First Day of My Second Academic Year, 8/21/19

It’s morning, mirrors fogged up, as I stand in front of my bathroom counter, shaving, with small traces of spice in the air. It’s my second year at Ohio State University, and today is the first day I teach Freshman Composition, a class I’ve taught dozens of times, only with different course objectives, and in a different state. I’m moving my face around to get a good shave, while muttering the things I wish to tell my students. I go back and forth about the information I wish to share with them. Do I talk about my background? That I’m a grad student? Maybe I need an opening joke to put the class at ease? I’m on the edge of a doubt spiral, until my cat jumps on the counter, giving me a look of affection. I pat him on the head, then, in Piece Brosnan’s voice, he says, “You’re going to be fine”. Then it hits me- I don’t have a cat. I look to him, then spot a red lever mounted on my bathroom wall that I’ve only noticed until this moment. It says “PULL” in large red letters. I pull the le-

7:08- I’m awake, exactly seven minutes before my alarm goes off. Do I try to salvage these seven minutes, and try to get a bit more sleep, or get an early jump on my day? Hmm….umm……Oh, I have to shave! I jump out of bed, and start getting ready.

8:20- I’m out the door, walking to campus. My walk takes about ten minutes, but I want to get to class early to start setting up for class. I get my phone out, in hopes that music will clam the nerves. I silently pray to the Gods of Music, saying, “Oh, wisest of music player algorithms, please give me a song that will help set the tone for the day”. (Pandora plays “Breaking Into Cars” by The Ravonettes) Um….yeah, this is cool.

8:40- I get to my class and start setting up. I have copies of my syllabus and the course textbook on my desk, and my tablet is connected to the projector. No students are in class at this time. I start writing my name and office hours on the board.

8:44- WHERE ARE MY STUDENTS!?!?!?!? Did they all drop my class or something? Am I that horrible of a teacher?!?

My empty classroom

8:47- The first student walks in. He has a nice smile, and looks around at the class seating arrangement, possibly in hopes of finding the spot he will sit for the rest of the class. He sits in the front row, about seven feet away from me. Good choice. More students trickle in. Some are on their phones, while others begin light introductions with each other. Class is about to start soon.

10:05- Class ends. You know…..that was cool. I think I should have written down the order of what to say and when to the class, but the students looked engaged, and they liked the quote I shared with them. I think it was good. I go to the nearest Coke machine I can find and buy a Coke- not as a reward, but because I still have a whole day of work ahead of me.

10:40- I meet with my Medical Humanities advisor. I’m also taking a class on teacher shadowing, where I attend the class of a professor in my field to see how he teaches the material in an undergraduate class. His office is the kind that a professor you see in the movies has, with books plied into small towers, and bookshelves with academic journal issues he has yet to open. He gives me and the other student shadowing him a copy of the class roster and goes over the syllabus with us. His voice is quiet, but not rudely quiet. Rather, it is gentle, like a whisper, yet loud enough to carry the wisdom he holds. He gives me a brief lecture on tips for the first day, having no idea that I could have used them an hour ago. As he talks, I think about the attitude academia has towards incoming students. It is not some unmovable mountain, indifferent to the efforts of new voices, but a conversation that welcomes them. He asks if I have any questions. I say, No, and walk over to the class with him.

11:10- I walk into the class with my professor, sitting in the back of the room trying to avoid taking a potential spot for a student. The class has a little less than fifty students, and is about three rooms down from the classroom I taught in. He walks up to the front of the class, and passes down copies of the syllabus. He then enthusiastically tells the class, “Welcome to Narrative Medicine! I hope you’re all here to learn”. His voice booms in the classroom forcefully but not pretentiously. He has the attention of every student, all ready to take notes and engage in conversation. This guy is the Neil Young of academia, saving all of his strength for the stage, electrifying his audience. He goes over the course description, and every student is writing down what he says, even though it’s on the document right in front of them. Shortly after, he introduces himself to the class by giving a brief synopsis of his personal history, and puts the class into pairs for an introductory exercise.

12:30- Class is dismissed. The professor and us two shadowing him gather. He is back to his wizard-like voice level, telling us what to expect for next class. I have no more classes for the day, so I plan to spend the rest of the day working on my research. I have a paper due for my advisor, I’m trying to join a journal as a contributor, and my book review came back with “revisions” (ugh). I’ll probably start with- *ping* Oh, crap! It’s my friend’s birthday. I gotta call- *ping* Aww, damn- I have a club meeting later today. I’m trying to decide if I can make it. I need to write pages, but this is also really important for the new year. I check the flyer for details on the meeting. It starts at….Oh, wait- there’s going to be food. Yeah, I’m going to the meeting. I walk over to the library to start working for the next couple of hours. I open my phone and play music. The Gods of Music want me to listen to……(Pandora plays Some Time Alone, Alone by Melody’s Echo Chamber). Nice.

12:49- I see my advisor walking in my opposite direction. I don’t know if he wants to chat, or do I just say hi, or he might want something?…. We cross and chat for a second. He says, “Hi! Did you send me over those pages?” I tell him, “I have them! I’ll send them over soon” (I don’t have them). I keep walking.

Walking to The Thompson Library

1:11- I get to the library reading room and start working on my upcoming assignments. I have my paper, a returned book review, essays to read for my new gig. I’m trying to decide to what to work on, but have no motivation to do any of it. Maybe if I find the right YouTube video playing in the background? My study playlist should work. Wait….what did the president say?……

1:37- I spent THIRTY MINUTES watching CNN?! HOW?!? Ugh…..I shut off my phone, and start doing work. I find a good lo-fi station, then focus on my work until I need to leave for my meeting.

3:25- Cool! I got work done, answered all of my emails, and I don’t feel guilty for taking a break at this point. I start walking over to the meeting. It’s a Cookout for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I went to this last year and met some great people. As I walk down the Oval, it’s almost impossible to not think about where I was at this point last year. I would feel the anxiety of meeting new people, debating whether or not I should go in the first place. I still feel it now, only this time, I’ll know people there.

4:30- Cookout is in full swing. The food looks great, and there are lot of organizations meeting here. I walk around, shake hands, pick up flyers and sign up for newsletters. I can’t stay too long since I still have work to do. I still have that paper to finish, and I need to email…..are….those…..churros?

5:20- Back to the library, hoping to finish at least four pages of writing. I got a grove going from my last writing sesh, feeling good about writing right now. I just want to structure this idea with this other thing…maybe add this source…possibly add a footnote to include another reference. Oh! I need to study up on this other idea. I look up the library category, find more research to incorporate.

6:27- Great! I found three other books, and highlighted some passages that are going to really help out my paper. And I’ve written a total of….zero pages. (ugh) I’m now considering how to bolt myself to the ground. But not just yet- it’s almost seven, and I have to go the gym. (Pandora plays “It Followed Me” by Surf Curse)

6:58- Today, the goal is to complete a workout circuit, and take a yoga class after.  I used to keep this routine going for years when I working on my MA back home. That came to an end when I became an adjunct instructor, working all kinds of hours, and spending most of my weekends grading stacks of essays. Now that I’m here, it’s way easier to make time for this, slowly encouraging me to take better care of myself. I need to eat healthier, watch my cholesterol intake, drink more water. These all sound great- I just actually have to do them. Still working on that part.

8:10- (wheeeeeeeeew) Did arms, chest, lunges, squats, abs, lat pull downs, and low rows. I have so much goddamn energy right now! One more exercise to go: jogging. I love jogging. It builds endurance, and you feel a kind of clarity afterwards. My routine is simple- jog three laps, run one, counting that as a set, and run three sets. It amounts to about a mile and a half. I get to the track and start jogging.

8:14- Jogging, jogging, jogging….I keep a regular pace, tying to save my energy. Finishing  the third lap. SPRINT! Lungs are burning….legs are pounding the ground….my body leans as I round each corner. Almost there….done with my first set! Jogging, jogging….only eight laps to go….jogging….breathing cramp kicks in…..almost on the next sprint. Keep an easy pace. Almost got it….SPRINT! Fuck, this is hard. Keep running…running….I can’t-

Yes you can. 

ARGH!!!! I can’t.

You’re almost done. You can’t quit now. 

I almost finished. I’ll stop at the next turn.

No, you won’t. You worked too damn hard to reach this point. 

Almost…..

Faster. You can do it. 

I CAN DO IT!!!!

Finish strong. 

I got this!!!!

I cross the finish line. I get some water and start wiping the sweat from my face. I need to walk a lap to slow my heart down.

Yeah, go for it.

Can I walk two laps?

You completed your goal- you can walk all the laps you want. You earned it. 

Yeah….this feels good. I walk a lap, then head over to yoga.

9:02- Yoga class starts. I started working out and doing yoga after my physician recommended this to me a few years ago. I was ready to dismiss that recommendation, but I was so unhealthy back then, I was willing to do whatever he recommended. It only took one class to realize how helpful it was. Before yoga, I couldn’t even lie down without being in pain, but I worked so many years in manual labor gigs, I thought it was just something to live with. Now, caring for my body is a priority. We get our mats, and start prepping. We go through a vinyasa flow, and end on a high plank. I see my hands underneath me, and noticed the scars on my knuckles from a lifetime ago. Am I still that person? Can I ever truly not be that person?  We continue the movements, stretching the muscles I just put to work. My body returns the favor by making every muscle fiber, every ligament, every tendon flare up. At the end of class, there’s a moment where you lay down and all of the lights shut off. Here, I get to exist in a void, where it’s only me and the thoughts in my head. I feel like an astronaut, bumping along space, weightless, without sound to remind me where I am. Time resumes when the instructor turns the lights back on and we return to a seated position. We thank her for instruction and leave the class. Namaste.

10:12- I’m leave the gym, and start walking home. It’s been a while since my body felt this relaxed. I should definitely keep this going. I can only hope the demands of this semester are accommodating enough. I look at my phone and say, “Alright, Pandora- give me something good.” (Pandora plays “Smoko” by The Chats) Whoa, let’s slow down, Pandora. I stop the song and start looking up a new station. (Pandora plays “Jezebel” by Iron and Wine) Oh, this is nice. The walk home is fairly pleasant, with quiet streets, my pores open.

10:37- I get home, eat dinner, and start getting ready to sleep. I’m watching an episode of Law and Order SVU on my phone while texting my friends back home to tell them about how my first day went. After a few messages, I realize I have no interest in watching TV, but I don’t want the day to end just yet. So instead, I power up my laptop and start writing the very words you are reading right now. This year, I’m going to be a teacher, a student, a mentor, a mentee, an editor, and several more titles that will probably come up later in the semester, but today, at this moment, I get to be a writer, something I spent years trying to be. I don’t think these sentences will change the world, but I’m working on letting people into my life, and this is a step to get better at doing that. I don’t wish to speak for all grad students or offer insight into the grad student experience; rather, this is what my day looks like, with all of my life decisions summing up to this moment. I don’t even know if anyone will ever read this, but I write this for the same reason why I set out to become a writer in the first place: I have stories I wish to tell. I click publish, and call it. By the time you read this, I will have hopefully rested for the day. Currently waiting for my eyes to close. This usually takes a while.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s