Today the fall semester of college classes at IU begins, and once more, I am a college instructor.
Currently, I am sitting in the university library, listening to the ping and chime of the elevator and the chatter of students already hard at work (I’m impressed; it’s literally the first day of class); I’m killing time before I meet up with my fantastically British co-instructor. We’re going to grab a quick coffee and rev each other up (which will probably mean I work myself into an anxious tizzy while she gives me some side-eye and humors me with very calm advice) before our fall class starts.
I enjoy teaching, even though it’s a hell of a lot of work, and students can sometimes be harsh and unkind. And good lord, I am still very new to this. But my grandparents, along with from too many hours spent reading the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, kind of instilled in me the need to do better, do more, improve, don’t quit. So here I am, once more. And now that I am in the library, surrounded by young people studying, immersing themselves in information and knowledge, I am glad I’m here.
The days are long, but the years are short. My Mondays in particular will be brutal this fall; I’ve got a lot keeping me busy. And while the minutes and hours of the next few months may drag, but the days and months themselves will fly by, and very soon I will find myself sitting at this very desk, and instead of looking out at some lush, verdant trees, I’ll be seeing bare branches, gray skies, perhaps even snow falling. The days are long, but the years are short. I’ll be exhausted, no doubt, and grateful for a slowing-down in pace, but probably reluctant, too, to relinquish this part of my life.
It’s later; our first class is over. There are nine, plus myself and my co-instructor; we are a small group, enough to cluster around the long conference table. It feels more intimate and democratic than last semester, and I find myself looking forward to the months ahead, despite the hard work that lies in store for me. “I like keeping busy,” I tell people. “That way I don't have the time to make poor life choices."
The rain that was threatening earlier is still dithering, still trying to decide if it wants to do more than spit itself down at random intervals. I’m grateful for the clouds; it helps keep the heat at bay, and I can pretend, just a little, that fall is on it’s way.
When does fall start for you? Of course, there’s the autumnal equinox, at which point fall technically begins. But there’s that moment when fall appears for each of us individually, in our own heads and imaginations. For one of my friends, fall begins with the first football game of the season. For another friend, it’s when the air finally turns chilly. For retail establishments, I suppose it’s whenever they haul out their seasonally-appropriate merch. For myself, it’s when school starts, when the kids trot back to school. Perhaps it’s because I dislike summer so much, I will mentally end it as soon as I can, seize upon whatever will terminate that wretched season.
There’s another way that I can tell that fall is here, or at least fast approaching--something that I noticed, even during my season-starved childhood in Florida and exile in California. In early September, the light changes. The sunlight may still be warm, but something about its quality changes. It’s more gentle, and the slant of it is different, particularly in the afternoon and evening. It becomes benevolent, even a bit calming, and seems to say, “The year is slowing down. So should you.”
Not sure that that’s an option for me, but doesn’t mean that I won’t lift my face up and soak up that lovely autumnal glow, once it starts. In the meantime, I reckon I can go to a local retail establishment and pretend it’s fall there. (Spoiler alert: I may have already done so.)