By Scott Sullivan
“If you went on sabbatical, my wife asked me, “where?”
“Phuket, Thailand,” I said. “It’s one of Travel + Leisure’s 50 Best Places to Travel in 2022.”
“Why heed that tripe?” she asked.
“Tripe? It’s gospel,” I said. “I learned too much theory without practicality in college, as my publisher wants to teach teachers. I agree. When I went to college, Dad said, ‘Study something practical,’ i.e. business. So I majored in history, same as he did.”
“He did more than OK with that major. In the job market, an ability to think critically can be critical. What with English, political science, philosophy and other courses, my only practical one was bowling.”
“So you knew nothing about the work world?”
“I knew I had no future as a bowler. Of course, I worked summer jobs from age 10 on ranging from babysitting to lawn mowing, being a janitor, cook, waiter, painter … adding ones during the school year too. That way I could afford to waste money learning abstract thinking that undergirds these practices.”
“It gets worse. When I got out of college, I wanted to be a writer and wound up in newspapers, a black hole as my publisher knows.”
“But you like black holes.”
“If I’d learned practical, paint-by-numbers prose as prevails in trade publications, maybe I could afford a sabbatical. Listen: ‘Full of energy and surrounded by sea glass-colored water, its luxurious side is finally getting the attention it deserves.’”
“Where’s that?” she asked.
“Phuket. ‘Hide from the world in paradise,’ T+L continues, ‘with a stay in one of the private pool residences featuring breathtaking views over the sea. Later, party the night away in Old Town Phuket …’”
“Where else do they tell you to go?”
“Alaska, Anguilla, Antarctica, the Galapagos, even Southwest Michigan. All getaways to quaint, laid-back ‘spas and eateries featuring curated — that means “picked,” as in weeds or noses — artisan favorites nestled in beds of something.”
“Did you know our daughter knows about Skinner boxes?”
“What does that have to do with anything?
“Wait for it. She has no clue how to manage money but does know about small chambers used to conduct operant conditioning with animals. For example, you put a rat in a box with a lever it can work to obtain food or water as a reinforcer. Add shock or other adverse results to discourage behaviors you don’t want.”
“Are you comparing trade schools to Skinner boxes?”
“No. Such training is valuable and does not preclude independent thinking. What I am doing is making a case for learning theory, then application. ‘A theory,’ per Wikipedia, ‘is a rational type of abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking, often associated with observational study or research. ‘Think Darwin’s theory of evolution, Einstein’s of relativity or Copernicus hypothesizing the earth goes around the sun. They break ground for practices that follow.”
“What did you do with all that theory you wasted money on after college?”
“Worked as a cook, waiter, truck driver, nightwatchman … all I knew is I didn’t want to be my father.”
“So you wound up like him.”
“In scary ways, yes,” I said. “Even though I’m opposite. What I’m learning from T+L about writing is to nestle theory in a bed of practice. If your idea is to write, to get good you must practice. Same with sports or music. First, you must do it for love because you have chosen it. You can get rich slotted into a conditioned grind that you hate, but if you’ve enslaved yourself as I have by choice, you are golden.”
“Where’s that led you?”
“Phuket, I hope,” I said.
“What else does our daughter know I don’t know about?”
“The Crossroads,” I said. “Where Robert Johnson, ther King of the Delta Blues, supposedly sold his soul to the devil to learn how to play guitar. She’s heard about that.”
“Very useful. But I can do research too,” my wife said. “Listen: sabbaticals are typically granted to university teachers as paid year leaves every seventh year to travel, study or otherwise expand themselves. It comes from the practice of shmita, as described in Leviticus 25.”
“I like Leviticus,” I said. “It says a man (50 shekels) is worth more than a woman (30). A true book of wisdom.”
“Also God shuns those with disabilities; homosexuality must be punished by death, no drinking alcohol in public places, no touching unclean animals (bathe your dog before petting) … Don’t even get me started on Deuteronomy.”
“So says the Bible,” I said. “Where else should I go?”
“You don’t want to know,” my wife said.
By Scott Sullivan