Battling The September Blues, A Self-Tutorial
Unlike much of America, Philadelphia still hasn’t gone back to school. No early soccer practice. No head-start on the daunting junior-high curriculum. We honor the quaint tradition of waiting until after Labor Day. So my daughters have wrung one last week out of summer. Nevertheless it’s a somber time, the air full of premature briskness and their ennui, which resembles my own come Sunday afternoon, when I anticipate and then steel myself against the spiritual and mundane demands of gainful employment.
For me, although I haven’t sat in a classroom for ages, it’s a bittersweet time as well. The year’s ratchet has engaged another notch with a noticeable click, and a sigh. The girls will soon climb the steps to yet another plane of cognitive awareness. For me, understanding comes in a less quantum fashion, more a vague diffusion of the obvious like light through the lids of closed eyes. Fact: they’re one year older. Fact: I’m one year closer to sending them out into the world for good. Yes, back to school, as in blank slate, fresh start, but also as in goodbye Mr. Chips, hello nostalgic acceptance that my hands must resist the urge forever to take theirs when we come to 7th street.
Maybe that throat lump is another reason to love writing, perhaps one of the best. Every time I pick up a pencil and an old-fashioned notepad, or rev up the old PC, it’s like tiny chairs and melamine desks. There’s a classroom in every dictionary look-see, every search-engine foray into the obscure but mesmerizing story of Topeka circa 1840 or Picasso’s second wife, or the etymology of “rodomontade.” Every day brings the eureka of unraveling just how a particular array of strange-but-true details will feed a ravenous piece of prose or give me the edge I need for a poem that’s had me in a hammer-lock since last night like the angel held Jacob. There’s no farewell in writing. Unlike fourth grade or fine arts or manufacturing, nothing’s ever done, or really gone. But there’s still room, always room for what’s new. Even the driest textbooks bear this out, their titles so often a throat-clearing “Introduction to…” Who ever read “The Conclusion to Organic Chemistry,” “The Conclusion to Homer’s Prosody?” To write is to learn, eternally.
So with devious hopes, I rousted my daughters from their gloomy loitering on the couch with “nowhere to go” and “nothing to do.” I told them I’d created a blog for each of them. Then I congratulated myself when, in spite of my many previous misadventures in pedagogy, they didn’t summarily reject my offer. In fact, they appeared intrigued. And after the requisite mouse-shopping for themes and colors, and considering where to place the widgets and how big to make them, and which photographs, and would embedded video be o.k., they pecked out their first posts. A sense of wonder and a dash of humility as accompaniment: that’s all it takes, and you need never graduate, at least not in your heart. You can learn to write instead! It’s only Thursday, and they don’t know it yet, but they’ve already gone back to school.