It’s only just August, but that back-to-school smell is already in the air, as evidenced by the abundance of late summer and early fall catalogs splayed with monogrammed backpacks and fleece jackets that keep showing up in my mailbox. While autumn is up there with winter, spring and summer as my favorite season, an involuntary pit forms in my stomach when retailers start changing their tones from pastels to browns and oranges. That all-too-familiar, season-changing palette signifies the first day of school is creeping up around the corner. Never mind that I haven’t been a student for well over a decade — old olfactory triggers die hard.
I don’t remember many things worse as a kid than realizing the sun-drenched days of freedom were slowly growing shorter, it was probably wise to grab a sweater when heading out for a leisurely twilight stroll and the end of barefoot toes on lawns dewy from sprinklers was imminent.
The idea of being a student again is attractive only in a rose-colored lens kind of way.
In elementary school, the annual rite of shopping for new fall clothes, shoes and school supplies — three-ring binders and crisp, blank loose-leaf paper, unsharpened pencils and big, rubbery erasers — was inarguably thrilling. As a college student, returning to campus for the first time since spring, gossiping with friends for hours on the quad, purchasing text books in the campus bookstore and staying up all night with new suite mates in the dorm was like the holy grail of youth — the ring of freedom, the guarantee of a fresh slate (and fresh report card) and the promise of eternal immunity all wrapped into one. The possibilities on the first day of school were endless.
But when looking back with 20/20 vision, the excitement quickly dulls. It takes less than a minute to remember how quickly after the first day of class teachers presented quizzes based on the mandatory summer reading lists (who gives homework over the summer?), how effortlessly each college professor (arbitrarily) assigned 30-, 40- or 50-page papers and how rapidly mid-term exams seemed to arrive (how, exactly, is October considered mid-anything?).
As someone who’s never quite learned her lesson about not waiting until the 11th hour to meet a deadline, the heart-racing, head-pounding agony of procrastinating until the night before a due date to begin writing a paper, researching a thesis topic, constructing a science class diorama or studying for a quiz is still easy to remember. Those dreadful, stomach-churning days leading up to an inevitable all-nighter, knowing that lack of time or motivation prohibited any advance work is not something to which I can imagine voluntarily returning.
Of course going back to the classroom (sans the homework) would be fantastic. Who doesn’t long for the days of eye-opening discussions, when life-altering, cloud-clearing, heaven-opening revelations based on a single passage of Shakespeare, Flaubert or Foucault were witnessed and experienced? It’s the association of those seemingly life-or-death moments — “If I don’t finish this and do well my grade-point average will drop, and my parents will express their disappointment for spending $160,000 on an education that I’m clearly not taking seriously” — that I don’t miss when the first chill of autumn blows in through the window screen.
I never used to pass up an opportunity to wish on a star or pray to the gods to please, please just get me through another deadline crisis or term-paper fiasco. I pined for the stress of real, non-academic life, which I was convinced couldn’t be as bad as the pressures of the ivory tower. I still can’t laugh when remembering the panic and tears after receiving an F on my first college writing assignment because the paper I turned in contained more than three instances of the passive voice.
Looking back now as a full-fledged member in pretty good standing of the real world (if that’s what we’re calling resort-town life these days), I can’t foresee feeling anything but nausea if I thought I had to go back to school in a few weeks. I cherish the memories of the unsharpened pencils, the brand-new penny loafers, the piping-hot pizza delivered at 3 in the morning and the wealth of accumulated knowledge, but I still wouldn’t trade all that for my three current jobs.
Hopefully it’s just a matter of time before the correlation of the summer-into-fall seasonal changes is nothing more than a reminder that if I want, I don’t have to do anything but gaze at the leaves changing on the trees and show up for work.
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