Tuesday, January 08, 2008

How Surfing Saved My Sabbatical

What motivates tenured law professors to write? I suppose that some do so as second nature, as automatically as lesser scholars breath. Perhaps other law profs write out of a heroic sense of duty, confident that what they publish will change the world for the better. It takes more than that to get me to write, alas. It seems that my inner 14-year-old, still going strong despite decades of scolding, won't settle down and let me write unless I resort to embarrassingly juvenile carrots and sticks.

Sometimes I bribe myself with a new toy for getting my writing done. Last spring, for instance, I gave myself a a new Breedlove guitar for meeting the deadline on an article I'd promised to the Utah Law Review. That deal worked out nicely (or, as my inner punk would say, "Saaaaaweet!").

My auto-goading strategy faced a more difficult challenge this fall, however, when I prepared to knuckle down and write a book during my one-semester sabbatical. I realized early on that I could not afford (read, "am too cheap to buy") all the cool stuff that it would take to stimulate the requisite labor. And, anyhow, a guy can use only so many surfboards, skateboards, and snowboards (though a great many more than you might at first think). How, then, would I motivate myself?

As so often happens in life, surfing held the answer.

On most work days during my sabbatical, I would head first thing in the morning to my "beach office": a rugged picnic table, hidden in a grove of laurel sumac, on a bluff above one of my favorite breaks. After briefly salivating over the waves, I'd crack open my laptop and get to work on a pre-assigned task. Some days I'd aim to write a new chapter section, for instance, while on others I might have to create new set of illustrations. It helped that my beach office lacks internet access; email and blogs could thus offer no distractions. The real motivation came in this, though: I could not go surfing unless and until I finished the day's assignment.

As my family can attest, I stuck to my bargain. Several days I dragged in late, long-faced and bone-dry because I had not met my daily goal. Things got especially rough after my computer's hard-drive crashed, forcing me to recreate data and write some passages in long-hand. Happily, though, I got to cap off many days at my beach office with some well-earned waves.

It may sound like a ridiculous arrangement to you, but the results satisfied me. I got my book, Intellectual Privilege: Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good, into late draft. (It remains only for me to re-read the whole thing, polish it as necessary, and write the conclusion). That effort has already spun off one paper; a couple more will follow. Perhaps surfing did not help to motivate the other stuff I did during my sabbatical—presenting papers and attending conferences—but it didn't seem to hurt. As a nice side-effect, my surfing improved a lot, too; towards the end of my sabbatical I managed a few fin-forward take-offs and spins on my 9'0" longboard (sort of like Sensei Nuuhiwa's example, but without the iffy neighbor and with a lot more falling down), and I've started feeling pretty comfortable on my newer board, a 6'10" French "Soul Fish."

In other ways, granted, my sabbatical fell short of my goals. I had hoped to drywall the garage and record a few songs, but did next to nothing on either project. The oil painting that I planned—something like this earlier one—remains for now only roughed-in. I console myself that I at least managed to install a new irrigation line and several area drains. And, anyhow, who really cares if that work—productive play, really—remains undone? The good folks at Chapman who funded my sabbatical didn't ask me to rebuild my house, after all. With luck, though, they will like what I did get done, and continue to support my scholarship. The Channel Islands 7' M13 I put on special order should come sometime late this coming spring, you see, and I expect it will take a lot of study to master it.

[Crossposted to Intellectual Privilege and MoneyLaw.]


Anonymous said...

I'm not a surfer by any means, but loved this article. I'm new to your posts and took the liberty of looking at your oil painting and will comment shortly. Don't we all need incentives to complete projects? The carrots in front of the nose aren't so bad. I just haven't found too many carrots, except for chocolate, (which my thighs and stomach remind me after the fact) so this blog has inspired me to "find a carrot."

KB said...

I liked the link to the new book. I hope you are submitting info about your draft book to slashdot and boingboing, I have a feeling your thoughts on copyright would be right up their alley.