“it’s summer. there’s not a lot on tv.”
“i like to be entertained while i eat my mystery-refrigerator dishes for dinner.”
“no one can see me.”
none of these excuses can quite fully explain away why i just watched an episode of “melissa & joey.” ok 2. maybe 3. but that’s it! i’ve always said that i don’t feel guilty about watching what others may label “the crappiest stuff on tv” because I have that very excellent cover of academic research that lets me call explorations of popular culture of various sorts research! would it be stretching the truth too much to view these piece of television programming in the same way that i ask of my students — that if each engagement and interaction truly does hold educational potential, with education defined broadly, then wouldn’t the attempted-comedic stylings of sabrina-the-no-longer-teenage-witch and joey-call-me-whoa-from-blossom be fair game for the same assessment? truth be told, i did get a handle on the idea of futures as joey lawrence’s character — named joey, naturally — did bicep curls while filming a financial literacy-type podcast.
but as i sat, eating my reheated winter-squash-pea-penne medley from the other night, i was overcome with shame like never before. i suspect it had to do with a conversation i had with a more senior colleague last week who reminded me to “make every day count” — could i really be said to be living up to that bar if i willingly sat through arguably bad television? (ok, fine, four episodes!) these are the moments that make me wonder whether that over-hollywoodified image of people’s transformation upon learning they have a terminal condition has any truthiness to it. or at least whether it applies to me in any way. could i approach the sabbatical in the same way: that is, not in the morose sense, but in the dead-poets-society, live-each-moment, no-regrets, be-fully-aware, see-possibilities, no-time-is-wasted kind of way. or perhaps the better way to ask the question (since all of those hyphenated descriptors pretty much sum up how i already do live life, and that’s even before i had my dialogue with emerson) might be “how will i schedule my time in the days ahead, for the next twelve months, when i have significantly fewer demands on my time?”
i was reminded of just how precious the sabbatical is while talking with a member of staff at the program where my research team and i locate our project. he asked what i’d be doing during the sabbatical, and i briefly outlined the book projects and other writing i looking forward to spending time with and ideally finishing. he was nodding as i talked and when i finished he remarked, “oh, so you’re gonna be working. ok.” and then, after another pause he said, “that’s what i need, a sabbatical, to finish my book.” just then i noticed his first book lying open, cover up, on the desk behind him. we continued to talk about writing retreats and time — that much-too-precious fact of life that, no matter what, cannot be stopped; and after much thinking i have concluded that if i were to have the opportunity to ask for a superpower, it would indeed be the power to stop time. to pause. to take a breath. and not worry that things were being missed, progressing, leaving me behind. that and the ability to be a fly on the wall. but mostly time-stopper. — and this exchange must have worked its way into my subconscious because that night i had one of my characteristic vivid dreams and the reality was so simple and so real: educational reform that included sabbaticals for teachers to pursue project such as writing a book, taking a class — truly cultivating their own flourishing as human beings.
now, before you judge me for having lame dreams, a) i already know that they’re lame; and b) sometimes, that’s where my best ideas are born. well, ideas for opening paragraphs to articles that is. ok, yeah, they’re lame. but lame or not, wouldn’t it be grand indeed? to have reform (or initiatives or whatever fancy word we want to use) be focused on supporting the creativity and imagination of teachers? what a different rhetoric would saturate the public airwaves if such were the case. either way, the exchange made me thankful for this time. yes, the tenure process was intense (and that’s all i’ll say about it for now). but i couldn’t let my 14-year-old-sabbatical-dreaming self down and sometimes that was motivation enough…
so you see, watching crappy tv need not always be a bad thing: provides perspective for the relatively low, low price of secret humiliation.