Lessons from back to school...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

It's been 10 years since I last left the classroom . . . well, the formal classroom anyway.  I finished my graduate degree full of excitement of what was to come, but full of so much sadness for the end of my academic era.  I loved school, I nearly always had.  I could go back all over again to get different degrees, learn new things, and get inspired in all sorts of new ways.  The annual cadence of the school year still stays with me. I still think of September as the start of the new year, more so that I do January.  There is always the air of possibility that rolls in with the cooler night breezes of fall.  But while I'm no longer in the formal classroom, that doesn't mean that I've stopped learning.  Not at all, and in fact, each September I think of what's ahead to master, what books I should read, what friends I will make . . . In my heart, I will always be a student and here are the things I try to do each year in my back to school season:

  • Buy a new notebook and new pencils: Nothing says "anything is possible" like a fresh notebook with its crisp pages. I don't even like lines on mine anymore to give me even more space to dream.  And of course, nothing goes with new paper quite like a new pencil.  As I've gotten older and more nostalgic for the annual ritual of buying school supplies, I find myself drawn to a new box of Crayolas, or a new box of tack-sharp colored pencils.  Of course, I could never use them professionally, but having all those colors, fanned out in all directions in a pencil cup give me inspiration to think outside the box and to tackle new things because I want to learn them, and not because I have to do them.
  • And while you're at it, buy your fall boots: Every year, I say I'm going to buy my boots, and every year I keep hanging on to the last bits of summer until they are completely exhausted.  I scour the magazines in the search of the perfect boots . . . I hem . . . I haw . . . I think about it some more.  And then one unfortunate day, when it is simply too cold for flats and bare feet, I make the decision to go out and just buy a pair.  But by that time, the ones I dreamed of are gone, not in my size . . . not in my color.  And it's too late.  While most things can wait, good boots for some reason cannot.  Buy your boots early, you'll have a more comfortable year.  Maybe this will be the year I take my own advice.
  • Try to make a new friend: I think this time of year can sometimes be intimidating.  As things ramp up after lazy summer days, it can mean new jobs, new cities, new environments for some people.  Just like you would at school, try to keep an eye out for the new kids, and hopefully, as you would in school, extend a hand.  Invite someone new to lunch.  As you get older, it's harder and harder to make new friends, so make sure that you don't fall out of practice.  One day it will be you who is the new person.
  • Plan a field trip: One of my favorite parts of school! Plan a trip to someplace you have never been---it can be a day trip, or it can be a museum that's just around the corner.  Sign up for the tour, try to pay attention as if you had to do a book report on it.  Discovering a new place or experience is just as much a way to learn as the classroom.  And invite others, field trips are always more fun when there is a bus or a van involved.
  • Don't forget to write down "What I did This Summer": It's the quintessential back to school activity---the essay explaining where it is exactly that three months of summer days went so fast.  As we get older, we are likely to rely on words less, and on pictures more.  But whether it's a quick journal entry, or getting your summer photos together all in one place, don't forget to welcome the new season by properly closing out the prior one.  Years on, it will be easy to forget what happened in which summer, but keeping your memories together will give you hours of entertainment at times when you'll need those memories the most.
Here's to the "new year"!
All my love,