top of page

Mimsy and Outgrabe

a record of panic, parenting, teaching, and art making

  • Writer's pictureSarah Gutowski

See Ya, SuckYear 2021-2022; Hello, Half-Year Sabbatical. I've Been Waiting a Long Time to Meet You.

Earlier this year, I was granted a half-year sabbatical from Stuffolk (after being denied four or five times since 2018 -- I dunno, I lost track after a while). So, starting at the end of June (officially, because that's when teaching faculty are released from 2021-2022 responsibilities), I'm on sabbatical until the end of January 2023.

But First, Some Reflection/Complaint that Ends in (Surprise!) A Wee Smattering of Positivity

This is, honestly, a strange emotional and psychic place to occupy. I've wanted this time to dedicate to my project since my last sabbatical, which happened over a decade ago. When my project was denied the first time in 2018 (for all sorts of reasons that had nothing to do with the quality of my proposal (and the quality of my colleagues' proposals, which were also rejected) and more to do with the way the college was being (mis)run) I was so, so angry. So bitter.

As a writer, I'm very very very inured to rejection. It doesn't phase me often and I rarely take it personally. But there was little way to avoid taking a rejection like that personally: when a egregiously arrogant non-academic lacking in integrity tells you that your proposal for scholarship and creative work isn't meeting standards, it rankles. Something slips under your skin and starts to poison the way you view your previous dedication to a system that promised, I don't know -- givebacks? compensation? rewards? basic fucking decency? -- for all of your hard work, sacrifice, and compromise.

And all the rejections that followed that initial rejection continued to fuel my resentment and ill-humor, and dampened much of my enthusiasm for my job.

But then the pandemic hit. And while it ALSO dampened -- hell, nearly extinguished -- my enthusiasm for my job, because ONLINE TEACHING IS THE DEVIL'S BIDDING WRIT LARGE -- it was actually helpful in what it revealed.

When I finally returned to a real, traditional classroom, I was reminded of what I did love about working in higher education, and why I returned, semester after semester, despite all of the other infuriating bullshit: sharing literature, talking about the craft of writing, connecting with my students. It was so much better than the asynchronous Blackboard discussion forums, where students and their instructor (*cough*) struggled to keep up, or even the synchronous Zoom classroom, where if I was lucky students would participate over the microphone, since almost no one participated with their cameras on.

So what I'm saying is that, well, it's odd to be leaving for sabbatical after having just returned to some semblance of the before-times. (I had only one regular traditional class in the spring semester -- everything else was some form of online teaching, due to student demand.) Of course, I'm still going to take sabbatical -- I'd be a fool to walk away from this opportunity. And I'm hoping that when I return in spring 2023, more students will be turning away from the hellscape that is remote learning, and back in a classroom where we can make eye contact and speak to each other in the ways that humans were meant to communicate -- face to face, person to person, focused brain to focused brain.

(That "focused brain" might be wishful thinking, for both my students and me.)

The Sabbatical: The Project

The last time I was granted sabbatical I was a tad bit overzealous in what I proposed: to finish a manuscript of poems and write a full-length verse play. My six months of work resulted in a finished poetry collection -- including a ten-chapter fairy tale written in Spenserian stanzas, because I am nothing if not ridiculous and overly ambitious -- but only the barest of drafts of the verse play.

Over the past ten years, I've managed to draft Act One through a combination of stubbornness, summer play-writing workshops, and a handful of DIY residencies (via the Artist Residency in Motherhood created by Lenka Clayton).

So my main sabbatical project is to finish this play. Here's a description from an artist statement I wrote recently:

a verse play about three sisters during and after World War II. Based on the lives of her grandmother and two great-aunts, the play moves between the present and the past, between England and Japanese-occupied Malaysia, and asks questions about survival, loyalty, resilience, and legacy.

Other projects I will work on, as ways to take breaks from the verse play and "refresh" are:

  1. Revising and editing my manuscript, The Familiar, which -- yay! -- has been picked up by Texas Review Press for publication in Spring 2024.

  2. Reading and reviewing collections of contemporary poetry

  3. Planning and drafting the beginning of a novel (this last one is, uh, not allowed to derail my verse play. I'm saying that here by way of manifesting -- I have an idea but I don't want it to take away from my play-writing energies.)

The Sabbatical: The Plan

In order to ease away from the trauma of the last two-three years (it sounds hyperbolic ... but there was a lot of trauma, and not all of it related to teaching) -- I'm trying to use a 90-day framework to help me. The first thirty days are more or less dedicated to reading, and note-taking, and brainstorming. My project-related reading stack, thus far, looks like this:

The next thirty days will be more focused planning: writing treatments for the next scenes and acts of the play, and early pre-writing for essays/reviews and that possible novel.

The last thirty days will involve drafting -- the serious work, the deep-dive into the play.

At the end of the ninety days, which will coincide with the end of the summer, I'll create a new ninety-day plan for each of my projects. It will, hopefully, probably, be more specific. It will also include a trip to -- yay!! -- Wales. I've been granted a residency at Stidwio Maelor in Corris for two weeks in October. It's been two decades since I was last in Wales and I can't wait to return... not to mention spend uninterrupted time on my writing.

32 views0 comments


bottom of page