I suppose this might simply be a demonstration of their mastery of either Academic Imposter Syndrome or Academic Faux Insecurity One-Upmanship Discourse: "oh, I'm such a failure, I only wrote four chapters this semester" "oh no, I'm the failure -- I only got a national award this semester" etc. (The conversation is excruciating either way, whether it comes from a psychic place of suffering or dominance.) Smaller versions of this get played out at the end of each summer and winter break, too.
But my close friends were genuinely frazzled and anxious near the end of their leaves. So I approached mine with some caution, having seen what I really didn't want to experience for myself. I counted the days of my leave, vowing to make the most of them. I wrote up plans. I set goals. I did all the things I'd been doing for the last ten years in this job. And then I decided to chuck most of that and try doing things differently. Because although the past ten years have been good in many ways, I haven't been as successful or as happy as I would like, at least as regards my research career.
And it's been awesome.
I took a break from this space for a variety of reasons -- not least of all my sense of needing to withdraw and turn inward for a little while. But also because I've been trying to figure out what I wanted to say, or how to say it. As I often remind my students, it's usually easier to write about a piece of literature that you don't absolutely love. If you love it, it's hard to develop a critical stance, a clear perspective. Now, I don't have a critical stance in this space, per se, or at least not a defined one -- but I've certainly found it easier to write those posts in which I'm complaining or critiquing someone or something. It's harder to say "I'm doing well." Or at least it seems more boring.
I don't think that is just due to the Insecurity Discourse (though a shadow of that ran through my spine as I typed the last sentence: who am I to say I'm doing well, when I haven't met X publishing milestones?). It's more a sense of "who would want to listen to someone who's happy? isn't that irritating?"
Maybe it is. But I'm not really writing in this space for my audience -- I'm always surprised and glad if you're reading it. What I do know is irritating is continually listening to people who are bitter and negative all the time (my Elderly Parent being a prime example, though there are others in my life). So I'm going to see if I can figure out how to write about some good stuff. I'm highly trained in critique -- of self and others -- and I don't expect to lose that. But what would it mean to think and write about happiness for a while? I'm going to try and find out.