Sabbatical Day One

Today is the first day of my six-month sabbatical. For many/most academics, a sabbatical means hunkering down and doing a pile of research that will ultimately lead to a series of publications in peer-reviewed journals, thereby guaranteeing tenure and promotion. However, I’m a tenured full professor, so rather than fretting about ticking off boxes on the career checklist, I’m viewing this time as an opportunity to recharge and learn — to do something new and different.

I’ve put together a list of things to do, some of which are stated as goals. Of course, it’s an overlay ambitious list, but I’ve always been more productive when I have too many things to do rather than too few.

At the level of housekeeping, I desperately need to clean out my desk/file cabinets/bookcases, in both my home and school offices. Along with all the half-written and half-read documents I anticipate finding, I’m sure there will be a few gems. Most of what’s there, however, is destined for the recycling bin.

I also need to consolidate my notebooks. I keep a few of these around so I can scribble down names, phone numbers, email addresses, book titles, recipes, ideas, lists, and all matter of other stuff. The problem is that I keep them all.

In terms of daily routine, I will be working on my Chinese language skills, with the goal of taking the HSK level III exam, which consists of sections on reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and writing (by far the most difficult part). This level reflects a knowledge of the 600 most common words in Mandarin, as well as basic sentence structure. I also plan to take the preliminary level HSKK speaking proficiency exam (so far, my efforts have been largely incomprehensible to native speakers).

My primary writing project will be the completion of a novella called 18 Cranes. I chose the novella form as a way to learn the art of writing fiction — a significant challenge after years of writing academic non-fiction. If all goes well, the novella will serve as a prequel to a full-blown historical novel entitled Three Friends of Winter. The novel is set in the final years of the Ming dynasty (1640s), and concerns a young scholar working in Bianjing (modern day Kaifeng), as he learns of his Jewish heritage, interacts with the local Muslim population, and encounters rebel forces intent on ending the dynasty. The novella covers the span of a few days, as the novel’s central character awaits the results of his first civil service exam. In terms of research, this is probably the area that I will spend the greatest amount of time on.

Finally, I’d like to produce five academic article manuscripts. You’re probably wondering how, if I’m going to spend much of my time doing research for my novel, I’m going to accomplish this. Well, in part, I intend to expand on some of the themes I covered in my 2014 book Governance and Social Leadership (which I’m confident you’ve read). Producing these articles will be more a question of organizing my thoughts and putting them down on paper, than doing additional research. Also, I am hoping to work with a couple of my colleagues, who are very active researchers and who may be interested in having some help writing/editing/reviewing literature to get manuscripts out the door.

There are probably a bunch of other things I’d like to do, but these are the big ones.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. If you want to be sure to see my updates, why not follow me.

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