I have been approved for a sabbatical for Spring 2012, an opportunity to spend concentrated time writing. Here’s what I wrote for the application to describe my goal for the time:
My intention [for the sabbatical] is to complete a book-length collection of familiar essays. For many years I have explored this genre: reading, studying, and teaching it; creating bits and pieces, starts and half-finished attempts. I have published a few reviews that fall to some degree within this genre, but would like to revisit some of these to make them less “reviews” and more “essays.” Since 2005, I have written nearly 400 posts at my personal weblog, well over half of which are actually beginnings and drafts of full-length familiar essays which need only development for breadth and depth to be complete. My recent discovery of G. Douglas Atkins’ work in the familiar essay genre reminded me yet again of its value and potential and of how I long to become adept in its achievement. Atkins in particular notes how the familiar essay can transcend the merely personal and earthly, how it can become incarnational in nature, ultimately suggesting to its readers the reality of the Incarnation itself. Whether I have the ability to do this, I don’t yet know . . . but I believe the trying – the essaying – is in itself work of value, both as it changes and challenges the writer and as it offers thoughtful considerations for the reader.
The topics on which I write are widely varied, but all circle back to themes of seeking what it means to live well, day by day, moment by moment, in this fallen world. Because I am a writer and a teacher of writing and literature, my essays often arise from and address works of literature and reflections on the writing life, as well as concerns about education and the lives of young men and women struggling in an increasingly chaotic and relativistic world. Because I am a woman and therefore a daughter and sister, a wife, mother, and grandmother, my essays also often derive from these roles and relationships, as well as from the sharpening iron of friendships forged over the years. Inevitably, my sufferings and trials underlie my writing choices and perspectives as I seek joy and hope in their midst. Since the familiar essay uses the particulars of the writer’s life to connect with, comment on, and illuminate the universality of human experience, this personal approach places my work solidly within that genre. I wish to bring these varied subjects and perspectives together under the concept of reflected light: as the moon has no light of its own but only reflects the light of the sun as their separate positions dictate, we should strive not to create our own light but to reflect the light of Christ in all we do and are.
I plan to spend this summer and fall gleaning from the work I’ve started those idea drafts that look best suited for this project, beginning to organize them, and starting the reading that I’d like to do alongside the writing. It’s an exciting and scary prospect, certainly, and I’m anticipating learning as much (or more) about myself as about anything else.