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Sabbatical Musings Two: Observations on the past and the present

20 March, 2014

What the hell? I thought I was going to be blogging more! Mostly, I’ve been sleeping more and actually getting exercise. But sometimes, you just have to blog, and now is one of those times.

Being on sabbatical in another country is just weird. First, I don’t have my cats. This is bothering me a lot. But beyond that, I find that I am constantly fighting with myself, and trying not to beat myself up for not feeling grateful for what I have. Now, honestly, I also worry that this is not the sort of thing that people who are more self-confident, and especially men, worry about. Logically, I know that there is no real conflict between being grateful with what you have and wanting more. In fact, it’s what I have, and how fortunate I feel, that make me want more, if that makes any sense.

Since I’ve been on sabbatical, I have had the luxury of attending one or more medieval history seminars a week. This means that, at least once a week, I get to sit in a room full of medievalists and talk about stuff that makes me think. Basically, that’s one more talk a week than I normally get in a year. To be honest, I am not being nearly as productive as I’d like, but I have managed to get back into a semi-regular exercise routine, and can at least get back into some of my smaller clothes. Not in a way that I would wear them, but not having to jump up and down to get a pair of jeans on is something. ¬†Nevertheless, every time I do a medievalist thing, I find myself thinking ‘if only’.

‘If only’ I had done things differently. ‘If only’ I had learnt a long time ago how to impose some sort of schedule on myself and follow it, rather than needing some sort of externally imposed timeline (The ADHD laughs from the corner). ‘If only’ I had realized that I like to do research and write, rather than thinking of it as the price I had to pay if I wanted to teach. At least that is something I tell my students now: it’s wonderful to love to teach and be good at it, but if you can’t feel some sort of enjoyment at doing research, there’s not much point. ‘If only’ I had thought more about what the opportunities given to me over the years really meant, and learnt to take advantage of them…

I’m not sure what the second part of that thought is, though. ‘If only this‘ needs to be followed by ‘I could/would/might have/be that‘, and I have no idea what that is. Had more choices, I think. Not got myself stuck and unemployable? I’m not sure that’s true, even if life feels like that a lot. ‘If only’ seems to me to have a sort of terminal implication to it that belies, and even undermines, the present. I wonder if that thought is what kept me from finishing this post last night and posting it in a Rioja and tapas-induced blur? Some small shred of logic trying to beat its way out from under a mudslide of regrets and denial? Let’s try this again, shall we?

Being here, in one of the coolest cities I can think of, in a country where I have many friends, some family, and where reasonably attractive, seemingly intelligent men I’ve never met before strike up conversations with me in cafés and the BL, and where I can hang out with people I like and admire and talk about nerdy things … it’s actually a lot like what I wanted when I started grad school. Perhaps more of the past fifteen or so years could have been this way, if only I had done things differently. And? It feels like I should just stop with that thought. That’s what I mean by terminal implication, and it makes sense to me as a historian. When I think of my life, and myself in it, I tend to feel like an observer. There is always a part of me that is watching and recording, a part that sees me, and thinks ‘her’. I live much of my life outside myself, I think.

But I am here, in a library purpose-built for historians and their research. I am sitting at a desk, and this is my life. My life at the moment is hanging out with people I like and admire and going to seminars and doing research. I have a bunch of projects on that pretty much guarantee that the things I wanted, and have, won’t be going away, unless I turn out to suddenly not be alive anymore. But for now, the ‘would/could/might have been’ is, more or less. I just need to remember that I am supposed to be living my life, and not just observing it from a distance. Ha! As if…


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