Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leisure and Work

As I sit I hear the soothing rhythm of water flowing over rocks, the bass notes of bullfrogs, birds like wood instruments, bumble bees happily gathering pollen in cinnamon scented roses, and the summer breeze in the trees. It is morning coffee time and the dogs and I watch and listen. My thoughts turn about our planet's capacity for living—and my place in the span and purpose in this musical.

Monday I return from a year long sabbatical from Champlain College. A confirmed workaholic, I learned much this year, but perhaps most important of all is the oft ignored necessity of time away from work. Time that restores and builds our connections to each other, our creativity, our thinking, our physical welfare, and our connection to deeper truths.

Surprisingly in my year "off", I was able to accomplish quite a lot. Away from an established structure, I gave talks, wrote, made connections, and produced an incredible volume of art. Travel to Europe re-connected me to great art. Art truly with a capital "A". Art with a timelessness built on its physicality and the questions it asks of the viewer. This in-turn affected my work and my art grew in its voice and direction.

Away from environments where my identity was founded upon my work, I rediscovered myself—my capacity for work, for love, for expression, for management, and for my own resiliency. Focused away from the college environment, I discovered new friends, new experiences, and new ways of being. I rediscovered my parents and family. Through them I have come to comprehend an even more difficult life stage—the final one—and its challenges, importance, and joys.

Travel and the nature of life in Europe was another teacher. In the US, we speak of our over-worked state with pride and yet at the same time speak of seeking the illusive state of "balance". Europe provided new questions about beauty, relationships, and the merits of work and leisure. What do we lose when we focus solely on that which brings us capital? Money can not be an end in itself. It is a human construct offering no sustenance or soul of its own.

The European focus, I observed, is not on income producing work. We might say this could be the problem with the European market, but is this a true problem or that markets do not comprehend cultural values systems?  Europeans appear to me to put their focus on family, talents (be it painting, drawing, writing, music, etc.), and  social community. Which is worth more value?

I was surprised to see the diversity of ages simply together, not sequestered into schools, nursing homes, and age specific work establishments. You can not imagine how beautiful and life affirming it is to see multi-generations involved in the midst of communities, playing, working, eating, strolling, living!

Surrounded by timelessness and art that survives hundreds of thousands of years, Europeans intuitively seem to understand the cycles of life—about when to plant, when to rest, or when to reap and about mortality. Each season of humanity has its purpose and brings value to all of the living. "Ageism" seems to be a trait and a concept unknown. No one life stage is sought above another or its passing regretted more. It is all about flow.

In Torre del Laggo (the home of Puccini), my friend Lois and I met 2 older men—lifelong friends—and a young girl—a granddaughter. They were feeding ducks and asked to see our paintings. Striking up a conversation, one gentleman took the lead. He was surprised we were painting in his home town yet it was obvious that here he led a full life; full of travel, of friends, of family, of art and of environment. He spoke of living once in the US and then he questioned to us, "but Americans, they work so long—why?".

As I look forward to returning to Champlain Monday, I hope to carry this all with me. At its core, my role as a professor is to open up life possibilities for my students. As a manager, my role is to bring out the best in my staff and colleagues, so that we can accomplish great goals. My challenge returning will be to discover how to balance work with "leisure" so that discovery, creativity, and productivity are the outcomes. As if in time for this two articles were published this month on just this. I highly recommend reading them:

  1. "In Praise of Leisure", by Robert and Edward Skilelsky, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  2. "The Busy Trap", by Tim Kreider, New York Times

My final thought on this topic before my return, is that I do love what I do for work. We have a great purpose to fulfill in education. We are the place where future society is questioned, envisioned, prepared for and created.  Likewise my field,  the intersection of communication media, technology and the arts, holds out tremendous potential for  improving life for all. I am fortunate to be working in this space at this point in the history of humanity. "Leisure" can be a valuable contributor to this "work".


  1. Beautifully articulated, Ann. Thank you for enriching my life through yours.

  2. Ann, I loved reading this! So many of us should reaffirm this many times, over and over again, as we look at life and all it has to offer.
    thanks, vickie