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Back To School

By the end of August, I am more than ready for the summer to be over, especially here in South Texas and especially this summer. Everything is brown and dry and dead, the unrelenting heat is, well … still unrelenting (at over 100 degrees), and the lazy, hazy days laden with dust and allergens have kept me congested and lethargic. It’s enough already! I’m ready for fall.

     Of course, fall comes here in name and craft-store decorations only. Our heat continues well into and beyond September, along with the threat of hurricanes.  Since school starts in San Antonio in early August, there is but the faintest connection between autumn and the actual resumption of the academic year. All those clichéd commercials showing happy children skipping through fallen leaves toward the school bus are misleading; a more apt local ad would feature happy moms and dads skipping through check-out lines on the back-to-school tax-free weekend held every August.

     Yet, even though I haven’t been in a classroom in almost a decade now, I still experience those familiar back-to-school urges, and still honor many of my same old routines. It’s not nostalgia or that I especially miss the classroom, but rather that years of being a student, and years of being the parent of a student, and decades of being a teacher/professor have instilled certain rhythms in the way I live and work. I am lazy and disengaged in the summer; I am active and productive from September to May. This is what I have been trained to do.

     I began my fall preparations last week with attention to pencils and papers — what else?  I went through and reorganized all my stationery, cleaned out my desk drawer, got refills for my favorite pens, and checked my stash of special occasion cards (lots of birthdays this time of year). As you might imagine, I am a great letter-writer, card-sender, note-jotter; if the U.S. Post Office goes out of business, it certainly won’t be my fault!  Of course I delight in beautiful papers and pens, but I’m also particular about my everyday legal pads and ballpoints.  Even as a kid, I was very persnickety about my notebooks and binders and the contents of my pencil case, so shopping for school supplies was always a BIG event.

     The other big event was shopping for the back-to-school wardrobe. As an adult, especially one living in the Northeast, I adapted this ritual into the changing over of the clothes closet. White linens and light shirts and slacks get packed away in the cedar chest, along with swimsuits and patio dresses, and out come jackets and sweaters, along with the heavier, dressier — what I call “more serious” — clothes needed for meetings and professional activities and the holidays. It’s quite a chore, granted one that made a lot more sense when I lived in a  climate where the seasons would actually change, but still …  Texans might wear flip-flops with a fur-trimmed hoodie when the first “norther” arrives, but even they don’t wear white linen after Labor Day!

     Once I became a teacher, back-to-school meant lesson planning and research for new units I wanted to undertake in the classroom. These days, though, the lessons and research I do are generally occasioned by up-coming travel plans, not for teaching others but for my own preparation. We have a couple trips planned for this fall, including one to Europe, so I have begun to brush up on my language skills and review travel vocabulary.  I also have a reading list to educate myself about some less-familiar destinations. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s to “study up!”   

     My fall art projects have already begun — and begun again — on this current art quilt that is due in October (see last journal entry). I am still at it. I have to quit procrastinating, make some decisions, and finally get this underway so I can meet the submission deadline with confidence while still relaxing and enjoying my fall trips. I also have a major magazine assignment ahead of me, as well as a couple other new writing and art projects taking shape in my head. Contrary to popular myth, creativity is not all spontaneous inspiration; like any other pursuit, artistic growth means setting goals and working toward them, practicing, planning and learning as you go.

     So, here at the end of August, I’m in a back-to-school frame of mind, hot weather be damned. Luckily, fall is Hatch chili season here in the Southwest, and the consumption of chilies actually makes you sweat and cools you down. Chilies grow in hot climates, and people who live in hot climates tend to eat spicy hot foods. (Note: you don’t think of chili hot in New England cooking, or Scandinavian, or British, or German, or …) Luckily, I have stocked up on my chilies (see above photo),  just in time for back-to-school. I am cooling off and moving into fall.

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