This was my first week back at work after a month-long paid sabbatical that my company has just started offering folks who have been with them for over five years. I started at HubSpot back in January 2010, so I was one of the first people to become eligible for such a glorious thing.
And glorious it certainly was.
As far as I know, only one other person has taken advantage of the new policy so far, and she used hers (at least in part) to go off gallivanting across the American West as a sort of delayed honeymoon. I followed her many, many updates on Instagram and Facebook, and holy cats did it look like she had a great time.
I followed a different path.
I'm kind of a hermit at heart, really. A recluse. A homebody. And while I would like to say that I love to travel, the truth of the matter is that I very much enjoy having traveled. Travel actually stresses me right the heck out. I start to dread the change in my routine weeks in advance of my approaching departure date, and even secretly start counting down the days until I'll be back home and ready to take up the reins of my regular life again.
I just really love being home, is all.
So when it came time for me to choose how to spend my sabbatical, sure, I flirted briefly with the idea of traveling for at least part of it, but I think I always knew I'd end up camping out at home and making this month into the most enjoyable exercise in staycationing I could possibly imagine.
After all, I already live in a place that, to me, is actually paradise. Heck, Cape Cod is paradise to lots of people; what am I even saying? I was born and raised here, so that makes me something of an anomaly. Just the fact that I live in my hometown makes me an anomoly. But never fear: I did my roaming around as a young adult. I sampled the varied delights of different regions and states. But college in Western Mass, grad school in upstate New York, and a quickly abandoned (though very instructive) experiment in California living taught me that I am happiest of all right here, in a little house on Cape Cod, overlooking a river and woods that change beautifully with the seasons.
It means that I give up certain things I once loved about city life (late-night dining, food delivery of any sort, a thriving peer group of my approximate age) but it's all paid back to me in spades. I love it here, and I honestly wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
So all of this is my way of explaining why I took the gift of four consecutive weeks of paid vacation -- which came with a handy little bonus check on top -- and used it to become one with my couch.
Because I wanted to, that's why.
I also know that it's a very good idea to alternate periods of working intensely with your head with working intensely with your hands, and vice versa. They're just two very different ways of interacting with the world, and it's all too easy to become unbalanced in one direction or the other.
So historically, I've swung between the extremes. When I left grad school, I became a chef. When I got tired of that, I started writing again. When that became stale, I got a job at a local children's theater that had me on my feet and chasing young thespians all day.
Now, as a writer and editor at a software company, I work mostly in my head. But I tend to balance it out more than I used to with physical exercise, physical play, and hobbies that require some manual skill.
In other words, I write for a living, but I also run, take aimless rambles through semi-wild places, and I knit.
But my main work is writing, and that's what I wanted to take a break from for a bit. I've been writing off and on -- mostly on -- for most of my life, and I thought it would be good for me and my writing to give it a rest.
Running coaches say that the most important part of training is the rest days, and I think there's a lot of wisdom in that.
So even though I heard a chorus of voices urging me to use this month to write (some of them in my own head), I knew that what I needed most was a break from writing anything at all. Except for the occasional Facebook post (and I even kept that to a surprisingly dull roar) I really wanted to give that part of my brain a vacation. And so I did.
Since there's only so much time I'm willing to spend running or rambling in the middle of a New England winter, I decided to spend most of my time knitting. I picked out a pattern for a sweater that I thought would be complicated and challenging enough to take the whole month to finish, but what I didn't know was that February 2015 would turn out to be a month of epic and historic winter weather around here. I was so thoroughly and utterly snowed in from the very first day of my sabbatical that I could barely do anything but knit. And so knit I did. Like it was my job.
I was done in two weeks.
Of course, I had help.
My two cats, needless to say, were thrilled with my decision to stay home for four whole uninterrupted weeks. The fact that I decided to use part of my sabbatical bonus to buy a gas fireplace insert just cemented their approval.
That fireplace gave me a new sense of security as storm after storm covered us in piles of snow. It meant that I'd have a secondary source of heat in case the power went out, which -- miraculously -- it never did. But my month of staying home in the snow would've been immeasurably more stressful without it, and I think it's the best thing I've spent that kind of money on in years. Possibly ever.
So the cats and I, we stayed home and watched the snow fall. And as you may recall (for many of you, the wounds are still fresh) it basically didn't stop snowing all month.
It was a very good month not to have to be anywhere at all.
I did leave the house from time to time. I went for walks in the snow. I shoveled the driveway every few days, kept the mailbox clear for the mail lady in her jaunty little truck, cleared a path for the propane delivery and the trash dudes to get to their respective corners of the house, and chatted with my neighbor across the street about bad backs and ice melt and how things were going at the shelters he helped run for the Red Cross whenever the weather got really bad.
I went outside. I looked up. I looked around.
Occasionally, the sun even came out.
Then I went back inside, changed back into my sweatpants, and napped.
I also ran. I was in the final stages of training for my first half marathon, scheduled somewhat optimistically for the end of the month. (It was eventually canceled due to unsafe weather conditions. They sent out finisher medals to those of us who registered anyway. That was kind of weird.)
I ran in the cold, I ran in the wind, I ran on roads covered in black ice and salt. I ran the longest run of my training -- the longest run of my life, in fact -- a full 12 miles that took me most of an afternoon to cover and that made me laugh for the joy of running in freezing cold weather under a white eggshell sky through snow like a snowglobe past the houses of snowbirds who were gone until May. It was an incredible run; a magical thing.
The day after that run, I strained a muscle while making the bed. That was less magical. So I had to take a few days off, which inevitably stretched into more than a week. Fortunately, this injury occurred during a long string of days that were so cold even the hardiest of weather forecasters were telling us to avoid going outside. At all. Ever. Perhaps until spring.
"Dangerously cold" were the words I believed they used. Repeatedly.
So I ran when I could, and stayed home when I couldn't. I got three different massages over three different days from three different masseuses. Because I hurt, and I wanted to, and I could.
And then I napped.
I started another sweater. It was much less complicated, and I was all warmed up. By now, my knitting fingers could really fly. I was quite possibly in the best knitting condition of my life.
This one only took a week.
I celebrated the beginning of Lent. Mardi Gras is how most of you know it, but my people call it Shrove Tuesday or, when we're among friends, Pancake Tuesday. On this one day of the year, we let our inhibitions go. We go nuts. We go wild with the pancakes.
What can I say: Episcopalians have adorably weird ways of living it up.
I had to make a special trip to the store in between snow storms to make sure I had plenty of butter and real maple syrup on hand, but I made it happen. Drastic times, drastic measures. You know the drill.
And I made some drastically good pancakes.
I went to Ash Wednesday services the next day in the midst of a pale, snowy day that saw few other cars on the slow, trackless roads. I sang hymns, I knelt and prayed, I thought about syrup and butter, feasting and fasting, brain work and brawn work. I shook hands afterwards with ladies who admired my new sweater, who patted my arm softly and exclaimed in genteel tones about the warmth and the wonder of a good woolen yarn.
I drove back home under a dreamlike fall of snow, took a hot shower, and napped.
By the end of the month, I was missing my friends. Missing my work. Missing the need to wear regular pants for more than an hour at a time. And that was just what I was hoping, and expecting, would happen, in the end.
But I didn't write a word all month. Not really. Even my Instagram posts were uncharacteristically caption-free. As the weeks went by, my head became free of that incessant internal monologue so many of us have: the one that has us constantly narrating ourselves to ourselves, composing status updates, coming up with cute, ironic jokes we'll tell on ourselves later, over coffee, or through a screen.
After a while, all of that nonstop muttering just faded into silence. Into the sound of snow falling outside my window. Into the dense stillness of a cat by the fire, of the steam from a teakettle, of my breath in the air as I ran down the road.
I stayed home for my sabbatical. I stayed home and did nothing, very deliberately and with great joy. And I found that my days were full to bursting with the somethings that I enjoy doing the most. I walked, I ran, I ate, I slept, I took care of my little house and my furry little kids. I let the low hum of nothing-to-do envelop and enshroud me and I pulled it up around my ears and sank deep into its folds.
But mostly, I napped.
Many, many, many thanks to HubSpot, which made this magical month possible and encouraged me to spend it in any way I saw fit. Thanks to my husband, who tried not to be jealous while he soldiered on with his own 40-mile commute to Provincetown every day, in the worst kind of weather. Thanks to my father, for taking me shopping for a gas fireplace after lunch one day in January and listening to a half-hour sales pitch with me when he would probably rather have been taking a nap. (It runs in the family.) Thanks to my friends Cindy and Sean, who gave me and the cats shelter during the first big storm of the season, days before my fireplace was installed and everything changed forever. And thanks to my wonderful, brilliant, creative, and kind coworkers, who welcomed me back this week with such verve and delight that I remembered why I love the working life after all. It is, in fact, great to be back.