Back to School: An Essay In Words and Pictures, And Not Very Exciting Ones at That

I spent Sunday evening, my last one before the fall semester, at Rowan’s.

She has a big privet plant in her front yard that is so tall that it makes a sort of a privet “tree” a good 20 feet high. It was shaggy and not very pretty. So we whacked it with a hand saw, a step-up and a pair of loppers. Taking down nearly ten foot of tree is not for wimps, and by the time you are done you will have soaked your shirt with sweat and have sawdust in your hair and eyes as well as down your bra, if you are wearing one.

Tiana the little neighbor girl helped, dragging branches to the side of the road for pickup after Rowan chopped them down to a manageable size with the loppers. I usually do yardwork by myself; I’ve never worked in the yard with another person, much less another person and a child. It was incredibly fun! It really made me think how much fun having a family could be. I mean, I think about how much more fun leisure time would be with others, but I had never thought about how much more fun everyday activities like yardwork might be, with other people to talk to, laugh with and help.

Yardwork was completely different when your friend could hand you things and get you a Pepsi when you were thirsty, when you could chase a laughing little girl around the yard telling her you are going to prune her, and she giggles and later puts a branch on her head like a crown.

It was a very fine way to spend my last evening of before-school summertime.

I came home, watched a David Attenborough video, rinsed off the evening’s dirt and sawdust and went to bed.

And Monday morning arrived…

Up at 6:22 without the alarm. I lie in bed watching the world grow lighter and listening to the hummingbirds peep as they drink from the feeder by my front door.

8AM morning light and shadow on the kitchen floor:


Misty golden morning; the view from my office window:


Two eggs, scrambled with cheese. Spinach-feta chicken sausage. Fried red tomatoes from a friend’s garden. Whole-wheat toast. (Not pictured: coffee and a cup of cold water.)


I don’t usually eat this much for breakfast but it is a special day, and because of school I know I won’t be able to eat lunch until around 1:45.

Amazingly, I get a decent parking spot on my first sweep of the commuter lot.


My classmates for French 120:


Unlike nearly every other class I’ve taken as a nontraditional student, this class is composed completely of under-25s save me. I am four years older than the instructor, who is only 34.

Dr. Cathy Pons was listed as the instructor for this class. The word from our new instructor is that Dr. Pons is “sick” and will not be teaching this semester. I met Cathy Pons once and remember her as a white-haired woman who was humble, helpful and very kind. Florin, the new guy, was hired only last week, so something drastic must have happened, and suddenly.

Dr. Pons, I truly hope you will be well and back at work soon.

After my two classes, Humanities and French, I cross the grassy quad


to the cafeteria.

Rush Sigma Nu.


It’s nearly 2PM and there’s hardly anyone else eating. Most of the tables are empty. Sometimes I try to corral Rosie and/or Heather to have lunch with me, but mostly I eat by myself.

I don’t mind a quiet lunch alone — it’s always a nice break.


Sometimes I overhear the kids talking and they make me laugh. I remember one plump and pretty young woman telling her friend that she lived her whole life on the edge, baby, and that she was going to move to New York City after graduation to become a sex therapist, and then have a baby by artificial insemination. Another young woman confessed to me, in August, that she had gotten drunk every night since New Year’s Eve.

I have the cashew chicken stir-fry over rice, with some acorn squash.


The caf food is really pretty good; outstanding even, if you consider that it’s an all-you-can eat buffet of reasonably healthy food for only six bucks, and you never need to leave a tip. Coffee, tea and dessert included.

Salad bar, too.


I didn’t get any pizza today.


I also avoided this temptation, which I find goes great with a cup of coffee.


Here is the actual view from the cafeteria balcony, a little outdoor dining area.


Yes, those are mountains in the background — the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachians, a range of the Eastern U.S.

The first week of school is always a pain in the ass. As well as finding all your new classes, getting your books and syllabi and all the obvious things, you also have to do stuff like pick up your refund check and get new parking tags. The first day is always a long day, and the first week can really almost be worse than finals sometimes, if you have trouble with financial aid or getting into the classes you need.


On the way to the bookstore to get a French dictionary, I see that someone is selling posters in the breezeway that leads to the Highsmith Building.


John Belushi assumes the position.


I go to the computer lab to figure out what to do about a French workbook that I am afraid may not be compatible with my college’s online bulletin board service, but…


So I take the elevator up three floors to the good old math lab, which also has computers and internet. I am a little sad to see this wonderful place, for I know I do not belong here anymore.

I was happy when I belonged here, even though I was always lost.


I realize that I need to go back to the bookstore and see if it has a different book I might need. As I leave, I see this and stop dead in my tracks. It’s a sign in the hallway, advertising some alumni group.


U.S. WHAT Academy? I am appalled. I ask around for a post-it note.


I go on to the library to pick up two books I want to look over.


The Self-Made Tapestry and On Growth and Form.


It’s 4PM. I head home, passing the gazebo. I have fantasies of sitting here and knitting something. The new building behind it kind of ruins its appeal, but in spring it is surrounded by hot pink rhododenrons, and is lovely.


This is the horizon view as you walk past Carmichael Hall


to the commuter parking lot.


Then I am off to the grocery store and the bank, and then home.

To start my day at work.


12 responses to “Back to School: An Essay In Words and Pictures, And Not Very Exciting Ones at That

  1. “Navel” Academy LOL!
    Is there anybody left who uses the proper “its” for the possessive without an apostrophe? Am I the only one who notices?

  2. No ma’am, you are not the only one. Apostrophe abuse bugs me so much (and so often) that I have seriously considered carrying White-Out to correct signs.

    Years ago I saw a print shop door emblazoned with the message “Sign’s Made Here!” No, thank you.

    (For the other punctuation police out there, go see Bob the Angry Flower’s comic: Comedy gold!)

  3. I managed to get a period into the link. Is that ironic? I don’t know.

    Here’s the right link:

  4. A Sex therapist who wants to have a baby by artificial insemination? Sounds like a side plot in a bad Woody Allen film.

  5. Navel Academy! Not to mention US for U.S. But NAVEL ACADEMY, my heavens, that is beyond the pale!

    Yes, there are still people write the possessive “its” correctly, and all eight of them read this blog.

  6. I love day-in-the-life photo-blogs like this. Thanks for sharing!

  7. The trouble is that my mind, undisciplined at the best of times, has now wandered off into planning out a course schedule for said academy…

    Worryingly, it seems to revolve around every spurious ‘self-enlightenment’ course you could come across, along with the wilder reaches of psychotherapy with some yoga thrown into the mix in order to achieve the physical aspect of navel-gazing…

    Maybe I should get more sleep. Maybe I’m writing waffle in order to block out the envy – I can smell that hot sun on pines from those photos and that is something I so miss…

  8. I love your Post-It note!

    I’m with you all regarding apostrophe abuse. Confusion between its and it’s is understandable, though it really isn’t that complicated. But I detest apostrophes being used for pluralization—I’ve seen so many apparently random apostrophes in flyers such as “Form’s available here” and so on. It doesn’t make sense!

  9. Darmok! It is great to hear from you. You haven’t posted much lately! Someone took my post-it down and I almost asked for a Sharpie, but decided I needed to take a chill pill.

  10. Hey, cuz. I LOVED the article. The post it note is classic, and even more priceless with the perfect “for shame” comment. A grammarian with a sense of humor. LOL. Great stuff. Being an english minor myself, I have to have a “moment” LOL when someone write “nite” instead of “night”. I mean come on, you only save ONE letter by writing it that way?!

    Great words, cuz. I’m so proud of you and proud to be your cousin.

    Love, your cousin, Nicki

  11. Jennifer, hey, yeah, hospital life has kept me busy…but I’m trying to learn to balance my time better…

  12. Welcome back. Re; throwing things away, I once watched a documentary where the crew was in the hinterlands of Mongolia, and needed to throw things away — food wrappers, nothing big. But there were no receptacles, because you don’t throw things away in ultra-rural Mongolia. There’s no packaging, and things that have no use I suppose are abandoned or recycled. It’s a place where there really is no “away.”

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