I title these columns, “The Short List,” because my subject in each will be something that’s in my thoughts or among my concerns and irritations at the time I compose the piece.
At this initial writing for the start of the fall semester 2015, I recall the words of a longtime colleague, friend and mentor, the late Bruce Thomas. Some of you recognize the name as that of a campus building and others as a scholar and administrator who contributed mightily to the direction and successes of Trinity University. One of Bruce’s philosophical observations was,
“Working on a college campus is the best job in the world because you get to start all over each semester; you have a new beginning.”
Since I share and cherish that belief, you can imagine my pleasure in reading the letter of welcome in which our new president, Danny Anderson, wrote of being “energized” by the start of the new academic year after nearly 30 years of working on college campuses.
I, too, eagerly, even enthusiastically, welcome and prepare for the opening of a new school year. I quit going barefoot ““ which, perhaps, I should have done in July when a pedicurist asked, “You walk outside?” as she removed mud from between my toes, started lathering on the Dior flawless perfection fusion make-up and straightened out my closet, moving the “Life is Good” tees to the back and pulling the colorful Chico’s frocks forward. I even polished my sandals since I now eschew heels.
Frantically, I try to finish Cornwell’s Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel so I can review the first texts I will teach this fall: Morrison’s Home, Sandford’s Shock Wave and Viramontes’ The Moth & Other Stories. I locate the instruction manual so I can set the alarm on my bedside clock radio, stock up on slices of turkey and cheese, as well as some trail mix, for my lunches at my desk. There’s no need to inform the “beasts of Boerne,” my animal companions, of the approaching new semester. If you know cats and dogs, you know that they know when change is coming.
As I prepare and endeavor to perfect my syllabi, I note the distracting times of the fall term””the holidays, parental weekends, athletic competitions, musical and theatrical performances””that could pull students from the mesmerizing texts I teach. I try to pace the readings without being baffled, as well as offended, that some aspects of their lives interest my students more than my classes do. (I do, however, find this bizarre.)
I’ve decided not to try to offer much advice at the start of this new year though Lord knows I have many suggestions and cautions at my fingertips. Let me merely remind anyone reading this: Trinity focuses much more than many universities on encouraging and assisting each individual in achieving her/his full potential. Caring, informed faculty and staff abound here, and I urge you to make your new beginning more successful by taking advantage of all the assistance available. In fact, the silly, wasteful choice would be to ignore it, since it comes with the tuition.
As we start the 2015-2016 academic year, how about we all just ask ourselves this beautiful, provocative question from the poet, Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”