Pop Quiz, or, Report to my employer on the last three years after a “Sabbatical.”

(Dear reader, I know there is irony in speaking of truth and then redacting parts of this post. However, my commitment to living in the truth does not extend to telling other people’s truths on the internet, and so I have hidden details pertaining to other people where I felt the need to give them the gift of privacy.)

Now, pop quiz time! See how many you can get correctly.

Quiz on Sabbatical Leave

Point value: 1.5% GSI or unspecified merit increase

Instructions: The statements below either do or do not describe Prof. Anne Whitney’s efforts and experiences in the period between her initial application for sabbatical and her return to service.

For each statement, fill the box in the left-hand column with “T” if true and “F” if false.

Prof. Whitney gave away more than 48 cubic feet of clothes.
Both of Prof. Whitney’s children changed schools.
Critical family medical history was disclosed to Prof. Whitney by her parents, including the cause of death of her sister, who died before Prof. Whitney was born and was kept a secret until Prof. Whitney was 15 or 16 years old. This history would have been relevant to several critical medical issues experienced by both Prof. Whitney and her children.
Prof. Whitney had a kidney stone embedded in her ureter, causing urine to flow in reverse.
Two out of the three members of Prof. Whitney’s household were identified as having intellectual disabilities.
Prof. Whitney led professional development for the teaching artists of the nonprofit Ridgelines Language Arts.
Prof. Whitney appeared on television discussing how childhood sexual abuse affected her psychologically from childhood to the present.
Prof. Whitney had a urinary tract stent for two months, causing pain upon any movement including walking.
All of Prof. Whitney’s research sites (schools and professional development sites) closed/canceled.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on talking with children about childhood sexual abuse.
Prof. Whitney used writing and social media action to make contact with more than ten additional victims/survivors, urging them to report the same coach for crimes occurring from the mid-1970s to the present.
Prof. Whitney had at least five panic attacks. 
Prof. Whitney had two uterine surgeries, the second of which was a total hysterectomy.
All of Prof. Whitney’s doctoral students and at least three of her master’s students completed their degrees.
Prof. Whitney’s mother explained that they had declined psychologist-recommended mental health treatment for her after sexual abuse. They gave as a reason that she had made hurtful and “unhelpful” comments about the family to the doctor. The same explanation was given three years later, when they again withdrew her from treatment immediately following an intake session.
To date, at least 17 victims of Prof. Whitney’s sexual abuser have made reports to law enforcement, alleging crimes over a period of 40 years.
After discovering that her childhood sexual abuser was still active in children’s programs, Prof. Whitney reported him to multiple authorities.
Prof. Whitney enrolled in training to teach Zumba, an exercise dance style.
Prof. Whitney had daily gastrointestinal symptoms.
A geneticist determined that Prof. Whitney and others in her family almost certainly have genetic disorders of connective tissue, bone, vascular system, or hormone function, pending confirmation by whole exome DNA sequencing.
Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with autism.
Prof. Whitney incurred more than $20,000 in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for her own care alone.
Prof. Whitney had Covid-19.
Prof. Whitney had twelve or more kidney stones.
One of Prof. Whitney’s children was hospitalized for two weeks after an x-ray revealed a bone lesion encompassing almost 50% of the child’s femur.
Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on high school writing instruction.
Prof. Whitney was interviewed by investigators including law enforcement, federal authorities, and multiple journalists about her experience of childhood sexual abuse. The interviews required prolonged, repeated engagement with traumatic memories and personal questions about her family relationships, sexual experiences, and mental health from 1983-2022.
Prof. Whitney initiated partnerships between Penn State teacher education students and middle school students.
Prof. Whitney borrowed money from her parents for the first time, even though she is 49 years old and an employed professional.
Two of Prof. Whitney’s colleagues died.
All of Prof. Whitney’s planned sabbatical research funding sources canceled their award cycles.
Prof. Whitney gained 25 pounds in less than 12 months.
Prof. Whitney co-led a group of Anti-Racist English Language Arts Educators in a critical reading group. These teachers teach high school English in two schools that partner with the university.
Prof. Whitney has both physical custody of and full financial responsibility for her two children, making her officially a “single mom.”
Prof. Whitney accumulated a pile of clean yet un-put-away laundry so big that she could not open her closet or walk unobstructed from the bedroom door to the bathroom. It was so anxiety-provoking that she ultimately asked friends and even hired teenagers to fold and stow it. 
Prof. Whitney published two books, two book chapters, and multiple articles.
Prof. Whitney had a bladder resection surgery.
Prof. Whitney missed deadlines for several important academic conferences.
Out-of-pocket medical expenses for Prof. Whitney’s children totaled more than $15,000 in an 18-month period.
Prof. Whitney’s parents explained that they had taken no action following Prof. Whitney’s experience of sexual abuse in 1983 because Prof. Whitney had said she didn’t want to.
Prof. Whitney’s childhood sexual abuser was arrested almost 40 years after he assaulted Prof. Whitney, charged with multiple counts of indecency with a minor.
Prof. Whitney divorced her spouse after sixteen years and two children.
Two of Prof. Whitney’s books came out in the same month.
Prof. Whitney canceled presentations at several important academic conferences.
Prof. Whitney read more than 150 books, 19 of them memoirs.
Prof. Whitney took up kayaking.
Prof. Whitney played a feisty bard gnome in Dungeons and Dragons.
Prof. Whitney visited HersheyPark three times. The SuperDuperLooper was closed every time.
Prof. Whitney’s children required treatment from healthcare practitioners outside the university insurance network. Of the four specialties needed, three of them are not practiced by any physician in a 90-mile radius of State College. The fourth specialty required waiting lists of six months or more at all practices within a 120-mile radius.
Prof. Whitney learned to make pottery using both handbuilding and throwing techniques.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on the professional development of summer camp staff.
Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with ADHD.
Prof. Whitney had untreatable uterine disease.
Prof. Whitney experienced the prolonged escalation and consequences of a global pandemic (along with most Earth inhabitants).
Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on writing practices for spiritual reflection.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on school literacy experiences of a student with autism spectrum disorder and high intellectual function.
Prof. Whitney joined with hundreds of teacher-writers in a joint writing effort in March of 2021 and 2022.
Prof. Whitney led two new workshops using writing and collage as modalities for reflection and (re)composition.
Prof. Whitney served as a writing partner for women serving prison sentences in Oklahoma, via the nonprofit Poetic Justice.
Prof. Whitney sold approximately 35% of a house, bought a house, and moved into it within a 30-day period.
Prof. Whitney spent whole days and weeks at a time completely unable to think or write.
Prof. Whitney’s children both accelerated in school in two or more subjects.
Prof. Whitney survived.
Prof. Whitney is writing again.


No “answers” when it’s my own life I’m living. Whatever answers I have been taught about what should be, or what makes sense, or what a good or healthy or capable person would do– turns out they aren’t really what living is about, at least not if I’m aiming to live my life and not just get through it. I’m learning that, for me at least, reaching for “the answers” is like earnestly, naively trying to answer a trick question. I’ll just end up both wrong and ashamed of having fallen for it.

All I can authentically reach toward is truth. As my therapist Leslie asked me almost weekly for twelve years: What do I know right now to be true? If I look inward, if I listen to what Glennon Doyle calls my “truthiest truth,” what does the deepest me need me to know?


All of the statements are true. It’s been kind of a shitshow. Nadia Bolz Weber tells about a turning point in her own life as “having my heart of stone ripped out of my chest, and replaced again with something warm and beating, like an emotional heart transplant” (I linked to her Substack, but the best place to start with NBW is her memoir Pastrix). I had turned my own heart to stone, in hope that it would stop hurting. Maybe I even stoned myself, like they might a whore in the Bible or another outcast. This is me in January 2023, standing in a puddle of molten rock, melted lies, left with hot feet and a lot of lava around… but alive. A living human with a warm and beating heart.


On an equinox, day and night are of equal length; the dark time and light time balance each other. This Sunday was the Vernal Equinox, but it also was a sort of personal equinox for me. It is a time of turning over to a new season, on levels literal, emotional, metaphorical.

There really have been no appropriate bins of seasonal clothing, no decorative seasonal garden flags, no holiday decor to pretty up this last couple of years. Since a good writer friend told me she loves my lists, I’ll list some of the events and characteristics this looooooong last season has featured:

  • Burnout
  • Panic attacks
  • Pandemic
  • Divorce
  • Money problems (see: divorce)
  • Professional rejections and disappointments
  • Missed opportunities
  • Failures
  • Cancellations
  • Health problems: mental, kidney, brain, uterine, teeth, jaws, joints, Covid
  • Treatments: surgeries (5), braces (1 set), medications (so many)
  • Overwhelm
  • Self-judgment
  • Dissociation
  • Near-total societal badness

Lots of dark in that season, and all the flashlights out of batteries at times.

BUT. I arrived home at 4 am Sunday, on the vernal equinox, from a trip. Climbing into my bed, I thought vaguely, “I made it.” And on Monday, I woke up to these sights:

What you are seeing is living stuff revealing that not only is it still alive, it is growing new stuff! And even though spring/new “leaf” (get it?)/new life metaphors are cliches, they are also true.

New light this spring:

  • Headspace
  • Embodiment
  • New love that feeds, not starves
  • Teeth, jaws and face that cooperate
  • Writing ideas
  • Energy
  • Medicines (different and better ones)!
  • Fun plans
  • Self-compassion
  • No part of my body is cold right now!

There may be a pandemic, still. Education is still full of disappointments and frustrations, both personal and systemic. So is society. And life. There may still be lots of societal badness, complete with wars and oppression and tons of harm. I even still wake up every day with joints that hurt and more ideas than I can ever finish, and I want more money.

But still! Leaves are growing! I made it.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Anthropologists from Space

What will the anthropologists that visit us from space make of it all?

What will they make of our face masks… protection from a virus, or just adornments for our mouths, like an heirloom brooch or cheap flashy earrings?

What will they make of all these words on our t-shirts: Coke, Obama/Biden ‘08, Penn State, IZOD, 6th Annual 5k Race, It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!? Will they see advertisements, souvenirs? Or perhaps holy creeds, or clan-identifying garb? Or will they think they’re our names, like the name on a dog’s collar?

What will they make of the braces on my teeth? Will they know they were good for my teeth, badly needed and the best our age has? Or will they see a weird fashion, like big plumes on hats, or some kind of punishment for a gossip or a liar?

What would they make of the stack of books on my table? A true crime story, a feminist memoir, a history of the Maya, a novel about moms, a book of crossword puzzles, an empty journal. Will they look like instruction manuals? Orders from above? History or philosophy, of my culture or someplace else?

And what of me? Will they see me as a writer, teacher, mother and friend? As smart and strong and beautiful, blossoming? Or as a crone, or a symbol, as very young or very old? Oh, a priestess!

Maybe they’ll find our museums, but with all their labels worn away. Maybe they’ll have watched TV en route, like Mork. Or was it Alf?

I’ve looked at artifacts of Ancient Rome, a museum of modern art, and Mayan ruins in the same week, and I have questions!!

What will they think of Groot mixed in at this non-ancient Mayan tourist stop?
I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers


How is it that every task takes ten times longer than I think it will… except for the tasks that I most doom-crastinate about, which end up actually taking approximately 2.7 minutes each?

How is it that I feel better now that my ex has a new person, not worse?

How is it that a whole bag from Sam’s Club sat undetected in my garage for more than six months?

How is it that my feminism has not eroded my desire to be thin and young by now?

How is it that the older I get, the more new and raw and I feel?

How is it that the more I live through trouble, the more I’m grateful to past Anne for all the trouble she got me through?

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Schedule shutdown complete

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Do you listen to Hidden Brain? I love it so much, and incidentally, if I could have every interesting thing I learn read to me by Shankar Vedantam, I would grab that opportunity right quick. In this episode from a while back, guest Cal Newport shares part of the little ritual he uses to step away from work mode and transition to going-home mode. He says, “Schedule Shutdown Complete.”

Although he means it differently (and so usefully!) ,This is what I have so often craved, Schedule Shutdown. My whole adult life, I’ve had strong feelings about time. How there’s not enough of it. Who needs it, wants it, gets it. What it’s worth, and what is worth it. How I “should” spend it or need to or want to spend it, or how I did spend it. None of those seem to line up. My soul and brain and personal history have created ideal climatic conditions for a perfect storm of anxiety and attention issues, along with whoppingly poor self-esteem. More often than not, this storm makes landfall at the problem of Time.

My son put it best when in second grade he announced, over a math worksheet, “I hate stressful time!” Me too, baby. I’ve had panic attacks about it. And many, many weeks per semester, I have feelings like “I wish I could just pause everything and have a week with nothing scheduled.” Or, more fanciful yet, I’ve imagined some weeks that my calendar app would fail and that I miraculously would receive a free pass on showing up to absolutely NO scheduled events and would be excused from ALL deadlines for the rest of the term. I know I am not the only teacher, parent, writer, or human being that gets this feeling about time from time to time. I just spend more time there than many.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Then, two years ago, it actually happened. We experienced complete schedule shutdown in the form of the initial worldwide spread of Covid-19. And while of course this was a bad thing and nobody wanted a pandemic, it’s a fact that my initial reaction was relief. Relief that my own schedule was wiped off. I know I am not alone in this.

Notice how many people bought jigsaw puzzles, art kits, or board games? It’s like we worried we wouldn’t have enough to do with our free time. This reminds me of my own elementary school visions of what “the future” would entail. I think “the future” was synonymous with “the year 2000.” Man, that seemed impossibly distant. (And we never simply said 2000; we said “the year 2000.” So futuristic was that date that we had to clarify that it was indeed a year! That someday in our own lifetimes, there would be years NOT beginning with 19!) In the future, we would be wearing high-tech jumpsuits with all kinds of color-changing, thermal-varying capabilities. In the future, we would have flying cars, and we would have robot maids. And in the future, we would have so much more leisure time. Automation would make our work so efficient that we’d all have to think up other ways to pass all that newly-saved time.

And it’s indeed true that the shutdown canceled many things, creating some extra time at home. But as you’re guessing by now and likely experienced yourself, a complete schedule shutdown didn’t fix my time problem. Some things I recall about time at that time:

  • The things that were erased included good things, things that would be meaningful or fun or both. So, while I had more time to do things, they weren’t necessarily the things I wanted to do.
  • My then-husband’s things and my children’s things were also canceled. This meant that the time I wanted to do things was immediately filled by their things– things they would otherwise have sometimes done outside my presence.
  • All existing time-saving things that I had implemented previously were of course also wiped off the schedule. So, cleaning, cooking, providing for physical needs of others, etc. were now taking up more time than before, not less.

Those are the externals, right? And they sucked, and they sucked WAY WORSE for most folks, whose paychecks ALSO were canceled. So, please know that I know.

But, how about the internals? The eternals?

All those cancellations sometimes created pockets of re-opened time in the immediate sense. However, they stole time from life overall, especially for my kids. Yes, we got the afternoon off to play board games or go to the park instead of school and sports. We got pajama days and random times of trampoline jumping when we’d normally have been doing math. But, we lost third-fourth grades as well as seventh-eighth grades. We lost taking my taking my daughter to Europe for her thirteenth birthday. She missed middle school sports, completely. She missed all the eighth grade “lasts” and so many firsts. My son missed playing in a band with actual other instruments. He missed opportunities for his special needs to be noticed and addressed at school. Some of these things are no big deal long term. Some of them are very big deals.

I, consequently, am more aware of the passage of time in my kids’ lives and in my own life as a parent than ever before. There’s a narrative that says this awareness of the fleeting years of childhood is a good thing, that it makes us grateful. Of course that’s true in its way, though more often than not I want to broadcast this essay of Glennon Doyle’s in response. However, I was already grateful before. I was already aware before. The clock on their childhoods and my own time with them was already running before, and even then it was running fast. All the time, running, running. And I was already aware of that, already grateful for what I did have and would not have for long.

The schedule indeed shut down. But the shutdown was not complete. Nowhere near complete enough. I am just as anxious about time as ever.

The first warm day

My daughter and I went on a mini trip by ourselves… and it was WARM!

There’s nothing like the first warm day. We’ve been inside, bundled, too little movement and too many snacks, since November. We’ve been in each other’s space, in each other’s business, on each other’s nerves. We’ve been tired. So tired.

Free the feet!

And then today. Today was the day the air conditioner in the car came on for the first time. Today was the first day we walked outside with no jackets. Today was the first day we could lean back on rocks and read by the river. The first day that ice cream actually made sense. The first day without socks!

How many days like this until next winter comes around?

How many more nights away with just this girl?

Keeping track of time

My feet haven’t touched grass since September. Heck, until yesterday even my shoes hadn’t touched grass since December sometime.

My skin hasn’t felt the cool pool, nor have my toes touched sand, since August.

I haven’t been married for over a year.

I haven’t worked from my office in 729 days. Exactly.

I haven’t eaten banana pudding since 2013. It was in West Virginia. I went back for seconds, then thirds.

I haven’t been pregnant, fat and proud and full of hormones, since 2012. My hair was curly from the hormones. I emobodied anticipation itself.

My kitchen hasn’t smelled of green chile stew since 1998. 

It’s been 44 years since my first day of kindergarten, and here I am still in school every year since.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers