Be the navel you want to gaze at in the world

It’s time for that oldest of blogging customs: explaining why you haven’t been blogging. This moment is especially fraught since I didn’t declare that I was taking “a hiatus.” My readers are feeling tense, abandoned. Didn’t Adam say he was back? Wasn’t he taking a whole big sabbatical from writing, all so he could blog again? What happened?

A lot has happened. Interesting things have happened in class. I’ve read good books. I’ve had illuminating conversations with friends that sparked my thinking. I’ve watched TV shows and movies and gone to concerts. I even noted with interest that a prominent figure in my field wrote a widely-shared article that divided readers! But not even my appetite for ill-advised controversy could rouse me from my blogological slumber.

It’s not a lack of material that caused this unannounced hiatus. Rather, it is the fact that having a full-time job turns out to be a full-time job. My teaching schedule this semester is demanding — I’m teaching an 8am class that is also much larger than my typical Shimer classes, then doing two more courses back-to-back after that. This schedule requires me to get up at 5:15am, which is hard even for a morning person like me.

I’ve also taken on a faculty governance role. In principle, the duties should be simple: I’m chairing the committee that assesses applications for sabbaticals (the real kind) and internal grants. My experience with governance at the old Shimer and my research profile make me a good fit for the position. Our main work amounts to two bursts of activity — basically assessing two piles of applications — and it’s interesting and rewarding, since I get a window into my colleagues’ research. And it’s kind of cool to be more of a public figure on campus. Now that I have to address faculty meetings, everybody knows my name! Amazing.

The implications of being chair, however, are considerably more. I am ex officio member of three committees — the Steering Committee (which plans faculty meetings and coordinates activities among the elected faculty committees), the Academic Advisory Committee (which brings various deans together with the elected faculty committee chairs), and the Board of Trustees Liaison Committee (which also entails observing a meeting of one of the Board subcommittees during the three annual Board meetings). All of this sounded great and doable to me — I’d be getting an inside window on the institution, just like at the old Shimer! But it turns out to be a lot of meetings for someone who has been strongly meeting-avoidant for the last several years — especially since a major leadership search has generated even more meetings! I recognize that it is an honor and a major responsibility to be included in all these processes, and I take my role in all these settings seriously. But wow. Yeah.

To some extent, I’ve also done it to myself, because I started to think — what is something that I could do as chair that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t me in that position? How could I make my mark? I had the wise idea to start an internal speaker series to highlight North Central faculty’s research. Thankfully, another faculty member was thinking along similar lines and volunteered to do essentially all of the organizational work — but I effectively assigned myself even more meetings. Good meetings! Interesting meetings! We had the first one, and I learned a lot and enjoyed myself and felt like I connected with old faculty friends and made new ones. But still. More meetings!

I am committed to a two-year term and anticipate that next year will be more manageable. I’ll be more experienced with all the processes, for one, and there will presumably not be another major leadership search of that scale two years in a row. The speaker series will either fizzle out or become more routinized. In fact, even now things are slowing down a bit — I don’t have any meetings or any extra trips to campus planned this week outside of teaching! At the same time, the unofficial sabbatical is starting to wind down — I have three speaking events coming up, and I’ve found time to do research toward the long-deferred book on Star Trek that I plan to draft this summer. All of these things, I suspect, will make me feel a little bit more like myself, easing me back into the routine of research and writing.

Not much of a sabbatical from most people’s perspectives, I bet! You could even argue that it made very little difference, since I wouldn’t have had much time to take on more writing in any case. But the fact that I wouldn’t have had time very much does not mean I wouldn’t have taken it on. What the public declaration did for me was commit me to say no to things for the foreseeable future, until I could reach the point I’m at now — namely, where I actively look forward to my return to writing, instead of (as was the case as recently as winter break) dreading it.

So yeah.