I used to love the first day of school after Christmas break. The cool, crisp winter days coupled with residual happiness from the holidays to inflate my optimism about the new year. I’d meticulously set out an outfit of new clothes and lie in bed, resisting sleep with all the excited anticipation of being dealt a new hand of good cards after having lost big with the previous one.
This time things would be different. This year, I’d transcend my inborn awkwardness with a previously untapped sense of savoir-faire. I’d walk through the hallways with new-found swagger, overcoming my oversized nose, ears, and mouth with unassailable cool. This year, I’d come out on top. Eventually I’d fall asleep, drifting away on a sea of baseless optimism and elevated expectation, only to soon run aground on the grim shores of the uncaring, unfeeling reality of the universe.
Today marks the beginning of my fourteenth semester as a college instructor. In a few days, I’ll also turn 35. I’m fast approaching the midpoint of average life expectancy for an American male and I’m acutely aware of the fact that my most elastic and energetic days are probably behind me. Consequently, I’ve long since abandoned that heedless hopefulness that lulled me to the sleep of bright, expectant dreamers.
First days after Christmas break are now exercises in anxiety. I’ll meet approximately 160 new faces whose names I need to memorize for my classroom ethos. I’ll go through the next round of conversations in which I explain how little I accomplished over the break and how delightful it was to do nothing at all. Because of my body’s psychosomatic peculiarity, I’ll perspire during the first few class sessions like I’m Miss Teen South Carolina on an episode of Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?