Sabbaticals are best used when they are well planned, right? At least, this is fairly common starting supposition. As this semester winds up (down?) I am starting to get more and more of the common question: “so what are you going to do after you graduate?” My response is based loosely on my plans to take a sabbatical (however, when responding to someone at work, I usually make something up about applying to Atlanta faith-based non-profits, which I suppose I could…) Despite these facile attempts at planning out a sabbatical, the details have (not surprisingly) been hard to come by.
But the loving persistence of a dear friend has given me the impetus to think more concretely than even my co-workers’ questions.
I do know some of the general contours that my sabbatical will take. I will be moving to Atlanta, Decatur actually. I will be living with my partner/boyfriend in a small house on Columbia Drive. I will be making use of my hands in more creative ways than simply typing essays on a keyboard… I will paint, I will sew, I will cook, and I will make. Now, you may have wrinkled your nose at that last sentence. After all, women have been the sewers, the cooks, and the domestic makers for such a long time in Western civilization. Believe me, it has been a 26-year process for me to realize and rail against such imposed gender norms. But these last three years have been a time of slow transformation for me. I am certain that to paint, to sew, to cook, and to make are truly good things for me. Of at least that I am certain.
You see, my years in high school, college, and now graduate school have been sorrowfully devoid of much physical creativity. Sure, there has been imagination and intellect coupled with good grades and compliments; there has even been the occasional creative “project” (making stoles for LGBTQI divinity graduates, painting picture frames, decorating my small apartment) but such projects have never been encompassing or anything more than mere hobby or distraction.
What of the raw, repetitive creativity of making things with one’s own hands? What of the life that springs forth from work? I think the monastic principle of work and prayer has more truth to it than our modern skepticism would like to admit.
Over the winter break, I marveled at the sly, seductive power of the smell of garlic that lingers on one’s hands after making a meal. I wonder at the delicate strength of one’s fingers as they guide pieces of fabric through a sewing machine, or as they guide a brush, pushing paint across a canvas surface. I am even awestruck at the theological significance of laundry: to make dirty things clean, and to provide ourselves and our loved ones shelter with clean clothes. What comes from the use of one’s creative, creating body when we allow our physical natures to participate with the imagination of our minds is… spectacular. It is tremendous, prayerful. It is no less than a miracle of our human nature that we are able to be both created and creator; it is a gift to be cognizant of our physical participation in the ebb and flow of the world’s movement.
This kind of creative activity has been largely elusive to me in these past eight years since high school. And when confronted with the despair that comes from trying endlessly to define one’s self outside of relationship–relationship to others, to one’s body, to one’s creativity–this kind of activity has been wholly absent.
This will be the content of my sabbatical: painting, sewing, cooking, creating. If I must be practical in my planning, I will accede to not knowing many of the details. As far as money, I will be temporarily dependent on the goodwill of family, friends, and intentional non-attached living: taking on a more monastic, subsistence existence. I will be planting vegetables and herbs and making meals from scratch. Phone bills will be paid, but with what (whose?) money I do not really care; I only use my phone to talk with out-of-state friends, anyway (the friends who are in-state, I expect to talk with face-to-face). I will set up a painting studio. I will buy canvas and paints and brushes. I will make things. I will sew stoles and tablecloths and things that people need. I will write.
My time line is as yet undetermined. I expect that I should set some time line. Perhaps one year? Give it one year to create and make and be. Without expectation of academic achievement, without creating anxiety over my “professional” or “more important” identity. Is a year long enough to repent of the over-indulgent, self-actualizing fantasy that I can possibly thrive without the creative faculties of my physical existence? This will be an exercise of intentional anxiety-letting. I have become too invested in the public/private split that honors the public, professional, and academic over the so-called private, inner, home life. It is time to repent of this despairing posture.
This is not a reversion back to oppressive gender roles, but a realization that I have for too long tried to live out in public while neglecting the inner life of the Spirit that moves and gives me life. This will be a time to give thanks to that Spirit, trusting that the same Spirit that has guided the saints will also guide me. After a lifetime of trying and trying to determine my own future, this sabbatical will be an exercise in hopefulness and praise. To see what future comes.