Yesterday a woman at church asked me when classes start up again and I told her I'm not teaching this semester.
She got a horrified look on her face. She thought I'd been fired.
I quickly cleared up that misconception only to replace it with another: the belief among the uninitiated that going on sabbatical means being paid to sit around doing nothing. How do I get people outside academe to understand that I'm still working when what I'm doing doesn't look much like work?
I'm not standing in front of a classroom or grading papers or attending committee meetings, and until August I don't have any good reason to drive to campus every day. But I'm not sitting around twiddling my thumbs either: I'm just letting my brain cells do the heavy lifting as I absorb ideas and try to turn them into sparkling prose.
In my youth my folks used to warn me that I'd never get ahead in life if I spent so much time reading. "Nobody's ever going to pay you to sit around reading books" was how they put it, but they didn't know about sabbaticals--and neither do many others outside academe. I suppose I'll have to find a good answer to the question about what I'm doing this semester.
"Research" sounds great when it refers to scientists seeking to cure the common cold, but my literary research trip to Florida sounds like a junket: "Um, yeah, I hate to run away to Florida in the middle of winter, but someone has to study these musty old manuscripts, so I guess I'll have to make the supreme sacrifice...."
"Exploration" sounds bold and adventurous, as if I'm beating my way through uncharted territory in search of unknown treasure. Maybe I'll post a sign on my office door: "Gone Exploring." Nobody really needs to know that most of my explorations will take place between the covers of a book.