In the Space of No Thing...
October 05, 2021
I was recently asked to explain an employment gap, which makes sense because I do have an employment gap. Short of exchanging a wage earning job to take on the 24/7 job of parenting from the home or taking an extended unpaid medical leave for self or others, there really isn't an acceptable explanation.
What? You thought I spent a year at a minimum security facility for embezzlement? I think that would show up on a background check. A straight forward response might be: 'I don't believe that's any of your business'. I decided a snarky, yet truthful response wouldn't end well so I told the other truth which turns out to be a can of worms.
I took a sabbatical, folks.
Yes, the traditional definition of sabbatical has something to do with taking either paid or unpaid leave from an institution of higher education for the purpose of learning new shit that would ostensibly be of value in the classroom. However, the modern sabbatical is more broadly defined.
At the beginning of 2017 I attempted to take some time to re-evaluate, rest, and think about who I am and/or who I want to be in the world. I intentionally left the slate blank. Maybe that wasn't the best idea, but like those writers who produce a novel without an outline, working or living outside self-defined boundaries eliminates possibility we can't see. In which case, haven't we just put ourselves in the timeout corner? That's too harsh, I think. Lots of people know exactly how they're going to use that time and they get exactly what they were looking for. Nothing wrong with that.
I write without an outline.
During the brief 2017 unpaid sabbatical, I accomplished the following:
- I spent a week in Costa Rica at a Bikram Yoga retreat
- I taught my daughter to drive
- I built a bookcase
- I about lost my mind from utter boredom (those three things don't take 1,456 hours)
In other words, I accomplished absolutely nothing of value that I wouldn't have accomplished anyway (except maybe the bookcase). I don't know why.
I didn't have much of a plan this time either. By the time it was clear, at least to me, that I needed to step off the platform for more than a month or two, the only plan I had was breathing and moving my body. Yup. That's it, breathing and moving. That's kind of Zen, don't you think? And out of nothing, came everything, or at least enough to call it good.
Not what I expected. Refer back to that Zen business; I expected nothing. No. Thing.
Maybe a couple months ago, C mentioned that I was always busy, always seemed to be up to something. This observation wasn't in alignment with my experience of myself. Yes, I was moving, doing, going, creating but at the end of the day I had to dig back to figure out what I had done that day.
I think that's called being in the moment. At the time I was thinking, Christ, Heather! What the hell are you doing with your life?! Let's get a little structure around this business that happens between 5:30 AM and generally 8:30 PM (it's my clock, I'm not fighting it).
I tried. I made a list of all the things I should be doing and all the things I thought I wanted to be doing and I made a schedule. It looked like an Outlook calendar and I was booked around the clock. I slogged through that for three days until S suggested that might not be the best approach.
After I pried my fingers out of the structural granite things got a little funky.
At fifty-seven I decided to take up the fiddle. I did this insane thing with absolutely no working understanding of musical theory or even what we call notes (well, sorta). My teacher objected and said, you're a contra dancer, you know a lot more than you think. Turns out she was right. This doesn't mean I'm any good at it, but I do understand and it's a tremendous source of joy. Joy. There's that word again.
At fifty-seven I decided to volunteer at the local library. The jury's still out on that one other than the ninety minutes of book shelving nirvana. There's that word again. Joy.
At fifty-seven, I pulled out the paint box and decided it was perfectly fine if I didn't finish a painting. I haven't finished a single painting this year. I'm good with that. No constraints, just be and do. Joy.
I've always written, but in January 2007 I opened up a public blog and started writing with intent, as in, do this on purpose and click the publish button. Sometimes the writing was sparse, maybe one or two posts a week, but there were long periods of extravagant production. I participated in NaNoWriMo twice. On both occasions I produced the required 50,000 words in the required thirty days and in both cases I produced absolute crap. All that told me was, try not to inflict a deadline on creativity.
This year, in the month of August, I wrote 50,000 unintentional words. OK, they weren't unintentional, I wrote them with clear intent. However, I had no objective but at 20,000 words I realized I had a book in process. At 50,000 words, I had a plan. Still no outline (I tried, it backfired). When the first draft was complete I thought I was done and called it good. File it away and move on. Except I kept editing and eventually surrendered. I wrote a book, told a story, and intend to see it through to the end. I have no idea what the end will look like. Refer to Zen. Joy.
It can go to print or it can sit on my drive until I've changed hardware enough time to lose it. Either way and anything in between.
One more, bigger than the fiddle and far bigger than the book. I let go of all (OK, it's a work in process) expectations of my father. I just sit with him, listen to him, try to let the shit that gets triggered slip away. This uninterrupted time I have with my dad is... yup. Joy. How many middle-age adults allow themselves that sort of bloody miracle?
Sabbatical: a year spent letting go of who I thought I was, who I thought I needed to be, and letting that space fill with the unknown, unexpected, and miraculous.
"I was recently asked to explain an employment gap, which makes sense because I do have an employment gap." There was a 250-character limit in the response field, so I just typed:
I took a sabbatical. Hard stop. If they decide they want more of an explanation, I'll send the link to this post.