Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Failed Sabbatical

 Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. -- Albert Einstein
My favorite sculpture in the world is the one pictured above. It is Albert Einstein at his most accessible. Situated in an elm and holly grove on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., it is a warm, inviting portrait of a complex man in a simple pose. Einstein is wearing sandals and seated casually, his arm resting on the steps, a paper with mathematical equations resting on his knee as he ponders great thoughts or, perhaps, merely glances at a child who has caught his whimsical eye. It is Einstein as I imagine him later in life, wrinkled, disheveled, kind and contemplative. The artwork invites interaction; children feel compelled to climb onto Einstein’s lap as family photographs are taken. The statue seems to express Einstein’s notion, voiced in his later years, that “the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

I could have used Einstein’s wisdom this past year, when I was in need of inspiration. A year ago, as 2012 came to a close, I announced that I was taking a sabbatical from Ehlers on Everything. A year of contemplation, I hoped, would provide welcome relief from the demands of self-imposed deadlines, which had become more difficult to satisfy with the increasing demands of work and life.  Freed from the constraints of non-fiction, I anticipated an opportunity to write more creatively; a short story a month seemed like a reasonable and achievable goal. Writing fiction would free my imagination to expand into areas of untouched artistry, to explore the human experience on a deeper, more fundamental and psychological level. By year’s end, I would be refreshed, my writing renewed and energized. It was not to be.

I have plenty of excuses for having failed to write productively this past year. Andrea and I were married in October, followed by eight wonderful days in Italy. We attended a wedding in California in September; the Cardinals had an eventful year, reaching the World Series for the second time in three years. Work has kept me quite busy, and during the summer I published in book form my essays from the previous two years in Life Goes On: More Essays on Life, Baseball, and Things that Matter (Bookstand Publishing, 2013). I could invent other reasons and excuses for not authoring a single short story in 2013. But what I have concluded is that I am simply more comfortable writing essays of a personal, political, or religious nature. It is perhaps why I have yet to pen the great American novel.

Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” In this one small manner I am like Einstein (now that’s not something you can say every day). I, too, am passionately curious. About humankind’s quest for understanding; about people who have exemplified a life of courage and principle in the pursuit of justice and a better world; about life in its infinite variety and beauty, suffering and loss, striving and hope.

When I started this blog in the summer of 2009, self-imposed deadlines forced me to put my thoughts on paper and to stay engaged with the world of ideas, to search for answers to difficult questions, and to stay in the arena. To write about issues of political and social import, my love of baseball, reflective pieces on my life and children, questions about faith and our everlasting quest for understanding and meaning. It is the sort of writing I most like to do and the genre with which I am most at home. “Life is like riding a bicycle,” Einstein said.  “To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” So, I am returning to this small space of the universe where I can ponder, think, and write. I cannot promise an ever steady stream of brilliant essays and reflections, but I will try my best to remain relevant and fresh.

I will explore issues and ideas that move me and write about people who inspire me. I will struggle out-loud with faith and religion and continue to question my own beliefs, explore the beliefs of others, and dispute the certainty with which many believers and non-believers alike express themselves. I will write about personal and family issues and reflect on the mystery of life. I will write about baseball, about the memories and disappointments of youth and unfulfilled dreams; about my hopes and passions as a lifelong lover of the game, its sights and sounds; and about my admittedly zany and irrational loyalty to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large -- I contain multitudes. -- Walt Whitman
I have come to recognize that writing, like reading, is how I pursue my continued education, my Ph.D. in life. This blog, along with my two books, Eat Bananas and Follow Your Heart and Life Goes On, is my collective dissertation, a means to learn and grow, to challenge myself and my readers, to think, question, and when needed, advocate. Einstein said, "Wisdom is not the product of schooling, but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it." Nelson Mandela, who died this past month after 95 years of a life filled with purpose and meaning, said that "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." I may not change the world, but I will use this space to continue my education; and to think and write about things that matter with a measure of idealism and hope.


  1. Mark, I am glad to see you have restarted your blog. I will be sure to follow it because it is well thought out even though I do not share some of your political views. Best regards, Bill Glanz

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  3. Welcome back, Mark! Not to worry. Whatever the world may have lost in terms of a literary voice it has regained in the form of your blogsmanship. (Now how's that for creative term coining?)! Your blogs, like your two books, are a delightful entry point to the mind of a wonderfully thoughtful and perceptive person. Please keep thinking and writing. Your reading public awaits you . . . . Richard Levan

  4. Thank you for the comments. It is nice to know that readers appreciate my writing, even if some (e.g., Bill) do not always agree with my opinions - although I hope that much of what I write is more food for thought than it is controversial.