It is early September, and even now in my mid-30s I have the urge to go back-to-school shopping. It was second only to Christmas during my elementary school years. Whereas the best Christmas presents were the ones with the fewest ties to practicality, the best school supplies were knotted to it. They bore an air of creativity and progress.
That first crack of peeling plastic when I split open a new package of Laurentian pencil crayons had me closing my eyes to better bathe in the smell of their lacquered wood casings, and I knew that Mr. Wills' art class was not far away. I ran my finger down the list of school supplies, pausing at duotangs, a word that never lost its exoticism, one that somehow belonged to the mysterious echelons of teenagers above me, and I felt honoured to have it sandwiched between looseleaf paper, ruled and ballpoint pens, blue on my list. Then, there was the book bag, an item that would become, at least in my own mind, an essential and defining characteristic of who I was to be in the coming year, as it would be with me from morning to night, accruing buttons and beads on safety pins as testaments to my affiliations.
Thoughts of seeing most of my fellow classmates did not excite me, though. In fact, it would be clearer to say that they, aside from the small group of friendships I had carved out, incited deep and wrenching anxiety in me. The reasoning behind other kids' behaviour eluded me. Some kids were friends with people they obviously disliked. Some kids were shunned for things that I thought made them interesting. Playground etiquette involved seeking approval from the right group of kids, a group whose membership seemed to shift daily and from morning to afternoon recess. Kids were dirty in a way that couldn't be see on the surface, but I just knew that they were harbouring boogers and unknown detritus from strange homes. They were foreigners to my land of one. They were volatile and unpredictable and vaguely unsavoury.
Early September at once brought forth a flood of breathy promise encased in cellophane wrapping and vinyl cases and delivered a stiff blow to my still summer-free heart that I would be corralled by age with 30-odd relative strangers for the next eight months. It was both awakening and sobering, and I still find myself caught up in this seasonal tide.
It is early September again, and I have a strong urge to shore up a cache of winter projects while I am at the same time casting an eye back at my mildly unproductive summer and doubting my ability to carry through with my winter plans. The stranger-children of my elementary school years are gone, but the months ahead of me are still tinged with that sense of volatility and vague unsavouriness that once described them. I embrace the tools and the projects, but I doubt my ability to perform to standard. Who's standard, I am not sure. I have never figured out who holds the measuring stick.
My plan is to get into the spirit of progress and buy myself a traditional back-to-school sweater, take a few deep sniffs of our musty, second-hand set of the Oxford English Dictionary, and take command of this new season. At 36, it is by no one's hand that I must be shuffled down hallways and sat in desks and made to embarrass myself in public endurance tests. I create the course. I design the obstacles. I can be my own opportunity.
I still need someone to spit-comb my cowlicks into place and take my picture against a background of pink lasers, though, because I haven't figured out how to set the timer on my camera yet. And maybe that person could also glue some gold stars to my laptop when I do good work. I like gold stars. And maybe also that person could leave little notes in my lunch so that I can have something happy to think about while some jerk is making me chew on tin foil. That would be grand.