First and foremost: WHERE DID MY WINTER BREAK GO!? It seemed like such a long time period when I was looking forward to it like the light at the end of the tunnel of books and papers. I didn’t get a break at all! What did I even do with myself?! Oh…. Right… wrote that one errant paper, celebrated holidays with my family, put together publication and conference proposals (not as many as last year, but still), worked, took weekend trips, read as much as I was motivated to for the MRE, cooked, slept, karaoked my little heart out…. Damn. I guess this isn’t some trick of the cosmos or a time vortex caused by errant Time Lords.
Then there’s the excitement. A new semester is a fresh start in a lot of ways. Even though I’ve had two out of three of my professors before, even though I am going to be continuing the same ideological work that I have already begun, there’s new books, new notebooks, new pens and pencils, new theory, new classes, and new authors to explore and analyze. It’s like opening up the doors to a new playground; your playmates by and large remain the same, and the same type of equipment is available to you, but there’s a new set-up and some new toys to tinker with. Have I mentioned the new books? The beginning of a semester is the only time when I feel justified in spending several hundred dollars in one go on books. And oh man… do I love books.
There is also this feeling of tension upon walking into a brand new class. The classroom dynamic for any given course is entirely different depending on the professor, the students, their backgrounds, and their relative interests in the topic at hand. Prepping for the first day of class is like arming to step onto a battlefield for the first time not even knowing if the fight will ever begin. You must prepare for any given situation. Like a boyscout. Or a good hitch-hiker. Know where you towel is, and don’t panic. There’s also a certain degree of feeling one’s way through things, a tentativeness about what you should and should not say and what that will spur from other students in the class (or the professor). What hot buttons should you press? Which should you avoid? What will set them into a downward spiral of ranting? What will spur interesting conversation? Any good tactician knows that there are things you should show up front and there are things you should keep to yourself. Secret weapons. What should be yours in this class? Your area of expertise is almost always written on your sleeve, but that most recent paper you wrote may be a good option… or the influential bit of theory that you have been contesting in your mind for the past few weeks…. In any case, chose wisely. The course of your entire semester may remain in the balance.
Then, of course, there is the mental checklist. As you glance down the syllabus for the first time you can begin to see how your semester will play out. Where will you be busy? Where will you have time to relax for a bit? What other events do you have planned surrounding the dates before you that should influence your decision in when you should give oral seminar presentations? What do you need to accomplish this semester? When you have read everything that is before you, what will you really take away from it?
This semester, for me, is a big deal. It’s my last semester of my MA. It’s the semester in which I have to take my Master’s Reading Exam (March 21 and 22… shudder). It’s the semester in which I discover what the next year or two (or seven) of my life will hold. It’s a semester in flux, with very specific dates and deadlines which must be met in order to proceed with whatever it is that I’m going to do with myself in the near future. So many questions, not so many answers, and it’s only the second day of class.
One thing is for certain: they’ll be seeing a lot more of my face at the gym and the bar. Because really, what can life bring this semester that a good workout, a beer, and writing an emo poem or two cure?