One thing almost everyone asked me on this trip, especially after they heard how many days we had been on the road, was: how did you get that much time off?!” I would usually tell them that it is actually a working vacation, followed up with a smile and: “can’t you tell that I am working right now?!” Of course this then requires further explanation about how I do a lot of teaching online and I had a conference in Denver and I said let’s just drive there and make a trip of it at the end of the semester and between semesters.
The unbelievable thing is that we actually did it. I did not get time off; I took time off. I still can’t quite believe that took two months away from my classes at the YMCA and my all-consuming job as a professor. For at least seven years, I have really only taken time off to do other work-related things (with the exception of a few stolen hours or a couple stolen days). This is not a good idea; it is not a good way to operate. Everyone needs to take some time away from whatever it is they devote their time to wholly and completely—teaching, parenting, serving, worrying.
Professors need to take time away from teaching; this is one of the reasons why the sabbatical was invented. The follow up question to how I got so much time—for those familiar with academic practice—was whether I was on a sabbatical. This question would make me laugh out loud. I should be on a sabbatical, but what I have arranged for myself if purely an act of desperation. I was getting burned out and I saw no foreseeable break if I did not make one for myself.
So, this trip was an act of self-care. I was able to find time and space. I was able to see things that I have been missing living in Maine—mountains, big trees, the Pacific Ocean, colorful houses, colorful people. I was able to take time away from work; I had to take time off of work since I cannot read or write in a moving vehicle. And with 11,000 miles in 60 days, there was plenty of time in the car to listen to music and audio books, to read maps and roadside signs.
But, because this was a working vacation and I am a thinking woman, this trip was also an exercise in professional development. I was able to sort priorities, dream of possibilities, cohere research, marinate ideas, reflect upon my purpose, discover new ideas, see new places, meet new people, learn new things. Since my primary field is American studies, I was able to think about the people and places I saw through the lens of American studies—to see the things that make American great and the things that make America not so great.
I have the privilege to be able to take a trip like this—and to take it when I am still at work. I have my newly-acquired tenure and a job with flexibility. I have professional development money that helped by paying for my conference expenses. I have friends and family that gave us food and shelter. I have a partner who prefers to drive and does so expertly. I have supportive colleagues who encouraged me to go on this trip. I don’t have children.
I have all of these privileges, which also come with a lot of responsibilities. These responsibilities grow to be all-consuming; they are heavy and can wear a person down. Even though I know that other people can carry the weight and I know that my fitness classes will be covered, it is difficult to let go of responsibilities. It is difficult to shift the core of my everyday existence into a new routine, to be a different version of myself. But it is necessary to step away from the everyday in order to continue to function under the weight of external, let alone internal, pressure.
So, I try to model this in my actions—in my leaving and returning renewed—and I offer this series of blogs in the hope that others will be inspired to practice self-care and professional development in doses, at least until time opens up or we have to crack it open out of desperation and necessity.