September is the real beginning of the year… I know it is the beginning because I feel the wall of energy, which I have allowed to soften with the mercury, toughen up… The first day of January is bogus… Winter is the middle of the year; spring the finale, and summer is free… September is the real beginning. From Small Ceremonies (1976) by Carol Shields.
I remember how much I agreed with this passage when I first read it, from one of (the marvellous) Carol Shields’s early and (arguably) lesser-known novels. I was an adult at the time, no longer a student and not yet a parent, but still I concurred with its truth. At least, it’s a ‘September feeling’ here in the northern hemisphere. I imagine the ending of January creates a similar sense for those living in the southern. It’s the ‘Back to school’ sensation that never leaves you—shiny new shoes, stiff-necked school shirts laid out ready; this time I really am going to stay neat and organised.
This ‘back-to-schoolness’ becomes intensified with children, inevitably, one of mine also off to a new school next week. And whilst I am not a teacher, I do work at an educational institute, and it’s ramping up to welcome the new intake of undergraduates and the return of the existing ones. But the sentiment never quite left me in the first place.
And summer is ‘free’—sort of. Even if you work over it (as I do, bar the saved-up vacation time), there’s a loosening for many of us, created by the weather, longer and driftier days, colleagues in and out on summer holidays. Now with autumn looming, we have to smarten up the act, sharpen our pencils, prepare for the coming cold. Christmas creates a whole series of artificial deadlines in the workplace.
I guess it is in part to do with the change in season and part a conditioned response—i.e. the term in Psychology for a learned response to a specific stimulus. In this case, a stimulus repeated so often through our education that may take years to go away, if it ever does.
For some it may create a clench of nerves to the gut, or incite the so-called “post-holiday blues”, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good time for planning and goal setting.
Personally, I want my routines back. It’s not only the summer that has caused them to float adrift, it’s also pressure that’s sprung up from a difficult work situation that is simply dragging on. The stress has made me place on hold too many matters outside work, things I like to do, trips, small pleasures.
That goes for writing, too. For months on end I had an objective of ‘something every day’—be it writing, editing, a piece of research. And I stuck to that faithfully. Recently, energy levels sapped, this routine has gone awry. I realise I should give myself a break, and yet… My work problems could drag on a while; I cannot let it control all elements of my life, at work or at home. A fresh approach is needed, so here’s my ‘back to school’ list:
Pencil case and supplies – I am a stationery addict, so I’ll entice myself back to scribbling with a couple of gorgeous new notebooks and some pens, the sort from which the ink flows free and smooth. The Uni-ball Jetstream pen is yummy for this.
Planner / Timetable – Out comes the list: the books I want to read, to review. The ‘little and often’ daily writing is to be reinstated with some goals in place.
Name labels – I’ve been reading a bit recently about the power of self-labelling. Not addressing packages to yourself, but how the terms we use to define ourselves can affect our behaviours and attitudes. It’s nothing new, and has its detractors, but I plan to try out some new ‘name labels’ to re-frame characteristics in a more positive light: Not diffident but a quiet thinker. Not finicky but fine detailed…
Lunch box – The diet has been okay lately. Ish. However, it could be better. I stopped counting my fruit and veg intake, for one. Time to feed the brain better—and the mood. Just the right time of year for dark green vegetables, autumn berries, nuts and seeds, those little oranges… Dark chocolate helps? Well that’s great.
Text books – Whilst not a big one for self-help manuals, I am attracted by Manage Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler and Tony Hope (now there’s an optimistic surname), so that’s on order and we’ll see. I do need to build resilience. For writing, someone recommended novelist Ross Raisin’s new book Read This If You Want to Be a Great Writer… Sure, the goal of the title may be highly unlikely, but it’s described as ‘demystifying’ and ‘empowering’, so that sounds good to me.
Uniform – Out with the sandals and cotton skirts and on with boots, jackets, and black tights (soon). So much easier to look smart, and I’ll need every bit of confidence that may afford.
Gym kit — Okay no, look, the exercise resolutions can wait until January. Let’s not do too much at once and pile on pressure… I’ll just stick to the walking boots for now.
What’s at the top of your ‘back to school’ (or spring into spring-time) list?
art-color-colourful – Pixabay