Last spring, when I was anticipating going on leave for Fall 08, I think I told several people that I'd be sure to be meeting them for lunches and coffees, since I'd probably be feeling kind of squirrelly just working on my project, not having regular social interactions. Somewhat surprisingly, that really hasn't been the case. I think I was feeling so overextended that I needed these 7 months (summer plus fall) to recuperate, re-energize, reflect on what I was doing and why. (Of course, it is also possible that I've crossed some line into truly weird hermit behavior and will have to relearn all sorts of basic social interactions come January.)
Many years ago, long before I was anywhere near getting a research leave, one of my old mentors told me that when I did get a leave I should be sure to spend it out of town, so that when I came back I would be happy to see my colleagues again.
I didn't go out of town this semester, except for a couple of brief trips. But I pretty much pretended that I did -- I've gone into campus only four or five times, to sign paperwork or pick up interlibrary loan books. My closest friends here are not in my department, so I had very limited socializing with colleagues.
And it's been great. It's not that I don't like my department, my colleagues, my job -- I do. But getting a little distance has been nice. I really like not knowing all the latest gossip. I hear a little bit of it when I go in to collect my mail, but I try to limit those exchanges. Being away from the hallway chitchat reminds me even more how draining and toxic it can be. There are a few people who I'll be really glad to see when I get back to a regular campus routine in January -- particularly some older colleagues who I'd never socialize with because we have very different lifestyles, but who love to talk about current movies. And I feel tolerant and detached about some of my less favorite folks. I think this is what my old friend was trying to tell me. Certainly, if I'd been in my campus office every day and hearing all the news in the hallway, I'd be feeling much less refreshed.