It is a truth universally acknowledged that September slaps us all across the face and stings like pumpkin spice and the fear of accidental plagiarism.
How was your September? Or rather: where did your September go? When you’re a student, September always goes somewhere. You spend the last days of August anticipating its arrival, with excitement or nerves or both, and then it’s over. Time gets warped at the beginning of the school year: classes pass fast, and then they go slow; you want extra shifts at work, and then you can’t take any of them; you have all the time in the world to read, and then you have none at all.
September is the one that got away, gets away, and will get away from us again. The Road Runner of months, if you will.
Where did my September go? Into the halls and tunnels and classrooms of this school. To the bed I laid in at all hours of the day. To books for school and books for myself (read: sanity). To my head and its astounding ability to convince me that I always have more time than I do.
This is my way of apologizing for introducing myself to you so late.
I’m Jaclyn, the student blogger for the English Department at Carleton this year. I’m somewhere between my third and fourth years, which you may have heard me say during an icebreaker the first week of classes. I’ve been away from full-time studies for the past two years pursuing Co-op, which was enriching, fascinating, genuinely life-altering, and I can’t recommend it more. Co-op also unveiled some love I had for this school of ours and made me miss Carleton in a way I didn’t know I could. It means a lot to me that I get to come back to school and write to you, fellow students.
And yet it’s already October, and this is the first time I’m making your acquaintance. All I can say is that Septembers are harder than they used to be, and a month into the semester, I can tell you for sure that I’m not the student I used to be. And it’s scary.
Fresh out of high school, I was a focused student with good grades, a burning desire for recognition, and a no-fail attitude. There was no such thing as “too hard” — I hadn’t encountered that yet. If there was a time crunch, it came from my need for perfection. I was proud of everything I submitted.
Rinse and repeat for second year, except this time I had friends. I’m being dramatic, but I really did find a community of lovely, writerly nerds at this school through the Creative Writing workshops, and many of them would become very dear friends. There’s nothing that will bond you like shared struggle.
In April 2017, I finished what would be my last standard year of classes until now. I completed three Co-op placements and took a sprinkling of classes in 2018. I didn’t feel like a student, but I wasn’t quite in the workforce either. Now that I’m back, it’s clear that I will never be the student I used to be.
A lot happened, after all. I changed. My brain changed. I developed different feelings about myself and newly budding thoughts about the world. Everything felt bigger. The space where thoughts happen in my brain was suddenly bigger, and faster, and more full, and less kind. I was coming out of a bubble I didn’t know I was in. I worked in offices where I was the youngest. I was more tuned into the news than I’d ever been. I quit retail (for now). The world felt so busy and full of things I didn’t know, and there was no time to learn any of it. I felt small, like I had drunk from the vial that said Do Not Drink and shrunk all the way down, but I was the only one who noticed. I took summer classes. I filled my schedule up for the fall. I felt small. I struggled to keep up.
For the first time in my life, I dropped a course. I went to sleep wondering how I would do everything I needed to do, and I woke up knowing I couldn’t. I was taking a full course load, and it was too much. It was too hard now. I had changed. I cried, a lot.
I dropped a course this semester, too. I missed a class early on and walked in late to the next one (in full shame, Tim Hortons in hand) and felt totally lost. I sipped on my French Vanilla while my brain calculated what we needed to do to fix this, to catch up and stay ahead in my other classes, and instead of a ding! it did more of a long, wet raspberry. In a move that would have appalled first-year Jaclyn, for whom nothing was “too hard,” I dropped the class later that day.
And not a tear was shed. I was not in crisis. But the syllabi don’t lie; I had just put my life for the next four months into a calendar the week before, and it was a lot. It was probably too much. Maybe I could have done it, but could I have done it well? I wasn’t sure anymore.
It is very scary to feel yourself change. To feel like there’s a previous version of you who only exists in other people’s minds and in your own expectations for yourself. To wonder if you can keep up with yourself at all.
I’m not the student I used to be and some things are a lot harder than they were, but I think — I think — I’m keeping up. I spent all summer terrified of what September would bring, but I made it out the other end mostly unharmed. And in the midst of my fear, there’s something more. You know when a cat dozes off in a sun spot all nuzzled up on the carpet? I think being back in school feels something like that. Not that I’m sleeping in class — it’s just there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here. Keeping up. Sinking my teeth into student life again, feeling brand new in a familiar place.
I leave you with a list of things I didn’t know when I started school that I (more or less) know now and wish I’d known sooner; I could use the reminder, and maybe you could too:
- Dropping a class because you feel overwhelmed doesn’t make you a failure.
- Dropping a class because you’re worried it will be overwhelming later is also okay.
- Everybody is having a hard time, somehow. You’re allowed to admit you’re having a hard time.
- Take the stairs at the UC. It’s the only exercise you’ll make time for.
- You can’t rely on a spark of inspiration to get your work done. You just have to sit and do it while there’s still time to fix it later. (I know I should have taken this advice for this blog, but…)
- … Just because you know something doesn’t mean you took it to heart.
- It is so much harder to learn something you think you know than it is to learn something new.
- It’s okay not to know after all. You’re a student, your job is to learn.
- You should limit jokes about how often you cry to TV, movies, and books; otherwise you will learn to take the real crying lightly, and maybe you shouldn’t.
- You are not above counselling. Thinking so will make it harder to go when you may need it.
- Letting looming deadlines light a fire under your butt is not a replacement for self-discipline.
- Without discipline, you will never have the time to do the things you love.
- You will find the time anyway and have fun all the same.
- You will always be a student, in some way, at every point in your life. This is a privilege. There is freedom in reminding yourself you always have room to grow.
Even if all we can do is keep up, I hope that you, too, find your sun spot.
I’ll see you at the end of October.