Back to School

It’s early — way earlier than I need to be up and way earlier than I would ever wake up if given a choice. There are a number of reasons why I might get up this early, but not ever for no reason, yet here we are. It happens once in a while, and there probably is a reason, but fuck if I know what it is. I guess I do have a lot on my mind, but that’s not exactly new, or exactly out of the ordinary. In fact, it would be more curious if there wasn’t much on my mind. There was also once a time when I would use these “awakenings” (makes it sound more mystic that way) to pound the keyboard, to let the muse speak though my fingers and, usually, come up with something… some thing.

But it’s been a while. Not just since an early morning up-for-no-reason writing session, but since I’ve done any real writing at all. Oh, sure, I’ve done the shit for work — syllabus writing, assignment writing, emails and even a handful of letters of recommendation — but not this. And when I say it’s been a while, we are not talking about days or weeks — it’s been months. This is the end of August and I have not written anything besides a few longish Facebook posts this entire year. And now, all of a sudden, I wake up before four o’clock in the fucking morning and the words want to come out. Okay…

Speaking of work, yesterday was the first day of instruction for the fall 2022 semester at California State University, Sacramento. The official beginning of the academic year was last week, but the first day of school was yesterday and campus was packed. It was packed like it hasn’t been in a long time. It was packed in a way that I used to hate — the monumental hassle of the first week or two of school, the traffic, the parking, the students adding and dropping classes — all stuff that is part of doing my job but not part of the job. Yesterday I didn’t feel any of that frustration, any of that hassle, any of that over-peopledness. What I felt was gratitude even though I was stuck in a monumental traffic jam trying to get to the faculty lot that would likely not have any parking spaces available. I didn’t care.

I didn’t even have to be there yesterday. I have classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, but not on the main campus. I went because I needed to pick up a couple of things, but I really didn’t — that was an excuse. But I didn’t even understand that until much later, after I got home last night. In my reflection of why I was feeling the way I was, processing it, I came back around to what in the actual fuck did I need to be there for. I didn’t. I was curious. And I could have just waited until today when I will be on campus virtually all day. And perhaps that is what woke me up. Don’t know. Don’t care. Doesn’t matter.

I’m entering my eighth year of teaching at Sac State and, if I include the teaching I did as a grad student, first at Sac State and then at Louisiana State University, my 15th year of teaching undergraduate university students. I started in 2008 at Sac State, continued in 2011 at LSU and in the fall of 2015, it became my full-time job back at Sac State. Prior to 2008, I was a full-time student for all but one semester from fall of 2003 until I received my BA in late 2007 — from Sac State. That’s a lot of time in the same area for someone who historically gets bored with not just his job, but with his entire career every five to seven years. In fact, I am in record territory for remaining with the same employer, never mind the same career.

But COVID nearly changed all that. I do not like people (as a collection, as groups, in general), but I love being on campus, in the classroom and amongst students and colleagues. It seems to be the only kind of peopling I can tolerate. When COVID hit, it reduced the one form of interaction with people that I actually like to little black squares on a monitor. The classroom collaboration and cooperation were all but eliminated and only those who were already naturally predisposed to engaging with their peers would do so — the rest (which was most) of them were content with Zoom anonymity. And it was like that for more than two years. The switch was turned almost overnight, but it took a long time — maybe as much as an entire semester or more — for it to get turned back. And, while it appears to be more or less back to the way things were pre-COVID, I am sure there are many nuances that remain, many of which will show themselves today in my three sections and one office hours session — on campus.

But I will be on campus, and so will they. And that is good, despite the monumental cluster-fuck it’s going to be. I have never looked forward to a traffic jam or a crowd or students jostling for a seat in one of my classes or any of the other first day/first week trials and tribulations like I am this week. I remember all too clearly venturing onto a virtually deserted campus on the first day of school not very long ago. This is so much better.

Originally published at https://www.michaelalthouse.com.

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Michael Althouse

Lecturer/professor of communication studies at California State University, Sacramento. www.michaelalthouse.com