Wearing the T-shirt or, The Last First Day

AvoidCongestionFor the every class of Debs, it’s always about firsts. The year ahead of us is filled with them. But we’ve known a few firsts in our day, already. Like that first day—remember when you walked into a situation completely unsure and looking for the exit? Yeah, that’s this week: Our first days.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a first day at a new job, or a first day at school. They’re awkward. You’re awkward. OK, me—I’m the one who’s awkward.

Back in my freshman year at college, an upperclassman called me out for wearing a t-shirt for our university on the first day. It wasn’t my first day. I’d been on campus three days, and we had two more before classes started. But that’s the sort of thing that trips you up early in a new experience. You don’t know the rules. You’re eager, and enthusiastic, and—yeah, maybe you’re wearing the bright red t-shirt a little too soon.

I haven’t always been the t-shirt wearing, first-day girl. But when I’m excited—yeah, I’m all in. For example: the last big first day of school I’m likely to have as a student, which occurred seven years ago last week.

In 2006, I went back to school to try to figure out if I could turn myself into a writer. A real one, not the kind I was, which was someone who said she wanted to write, but didn’t. In five years, I’d written not one word of fiction.

On a Monday night, I took the L train to downtown Chicago to begin my first graduate-level fiction workshop. I was scared, and ten years older than most of the people in the room, except one grandmother, thank goodness for her. I didn’t like to write in a room full of other people. I didn’t like to read my work aloud. I had just quit my job and, if this didn’t fix something in me that had been feeling broken, I would have to look for another job, and another life’s dream.

The teacher was feisty and funny and, when she asked us what we read, called a few of the students out for saying their favorite writers were, like, Chaucer. You should be reading your contemporaries, she said.

My contemporaries.

Isn’t there a saying about how, if you fall off the horse, you pick yourself up and get back on it? This woman had literally fallen from her horse and broken every bone in her body, twice. Hello, sign from the universe. How you doing?

So I got on my horse, and channeled all my red t-shirt enthusiasm into writing terrible stories, and then less terrible stories, and then not-bad stories. Then, eventually, stories that found homes in magazines and online. I wrote a book, and then another one. I bought the t-shirt. It was green.

Eventually I wrote the draft that turned into The Black Hour, a book that is itself about first days—in this case, the first day back to work for the victim of a school shooting. May none of us have that kind of first day.

I still get nervous about first days. First day of the new job I eventually took. First day of posting for the Debs. Soon, the first day my book is available to complete strangers. Gulp.

But now that I am the thing I’ve always wanted to be—a real writer, the kind who writes—I’m less unsure of myself in other situations. When I have first days now, I think about that first workshop meeting, and how, on the train ride home, I watched the dark city sweeping past. That night, Chicago was full of stories.

What was your last first day?

Image courtesy of http://www.chicago-l.org

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

18 thoughts on “Wearing the T-shirt or, The Last First Day

  1. I’m glad you braved that first day of the fiction workshop, Lori, or we wouldn’t have your book to look forward to!

    As a military brat, I’ve had more first days than I can count! Each one was scary as a kid, but now as an adult, I’ve learned to actually enjoy them rather than fear them. Well, most of the time. lol.

    Great post!

  2. Your comment about riding the train reminded me of many of my own, similar evenings when I lived in Chicago. I remember riding past all the lights in so many windows thinking, each one holds a story…

  3. I love the red t-shirt enthusiasm! I can picture it, and I’m glad you’re still waving that red flag around, metaphorically at least. My last first occurred about a month ago but I might write about it for Friday … 🙂

  4. My last first day was Tuesday (September 7th) when I entered the room to start a new semester of the college course I’m teaching “Advanced Feature and Magazine Writing.” The day turned out to be a great first meeting with 14 individuals I’m looking forward to working with and getting to know better.

  5. I love that being an author has made you feel more confident about other firsts! I’ve noticed this as well. It’s been such a huge dream of mine for so long, and it seemed so impossible for so long, that now when I encounter other challenges, I tell myself, “You can do this. Look what you’ve already managed to do.” And I think that’s true for all of us, writers or not.

  6. I have a first day coming up in just under two weeks … my first day WITHOUT my son at home (well, short vacations aside). He starts to college on September 21 (that’s move-in day), and I’ll be in Denver when my husband takes him to campus, so I’ll come home on September 22 to an EMPTY NEST.

    It’s a first I’m anticipating and dreading in equal measure.

      • I’ve considered making over his room, but I actually already have a two-room office and reading room on the other end of the house, so he gets to keep his space….FOR NOW. 🙂

        The writing time, however, is something I’m really looking forward to.

  7. I am having firsts every day as I traverse the world of being a single mom empty nester. I don’t like it, but like everything else, it will become the new normal.

    I wish there was a t-shirt to go with this!

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