Thursday, June 29, 2023

Tao of K-drama: Last Day of My Sabbatical

I am writing a book about K-drama, Korean television shows that, I believe, teach us Wisdom about managing our world of upheaval and challenge. I've written books before, but this time I have had a very special experience: I had a year off to work on it. 

For 26 years, I worked at New York State Psychiatric Institute as a research psychiatrist. The great thing about the position was that I had guaranteed salary and job security, which are hard to come by for anyone and maybe especially for black academics. The nature of working for the state is that one is expected to produce information that will improve the health of the citizens. That kept me on my toes -- I wrote 100 scientific papers and four books during my time at NYSPI. 

In 2016 I moved to The New School, where I am a professor of urban policy and health AND, wonder of wonders, the seventh year of employment is a sabbatical. I started mine on  July 1, 2022. 

The day before -- June 30th -- I turned off my daily alarm. Why have to get up at a certain time??? Then, on July 1, I really took my time drinking my coffee and reading my morning paper. Those changes helped me feel that I was in charge of my time and could use it as I pleased. That said, I needed to use that time productively as I had a lot to do: Korean lessons twice a week, shows to watch and re-watch, a pile of books to read, and several decades worth of needing to stare off into space so my brain could process all that information I'd collected over the years. 

The New School, for its part, really offered protection by taking me off a lot of lists. I never saw emails about the faculty meetings or my department's accreditation process. Of course, the fall part-time faculty strike intruded on my consciousness, largely because my daughter Molly Rose Kaufman, is a member of the union and was on strike.  Molly, in fact, was on the front page of the Times the first day of the strike. Like other members of the full-time faculty, I walked the picket line in solidarity.

It was a tense situation. The University called in union-busting lawyers and used a long array of terrible tactics to break the strike. As the end of the semester approached, and those efforts had only created a student sit-in and animosity towards the leadership, a settlement was reached. We could all relax for the holidays. 

As for me, I was looking forward to spring semester, when I was planning to go to South Korea, as a necessary part of my study. While I am very committed to "God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise" and "Plan B" -- meaning things that you plan don't always happen -- in this case all went well and I went to South Korea, spent three glorious months, and came home. There I really had a feeling of time, because everyone agreed to give me time to be there and not here. My whole plan for my time in South Korea was to sit in a coffee shop and watch people go by. I did a lot more than that, of course, but those really low-key moments were very special. 

Since I've been home, I've had time to recover from Covid -- fully, I hope -- and to dive into writing a draft of my book. I've been very deep in analysis of one of my favorite shows -- Just between Lovers -- and it's required my full attention. It's been lovely to have days and days without other demands. Friends have been grading papers and going to faculty meetings -- I have been reading obscure books on such subjects as Han and the Holy Spirit, trauma treatment in World War I, and meaning of the Tao. I think I've found the answer I've been seeking, but it would have been very, very hard to get there without this protected time. A professor at another university asked to speak to me about redlining. When he realized I was still on sabbatical, he thanked me profusely for sharing a bit of my precious sabbatical with him.

Tomorrow, Friday, June 30, 2023, I'll take down my sabbatical message. I still have six weeks of free time before classes start again. For the last day of my sabbatical, I'm going watch The King: Eternal Monarch, tracking the ways in which the king, Lee Gon, builds the team that will defeat evil and save the parallel worlds. It's a fascinating question -- how does a person, trained to be a ruler and diplomate, build a team from scratch in a foreign country??? It will be a glorious day and I will surely, as I have for the past year, luxuriate in time to just stare off into space, letting images and concepts percolate in my fertile brain -- such a great thing! 

And then I will reflect on my gratitude for these two jobs -- one that allowed me to do research for the public good and one that gave me time to wander and think. 

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