Monday, December 07, 2009

Winding down

As this sabbatical winds down, I'm doing two things:

1. Obsessively checking the enrollment stats for next semester's courses. Here's an academic conundrum: I (and we, really) want the courses to fill, because, like Sally Field, I want reassurance that "they like me! They really like me!"--conveniently ignoring that what they like, really like, may be a noon class or whatever fits into their schedules. Yet more students = more grading authentic assessment and hours of time devoted to it next semester. But I still can't stop checking the stock market of enrollment, as someone called it a few years back.

2. Frantically trying to get some more writing done before it ends while realizing how woefully short I've fallen from the rosy sabbatical plan I laid out.

What the sabbatical has given me more time to do is harder to measure than a simple word count. It's allowed me to read more, including primary texts, than I've been able to do in years, and it has allowed me to conceptualize the work I'm doing in a different way.

Here's an analogy from, you guessed it, Mad Men. In rewatching Season One, I noticed that amid all the retro flash that had the critics agog, every time the copywriters brought something to Don Draper (the creative director, for those who aren't MM fans), he'd ask them two questions about the product before pouring himself a drink. The first one was "What are the features?" and the second one was "What is the benefit?" The copy they produced had to make sense in terms of both of those questions.

As we all know from the Microsoft jokes ("It's a feature, not a bug!"), they're not the same thing. The first part, I think, appeals to the "ooh, shiny!" brain area, but the second one, the benefit, is the real reason for creating the product in the first place--or should be. One of the things that the sabbatical has let me do is to think more seriously about that second question in relation to the project I'm working on: not just "how is it different?" but "what is the benefit in thinking about the entire concept in this way?" I had ideas about this before, of course--no one writes without a purpose--but I've been able to think about it in more different ways, and, I hope, more creative ways that I'd done before. And although the report I write after I get back from sabbatical won't mention Don Draper or indeed this kind of thinking, it's one of the most valuable things that the sabbatical has given me.

3 comments:

Carl said...

That sounds GREAT! I've been hanging fire on applying for a sabbatical (which I'd get, it's a low bar where I am) because I don't really have a clear sense of project other than long-recharge-from-years-of-teaching-overloads-on-top-of-a-4-4. But I really like about your story that although you started with a project, the payoff of your sabbatical is an even better sense of what you're up to. I could see that.

I'm not watching Mad Men (still working through The Wire on Netflix) but you're intriguing me. Cheers!

undine said...

Carl, you should go for it! A sabbatical is totally worth it.

One of the other things the sabbatical did was to make me think more about writing in general. Maybe it's because I was sensitized by these thoughts, but Mad Men seemed to have a lot to say about the writing process, too. Of course, if if you're looking for unicorns, you'll see them everywhere, but the sabbatical really was helpful for that.

Ink said...

Nice post, Undine! And congrats on articulating one of the sabbatical perks in such a cool way. :)