On Sabbaticals

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On Sabbaticals

An extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills 

My last sabbatical, now more than ten years ago, resulted in my leaving the world of paid employment, a decision that freed and fed my soul, if not my bank account. Every morning since I’ve given thanks for those gifts.

Now, my novel-in-progress progressed, newly birthed, has been sent to the inboxes of literary agents, waiting to be loved, rejected or deleted without being read by a junior unpaid intern.  I’ve taken this labor of love as far as I can, and, for the next few months at least, it is in the hands of the universe. I’ve released it with love and hope.

But I’m feeling more than a bit untethered without the focus, and burden, of the world of 1913 that I’ve inhabited for so long. So I’m stepping back, trying a self-declared sabbatical. Not from all writing- I’m still committed to my morning pages, and this blog- but I am withdrawing from the world of writing fiction for a while, and I hope that when I return, it will be with a rekindled energy. Another historical novel? Well, yes. Just not now. And maybe a return to poetry.

For the last two weeks, I’ve read and read and read, and semi-compulsively pruned and organized files. But I’ve also watched the birds at the feeder and followed leaves as they fell to the ground. Many books wait on that to-be-read pile, some poetry to savor, to ponder, by poets once loved and those newly discovered. And genealogical research, and Zentangle, and watercolors, and a trip to the beach, a visit to the mountains. And, most of all, lots of time for thinking, for renewal.

Time and freedom – I’ve had both for several years now. But somehow this interlude, this sabbatical, seems especially precious. I’ll keep you posted on my journey. And I wonder if I can go three months without writing. I’ll admit characters for the next book are forming in my head.

On Tangling at the Well

On Tangling at the Well

Last week I headed to the Well of Mercy, a North Carolina retreat center where they offer “respectful hospitality and quiet sanctuary,” to take an introductory course on Zentangle. I had heard about Zentangle, don’t ask me where, and signed up mainly as a show of support for the center. I knew that my schedule wouldn’t allow an overnight visit this year, and they do such a wondrous job in offering a setting of tranquility, acceptance, and peace that I wanted to be sure to support them. I wasn’t especially interested in adding another interest to my dilettante’s plate. I suffer from a superabundance of interests, none of which I do particularly well, and to add yet another — well, you understand.

But how thankful I am that I attended. Sister Donna Vaillancourt, a Mercy nun of extraordinary talents and mercy, and, I might add, a CZT (Certified Zentangle Teacher) was our muse, guide and cheerleader.

For those of you who might not be familiar with Zentangles, they are miniature pieces of unplanned, abstract, black and white art created by creating an ensemble of simple, structured patterns called tangles, all drawn on a 3.5-inch square paper tile.

The process of creating a Zentangle can become a form of “artistic meditation” as the you concentrate only on each individual stroke, one stroke at a time. You never know what you’ll end up with, and that’s part of the freedom and beauty of the process. For it is the journey, rather than the outcome, that is the focus. They say that “anyone can do it,” and I’m here to tell you they’re right!

I spent a mesmerized three hours, and came home to order more books and supplies. I have been tangling every day, and am always surprised at the outcome. And even when I think that my square is not one of my best, often when I come back to it, an hour or a day later,  sometimes seeing it from a different angle, it speaks to me.

They are right also about the meditative aspect of Zentangle. You really do get into the moment, and while your conscious brain is intent on each stroke, those under-layers are free to roam to parts unknown. On one such journey, I decided that I was finished with saving things for “good,” for special occasions- that, actually, every day is a special occasion. So the “special” dishtowel is now in use, the linen shirts which I save for bookgroup and lunches out, are now worn whenever my fancy strikes. If not now, when?

So I am hooked – with my micron pens and paper tiles – Zentangle is my new best friend.

And, incidentally, if you’re interested in learning more about Well of Mercy, here’s the link to their website: http://www.wellofmercy.org. It is a magical, mystical place. If you go, you will never forget it.

And I’m wearing my linen shirt as I write this.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com