The first week of school is a time of wondrous happiness for parents, and a time of sheer panic for students. At least, that’s how it was for me. My favorite part of any September in my childhood (aside from my birthday, of course) involved the time spent at Staples and Office Max, looking at the perfect accessories/supplies to carry in on that monumental first day. Some girls loved Lisa Frank. I just loved multicolored books and pens. The better to doodle with.
However, the picking out of clothes to wear the first day back? Oh, now THAT was the silver tuna.
When I was very little, in elementary school, I knew exactly what I wanted to wear for my first day back to class. Something flouncy, with sparkles, and flowers, and crinoline. Basically I wanted to look like a 7 year old Scarlett O’Hara, sans the fire-stricken Atlanta and slightly unhinged love interest. I wore quite a few of these party dresses to school the first day back, and looking back on those outfits, no wonder I got beaten up.
Later on in my education, I wouldn’t be so inclined to pick a 50s prom gown. The night before school started, the crickets would be particularly loud outside my window. As if they were saying “Summer’s over, sorry!” I’d stand in front of my closet for an hour, scrutinizing my clothes, trying to figure out the perfect thing that would make me stand out on the first day back.
As far as my favorite first day back outfits, I have two that stand out particularly in my head, from fifth and eighth.
Fifth grade was a pretty big year for me. It was my final year at Buckley Elementary (go Bobcats!) and I wanted to look pretty, but cool. So, no flouncy dress. Instead, I wore a fire-engine red tank dress with a white shirt underneath, white tights, and black matte Mary Janes with chunky heels. My hair was in a half pony, or what my mom called a topnotch, and I wore a purple backpack. I felt very pretty, considering I had actually brushed my hair that day.
Eighth grade was a little different. I wanted to look like one of the cool kids. In seventh grade I had purchased my first ever flared jeans from Urban Behavior, a pair of L.E.I.’s. Later on I also snapped up a pair of MUDD khakis, as well as Vans sneakers and flannel shirts. I was either trying to be a hippie prepster or one of the skaters. I didn’t really know what my style was yet. But in eighth grade I had started to settle into myself. That morning, with the sun barely up over the horizon and my radio blasting the Cleopatra CD (‘Cleopatra, comin’ atcha!’), I put on a green longsleeved jersey top and a pair of khaki cargo pants in my best emulation of the GAP swing commercials. When you’re a khaki…
Notice how I never really mentioned the actual ‘school’ part of ‘first week of school.’ School itself was an afterthought. Oh sure, I loved English, and drama, and chorus. But everything else? Blah. I got diagnosed with ADD and Ritalin helped get me straight A’s, but whenever I took it I felt like someone had shot me up with cocaine and then told me to sit very still for five hours. My mom laughs now when I mimic how I felt on those drugs: you know those movies where a genius flips through a book and reads it in about fifteen seconds? Multiply that over the course of nine months, over six school subjects.
I quit Ritalin in eighth grade and never looked back. My grades dropped, but I was me again. Just more scatterbrained.
In highschool, I still didn’t really know who I was, but I tried everything. I reviewed movies for the school newspaper, was active in the drama club, took plenty of English courses and loved all of them, went on numerous field trips to NYC and Boston with my Art History Impressionism and Italian Art classes, and knew I wanted to do something in any of those fields. I wanted to be educated, and on a variety of subjects.
Last year, when I moved home and changed career paths, I still didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I still wanted to be involved in theater in some way, perhaps teaching acting classes. I wanted to write, and write the best novels and short stories that I could. I also wanted to be a literary scholar and discuss literature with like minds.
In short, I wanted to do a lot of things while trying to maintain a sense of balance so my head didn’t spontaneously implode.
This week, as well as assisting at the children’s theater, I started my year of post-grad nondegree study at UCONN. I sat amongst people who knew what I was talking about when I mentioned pre-illuminated manuscripts. I finally learned what velum and peat are, and what peat smells like (the actual pages of a manuscript, fossilized wood, and smoked bacon, respectively). I listened to a Medieval Literature teacher recite the opening lines of Beowulf in passionate Old English, then declare loudly ‘I believe anyone who solely studies and writes about Beowulf should be taken out in the back and shot.’ I read papers claiming most of Children’s Literature is working towards the goal of colonizing children to make them more adult-like, yet also keep them as children so adults are therefore different and ‘better.’ I learned the differences between local color stories and regional stories.
And on the way home from classes Wednesday afternoon, on RT 44, just outside of my hometown, I had a revelation that struck me like a Damascus bolt.
I could talk about this stuff for the rest of my life. I want to talk about this stuff for the rest of my life.
And then….I want to teach this stuff.
Whatever level I end up at, I want to teach children’s literature, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. I don’t know if I need to get my PHD to do this, but I’m looking into it. I know that it’s probably better for me to go the University route once I start teaching, seeing as at college you can be more selective with your course studies. But at most private high schools, teachers can offer electives. I think that would be an amazing course to embark on.
Will I fail spectacularly or succeed gloriously? I have honestly no idea. All I know is that when it hit me, on that highway, at 5PM on a Wednesday, I began to laugh hysterically. I also cried, and called my mother in delight and delirium. I think she thought I was high.
High off of a life full of promise.
This year has been the hardest of my life. I went from knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life, to having absolutely no clue what I wanted, to finally knowing that I want to do a great many things.
And as for theatre? I don’t know when I’ll step onstage again, simply because my busy schedule keeps me away. I don’t miss it like an ache in my side, though it does nibble at my conscience from time to time. But there is a saving grace.
I’m singing again. And for the first time in a long, long time, when I sing, I don’t feel an ache in my soul. I just feel joy. Joy, and purpose.
I’ve got my focus, my drishti. Now, it’s just a matter of what I do with it.