During a catastrophically bad job interview, Kate, the main character in Small Admissions says that, in her mind, the year begins in September — not in January. It’s one of the few reasonable (as in not completely crazy) statements she makes as she’s trying to land a job in a school. I feel the same way. For me, September has always meant the beginning of a new year. All these years after my own time as a student, I still can’t let go of the academic calendar. It makes sense biographically: I grew up with my dad who taught medical school, and soon after I myself stopped being a student, I started working in schools, first as an English teacher and later as an admissions officer. My husband is a professor, and we actually live on a college campus. I’ve been watching the students arriving this week, looking industrious and twitchy, ready for the new year to begin. And this particular school year has been especially poignant for me, as I have just become an empty nester: my three sons, all students, are off to master important, useful skills, like how to think critically, how to do laundry, and how to get that ping pong ball into a red, plastic cup.
When I wrote my first novel, I decided to set it in a school. Of course.
So with all this attachment to studenthood and a life centered on the academic calendar, what did I actually learn in school? During my elementary and middle school years, I developed a genuine love of reading. Because of Ant and Bee, The Pink Motel, and These Happy Golden Years (to name a very select few favorites), I learned you should never go anywhere without a book in your bag. In high school my English teacher Mr. Gaillard taught that you have to structure your ideas carefully – or you can’t possibly make a coherent argument. And it was Professor Lynch at Wellesley who showed how important it is to be invested, even passionate, about the content of your writing. I learned other things as well. Helpful life-skills, like make to-do lists when your work piles up, figure out who the nice kids are, don’t sunbathe with baby oil, and never, ever mix tequila with Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink wine.
In spite of all sorts of random accumulated knowledge from my many years as a student, this September, the start of another ‘real’ new year for me, has found me feeling, once again, like I don’t know anything. I suddenly have to learn about subjects I never even thought about studying in school. Subjects like marketing and public speaking. And book launch party planning. And, yes, blogging. I feel undereducated and, honestly, nervous. I didn’t even know how much I don’t know about the world of publishing until I got a book deal, and now it feels like I need remedial help — and fast. I will spend this year trying to educate myself on everything from understanding my own contract to figuring out if one needs to hire an outside publicist to grasping the ins and outs and dos and don’ts of self-promotion. Yeah, I have a lot to learn.
So I’m going to go do what all students do: I’m going to sharpen my pencils, clear off my desk, turn on some good music, and get to work, studying up on all the stuff I want and need to know for this new stage of my life.
Meanwhile, I’m writing this post from Munich, Germany on the actual Eve of the Bavarian school year. I send my best wishes to my nieces and nephews for a guten Rutsch!
Happy New School Year!