September 22, 2016
Today is the first day of fall. The first day of my favorite season. The first day of the rest of my life.
Firsts are exciting. Most of the firsts in my life have occurred in the fall, starting with my first day of school at age five. I was recently thinking about the new dress I wore that day, a dress that my mother had made with a white top and a blue skirt on which she had hand-embroidered a spool of thread and a scissors (what a portend for my future). I asked her if she remembered it, and she said, “Oh yes, and I still have it. Would you like to see it?” Sure enough, the next time I went to her house, there was that little cotton dress, wrinkled and faded, but still intact.
Whether a student or a teacher, I always eagerly anticipated the first day of the new school year. As the only child of a widowed mother in a small Texas town, I couldn’t wait for school to start. It was so exciting to shop for new supplies — those fresh, pointy crayons in the box, those shiny plastic rulers and protractors and pencils with clean pink erasers, and later for those cool ring binders on top of which you’d casually carry a textbook or two.
And the books! So exciting, even in elementary school, to look through the new books issued on the first day and to realize that by the end of the year I would know all that! All those great stories, all that information, all the people and places just waiting to be explored — there lay a whole world beyond my small-town life, and I could hardly wait to go out and actually meet it.
School was everything to me; I loved it and I was good at it. There I found my identity and my friends, my talents and my opportunities. I found a frame of reference for the larger world, and then a college scholarship that would launch me into it. Years later, newly-married and driving into Connecticut fromNew York for the first time, I almost ran us off the road when I saw the Merritt Parkway sign. “Look,” I screamed, hitting the brakes. “It’s the Merritt Parkway!” My husband, a New Yorker, was non-plussed, but I had read the poem “Merritt Parkway” by Denise Levertov in high school, and now here it was. I had been here before.
This kind of familiar recognition has happened to me all my life, all over the world, and still happens frequently. It’s thrilling. I stand on Fitzgerald’s “bright prayer rug of a beach” in Antibes or meet Ramses II in the sanctuary of Abu Simbel; I hear echoes of Updike’s couples at a Fairfield County dinner party or overhear Capote’s snide remarks at the next table at La Cote Basque (now closed); I stand where Socrates taught at the Acropolis or look across to the Promised Land with Moses from the top of Mount Nebo. My foreknowledge of the people, places and ideas that I have encountered in life has made me unafraid to venture out, and I am forever indebted to the books and authors and teachers, and yes, even to my own students, who have helped me live a life of learning without fear.
So of course I became a teacher and a writer and then a professor. I continued to structure my life around the school calendar, and I did this over a period of 35 years in New York and Connecticut, where I spent more hours commuting on that Merritt Parkway than I can even begin to count. Just for the record, it has only four lanes, not six as the poem says, but the Merritt does have the most spectacular scenery, especially in the fall. As the road climbs and winds and passes over Coastal bridges and threads under Art Deco overpasses, the blinding foliage of a brilliant fall and the sunlight flashing strobe-like through the trees makes you glad to be alive and glad to be experiencing this glorious landscape first hand — even if you are stuck in traffic.
Unfortunately, I don’t live in the Northeast anymore, but at least I know what a real fall is. And it is still my favorite season even if I have to decorate from Michael’s, spray paint my backyard orange and yellow, and push the AC down to 65 degrees. I no longer teach and so no longer live my life according to the school calendar either, but I do still get that feeling of rejuvenation and a fresh start every autumn, that feeling of “firsts.” Often I take a class or begin a new project.
This year I’m writing the first post on my new website. I hope you will come along as I continue to learn and grow, to experience and create. Maybe we’ll become friends. Welcome.