So I suspect folks have received a message from a professor when on sabbatical and it usually goes something like this:
Thank you for your message. This is an automated reply.
I am on sabbatical leave and unable to reply to my email. For all matters concerning the __________________________ Department of __________ Contact ____________–.
Thank you for your patience,
I have been thinking of writing one myself, being I am also on sabbatical but thought I might be a bit more honest and forthcoming. This is what I have so far come up with:
Thank you for your message. This is an automated reply. I am on sabbatical leave and while I am able to reply to my email, in fact, I have a heck of a lot more time compared to when I teach, it is customary to write a message like this and claim otherwise.
However, being on leave does relieve you of (most) all department responsibilities. And given the grueling pace of academic jobs and the contemporary burden of email avalanches we all suffer from, I am taking the license (the sabbatical license) to say: 1) I may never get back to you 2) I may but it may take longer than usual 3) honestly I suffer from MEAD (Massive Email Anxiety Disorder) and hate it when people don’t respond to me, so I will likely get back to you but don’t you get MEAD if I fail to do so.
Thanks for your patience,
On leave 2010-2011
So, conventional wisdom is that once you experience something first hand, it sits close to you, so that you can learn from it, think about it, and possibly invoke it. This rings true for me, except for one particular type of experience–finishing a large and complicated project—like writing a dissertation, taking PhD qualifying exams, like writing a very complicated review article. Once it is done and over with and a few months have walked away, I no longer can fathom, at all, how I even did it. It is as if I went through the experience and then amnesia set in, erasing and wiping out the fibers of events, emotions, and thoughts that went into making and finishing the project.
I find this unnerving, for various reasons. First, this di-juncture is not one I experience with other experiences, even unpleasant ones, like pain (broken collarbone, burnt hand, terrible earache), for I am able, nearly always, to shore up some shadow of those experience. More practically, when I am faced again with needing to conquer what feels unconquerable (which, unsurprisingly, is my current predicament), I have no experiential reserve to guide me. Instead, it is like I am standing at a new shore, for the first time. I tell myself,” I have done and I can do it” but there is no concomitant emotional register or memory that assures me that this is in fact true. Maybe a few more projects like these and there will be some imprint to steer me in the future but somehow I suspect my experiential amnesia will remain the same.
This summer of 2010 has been memorable. It started with a difficult period following the hospitalization and death of my mother, a series of very intense and equally memorable conferences catapulting me out of my funk and ending with a trip to Ireland, perhaps one of my most pleasant trips ever. I have always wanted to go there, as I have some good Irish friends and I was also quite attracted to the place due to its history, so when the opportunity came for me to go, I did not hesitate to book my ticket. I was not left disappointed in any way, shape or form, although since I barely experienced the gray, misty, and rainy weather Irish is famous for, my experience may admittedly be a bit skewed.
These are some of things I did and some of my fragmented thoughts about Ireland and some photos, proof that the weather was UnIrish
Ireland and The Irish: Well I can’t—as no one can—speak of The Irish as if they were some unitary group but I did learn a lot about Irish history and managed hang out with a number Irish folks (even a family) and one thing that seems to mark Ireland as distinct, what makes it stand out from the rest of its Western European brothers and sisters, is the pervasive sense of history bleeding into the ambiance, perhaps because it is so tragic. The short version of the history, if you don’t know it, is that the Irish, especially the Catholics, got repeatedly screwed by the British monarchs/rulers/planters/government/ for nearly a thousand years, the last five hundred of those being particularly harsh and ugly, a cycle of slight gains crushed by various forms of tyranny and violence at least until part of the country achieved independence (Northern Ireland is a bit of a different story).
I may have gone a bit out of my way to learn about Irish history, more than I have done for any other place, but this historical consciousness seemed to be inescapable, precipitating into all sorts of conversations and places. To take one example, I went to see Gaelic Football, one of the two beloved national sports (the other being hurling), and the minute you learn anything about this sport, you learn that it is intimately bound with the Irish fight for independence and nationalism.
The Irish are also very warm, kind, and outgoing. They also seem to curse an awful lot as well, so much so cursing is a bit of a national pastime, which yes, I (f*cking) loved as I tend to have a bit of a foul mouth myself, curbed I will admit, in recent years and in the classroom. It crept up in a lot of places but was most pronounced during the All Ireland Semi-Final Gaelic football game when the ladies (not lads, mind you) behind me were constantly yelling at the referee, hurling the c-word (rhymes with trunk) whenever they made a call they disagreed with.
EASA/Maynooth.: I went to Ireland to attend the largest Anthropological meetings in Europe, and in specific an all day panel on digital anthropology, which seemed like a great opportunity given we are a a bit of a minority. The conference was impressively large with roughly 1200 attendees (can you believe there are that many anthropologists?), smoothly run, and the all-day panel on digital media was quite lively and I got to meet some really interesting folks. I was a tad sad to find out Maynooth is the only university in Ireland with an Anthropology department (for crying shame lads!!!) but at least it is located in a darn stunning university: the old quarters of the campus are strikingly beautiful.
Anonymous: I have done some work on Anonymous and well when I found out there was going to be a raid/protest at the Church of Scientology (a pretty dismal, and run down church), I got in contact with Irish anon to let them know I was coming. Although someone first decapitated me (at least in character with their norms, right?), when I showed up in person, they were not only civil but really quite hospitable (greeting me with one of my favorite songs). Overall it was a great day. I was reminded of important differences among Anons (Irish Anon’s take their anonymity pretty seriously, the New York Anons do not) and also good to experience the social life and metabolism of a protest, especially one attended by folks who have lost family to the church.
Dublin: Since I stayed with my friend and his family in Dublin, this is where I spent most of my time. I was able to hook up with various friends, including one from graduate school who just got back from years of fieldwork in Rwanda and hearing about his experiences and stunning but stunningly sad project made me feel like mine in comparison was Child’s Play (in fact, it really was). I got to see the Debian crew (many who work at Google) and I finally paid a visit to the office, which was exactly how I imagined it to be (good and abundant food, good lighting, lots of toys and bikes, lots of Star Wars posters.. Yep, it could have been in Silicon Valley). But I was surprised at the young age of the marketing and sales folks who were hanging in their lounge when I ran into them. In fact when I saw them I thought like I was looking at my freshman class or something! It was great to see the Debian folks (though no one I met was actually Irish), as well, one of my favorite things to do whenever I visit a foreign city.
I walked my heart out in the city getting a blister in a shoe that I thought was blister proof and while not as picturesque as some other European cities, it has a ton of character and no shortage of Guinness and pubs (no surprise there). My favorite places/things were: The National Library (great exhibit on Yeats, but make sure to use the multi-media as that is where all the information is stuffed), St. Stephen’s Park (overflowing with chubby ducks and lovely flowers), the prison Kilmainham Gaol (would not advise a visit if you are feeling in any way down, there is some heavy shit you learn during the tour), the simple stained glass that seemed pretty common, and finally the Long Room in Trinity Church, which you enter after the Book of Kells (I realized just how much I adore books when I visited this old library stuffed from floor to ceiling with old old old books).
The West Coast: I did not think I was going to head out west but after hurricane Earl started its burst along the eastern Seaboard and I was able to change my ticket for free so I stayed a few more days. I went to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher both totally stunning, really majestic. As is often the case with these type of these natural wonders, I am often left elated and awed but such strikingly wondrous places also seem to subsequently spur a more melancholic state of mind and heart.
Friends, Family, and Dogs: While in Dublin I stayed with my friend A. and his extremely hospitable family, which included, a brother, a father, and three Irish mutts, one of which, Buster (pitt bull/lab mix), pretty much stole my heart. Buster’s true love, is food, so much so he almost poised himself to death a little while back snorting down something he shouldn’t have costing the family a pretty penny to save him. My friend no longer lives there but came from Berlin and it was a real treat to not only spend days layered upon each other with a friend (it has been an awful long since I have done that outside of conferences) but also meet his family. You learn a lot about your friends that way and in this case, there is some serious and I mean serious intellectual jousting that happens, sometimes bordering on warfare but generally it plays out in more contained, civil and fascinating fashion. Now I understand why my friend is armed with seemingly endless knowledge: it was needed for purposes of defense at home.
So in essence, a great, great trip and a fantastic way to end a memorable summer and transition into what I hope will be a bit of a monkish (I call it monk mode) period for this academic year. I am (so so so) fortunate enough to have a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study and am going to try my darnest to take advantage of the fact I am not teaching (Hell Yes!) and hide away and accomplish all that I have set out to do.