looking ahead

a sabbatical rest, day 142

kathmandu lockdown, day 21

I read once that, for an academic, a sabbatical is a good time to practice being retired. I’ve heard the same thing about a summer break for teachers. This seems to make sense, although I don’t think a summer break quite works—you catch up on some things, get ahead on some things, and plan for and recover from a trip. Such a break is a great benefit; I’m just saying you really don’t have the time to develop a new rhythm of life.

In some ways, a sabbatical, at least this one, may not be sufficient for such a purpose either. If you’ve followed this blog, we had Visa challenges that delayed our arrival and the stress of adapting to a new culture requires considerable time and energy. An academic sabbatical has its expectations that drive some of your choices. I came here to work and had other personal and professional relationships to develop, just in case I do want to retire here someday.

Won’t be living in a palace…

A sabbatical, however, does help give you a sense of what you might want retirement to look like, provided you still want to be productive, which I do. It’s still a few years away (I’m only 68), but if you spend your life reading and writing for a living, there is no reason to stop. But while neither a summer break nor a sabbatical gives you the opportunity to really try on a new rhythm of life, a lockdown does. Sitting here on a balcony in Kathmandu under what the government euphemistically calls “prohibitory orders,” I’m getting a chance to see if I have the discipline to be productive when I don’t have to be.

So far, the answer is maybe. I’m still on sabbatical, of course, and I still have obligations. Language study and meetings with the faculty at the university here come to mind. We’ve moved into another quirk of Nepali language study—half consonants, which brings the total number of letterforms to over 500 (fortunately we aren’t studying Japanese). I’m also writing my final report on the curriculum here. These seem like exactly the kind of things I would want to do in retirement anyway, especially since they reflect my interests more than institutional demands. My future likely consists of consulting and study, but frankly, there is still more time to fill.

Here’s how I’m filling it:

I’m listening to more music. These are mostly instrumental soundtracks—cello, guitar, piano, violin. It’s in the background, but I find myself checking on the names of songs more than I might otherwise.

I’m blogging more. I’ve written the equivalent of a short trade book while I’ve been here, although not necessarily an interesting or marketable one. But if I’ve been doing three or four pages twice a week, I can see myself churning out a few pages a day.

I’m helping more. I’ve already written about a food bank we are helping with here in Nepal, and I’ve had some conversations about the next steps at our church when we return. Being more aware of needs and opportunities will, I expect, become more of what I do when I have more free time to do it.

I’m daydreaming more. I consider daydreaming, especially during a long shower, to be essential work. The other morning I sketched out rough ideas for a novel or screenplay about gender and caste issues in Nepal. (Might as well write off my next trip, right?). Cooking? Writing poems? Time to daydream opens up endless possibilities. And, of course, thoughtful choices.

In these ways, I’m practicing being retired. Did I mention I expect to do all this with Katie? Because that’s important. But I use the word expect because life is fragile and hard for most Nepalese, and mine may not be as easy and as rewarding as I’ve imagined, regardless of where we live. Life, as the Apostle says, is a vapor.

But if the rest of my life feels like this, I will certainly be blessed.

And productive.

1 thought on “looking ahead”

  1. […] I don’t expect to quit being productive; I’m not wired that way. Neither is my friend Quentin Schultze, who retired from teaching a few years ago and calls this period of life his “rewirement.” I like that. I hope to keep working, but to work differently, as I’ve explained. […]

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