A Sabbatical Story
“The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we have.”
“We have art lest we perish from the truth.”
When I put in my sabbatical request last year, never in my most anxiety-laced dreams could I have anticipated what 2020 had in store. I imagined my days would be spent in glorious, uninterrupted solitude in my peaceful, quiet home, with my husband at his office and my children in their respective schools— a scenario obviously made impossible by COVID-19. In late Spring, I even decided to delay the sabbatical by a few weeks, at that point still holding out hope that with San Francisco’s low case rates, schools might reopen in person in August and the time would once again be mine, with zero hours during the workday relegated to child care. Instead, here we are.
An optimist might say that now is the perfect time to take a sabbatical - a moment to truly rest and be alone with your thoughts without the pressure to work during this global crisis, and when we basically have no other choice but to hang out at home. Maybe, but the reality is that right now one of my two children (knock on wood, please goddesses let Gigi’s preschool stay safe and open) remains at home, and while I can sometimes cajole Ev into doodling monsters with me, he is much more interested in playing Beyblades or Bakugan or Pokemon, toys and games that remain deeply confusing to me. (Which, let me clarify, is how I like it! I do not want to learn how to play Pokemon, really ever, and definitely not during what is supposed to be a sabbatical!)
But even though the reality of this time will not be what I had initially imagined, I still feel infinitely lucky. Lucky in all most important ways, including that my family is healthy, that I still have a job which I’m able to do remotely, that while this quarantine has been terrible it has for me remained at the level of Uncomfortable Inconvenience and never risen to Existential Catastrophe. But when I think about this time I also feel fortunate for two specific reasons.
Reason 1: I get a sabbatical. Damn, that’s fancy. The only people I’ve ever known to take sabbaticals are academics, and then they usually have to spend their time writing books! At my organization, receiving a sabbatical is a benefit that is available after you reach a certain tenure; you then must submit a proposal for a project that should arguably add value to your work, a requirement that is, blessedly, broadly interpreted by the powers that be; finally, when your proposal is approved, you schedule your sabbatical for an eight-week period (usually several months away) that is least inconvenient for your team and the organization. Thus, my sabbatical has been about 14 months in the making. I am so very grateful for this opportunity from my employer (shout out Global Fund for Women, ILYSM!). It is a true gift, probably one of the best I will ever receive, and I do not take it for granted.
Reason 2: Spencer gets it. In another household, maybe a more practical one, the obvious way for me to spend my sudden abundance of free time would be to care for my children who are at home, needing things all day long the way that children seem to do. But as a creative person himself, and as my most supportive and enthusiastic cheerleader, Spencer is fully encouraging me to dedicate a large chunk of time during the day to my sabbatical, even when there are children at home whom he’ll have to lead through Zoom school and care for to the detriment of his own workload and personal time. Without his support I couldn’t do this; I am so grateful for his love and partnership.
That’s why I feel lucky; here’s why I feel ready.
First, the whiplash I feel from the sudden change in the course of our days for the foreseeable future has forced me to recognize a truth that I have successfully avoided most of my life: Nothing is guaranteed. The future that we all spend so much time planning for and thinking about has only ever been a lovely mirage. We don’t know where the road leads; we have no idea what turns it may take. So I feel now more than ever that we should go for it, whatever it is, because nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed. On an extremely fundamental level, in even the most boring and typical and monotonous of ways, NOTHING IS GUARANTEED. (You think your six-year-old is headed to first grade, in an actual school outside of your home? Ha ha ha!) That’s part of why I decided to go ahead and take the sabbatical now, rather than delay further in an attempt to wait this out. This was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss out on; who knows where we will be in three months, six months, a year.
The other reason is maybe cheesy and woo-woo, but I am both of these things and I accept that. Right now I feel such heart-swelling gratitude for art, so immensely thankful that artists have taken the time to create their work and share their gifts with us. Throughout these many weeks, the creative work of others has been my truest source of comfort. We’re stuck at home, we can’t hang out with friends, we can’t travel or see family. We can’t do so many things. Where would we be right now without music? Without books? Without movies, TV, all of it? I feel more thankful for and more receptive and open to creativity than ever before, and for that reason it feels like the perfect time to start this project.
Ah yes, this project! I bet after all of that, you may be wondering what I’m actually going to do?!? I have just written many hundreds of words and none of it tells you what this sabbatical actually IS!!! It’s really simple, so simple I felt a little embarrassed when explaining it to colleagues. “I’m going to be on sabbatical for eight weeks! Yes, I’m so excited! I’m going to be doing a …self-led…. creative… exploration….” *trails off, closes Zoom, runs into the sea*
But really, that’s it. This sabbatical is simply a creative retreat. I’m using The Artist’s Way as a foundation (more below) and plan to spend many hours a day writing, dedicating time to creative work, and remaining open and unattached to the outcome of it all. I do not have a Big Project in mind; my goals are tenuous at best. Essentially, dedicating time to creative work is something I have always wanted to do, and now I get to.
So, what is this sabbatical? It is a chance for me to sweep out the corners of my brain that have been neglected while I’ve been busy working, having and raising children, and co-managing a household. It is my answer to the question, “If you had more hours in your day to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?” It is honestly a dream come true.
THE WEEK IN WORK
I’m imagining my sabbatical as an experiment in making creativity a habit, and the best way for me to do that is to have some structure. Here’s where I’m starting in terms of daily routine and projects.
This week I’m starting The Artist’s Way. This article is where I first heard about it and what piqued my interest. I’m drawn to it during this time because it offers a week-by-week process, with simple daily and weekly tasks that feel achievable and potentially productive. More to come!
I’m planning to write at least one newsletter a week. This is the first! It will mostly be reflections on how things are going and what I am learning and thinking about. Thank you for being here! I haven’t written anything personal in so long, unless you count long and somewhat deranged Instagram stories as “writing.” It feels good; it feels scary that anyone might be reading this; that makes me feel like I should keep it up.
I’m also planning to share things on my sabbatical Instagram, @krista_makes.
I’m dabbling in a few other things, which I’ll share more about as they take shape. I have workbooks! I have supplies! I have hastily jotted down notes and ideas!
MAY I RECOMMEND...
It would not be a newsletter without a fun links roundup, plus I do love recommending stuff. I also love receiving recommendations! Tell me what you’re into - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can just reply to this email. (I think that works? We’ll find out I guess!) Anyway, may I recommend:
Reading this Mary Ruefle poem, “The Bench,” a perfect reflection on compromise and marriage and love and understanding each other. And also, this Jia Tolentino interview that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read it, especially this part which is just YES:
INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?
TOLENTINO: That capitalist individualism has turned into a death cult; that the internet is a weak substitute for physical presence; that this country criminally undervalues its most important people and its most important forms of labor; that we’re incentivized through online mechanisms to value the representation of something (like justice) over the thing itself; that most of us hold more unknown potential, more negative capability, than we’re accustomed to accessing; that the material conditions of life in America are constructed and maintained by those best set up to exploit them; and that the way we live is not inevitable at all.
Listening to some jams from Ina. I was delighted to learn that Ina Garten puts out playlists on Spotify. What an angel. I love her Cooking Playlist: Women Who Rock, it is FUN! A real mood-booster, and who couldn’t use more of those?
Eating tuna salad. Is tuna controversial? Should I feel weird about loving canned tuna? Well, I do in fact love it, and this recipe from Alison Roman’s newsletter is for an ~elevated~ tuna salad, and blew my mind in that she explains the mayo-mix you make is a DRESSING! Dang! Also I love the lemony-oniony-herby stuff that’s happening here. It really is delicious! I’m trying to convince you to try it! Please tell me if you do! Give fancy tuna a chance!
Doing some voter outreach. Election day is fast approaching, and part of me feels like I should spend literally all my time, every day, phone banking and doing voter outreach...but also if I did that I think I would age 1000 years and be really cranky and brainfried. So instead of all the hours, I’m dedicating a few hours every week to volunteering with Sister District, trying to flip seats in Arizona and Texas, and of course for Joe and Kamala. (That’s a link to sign up for virtual phone banking in battleground states - join me!)
Thank you again for reading! If you have thoughts on creative habits, life, or tuna salad I would love to hear them. xoxo