First Day of School!

This might be my last first day of school.

Well, sort of.  I realize that I’ve got another semester after this, and technically those will be all new classes, but I only get the true Back To School Sensation when, as Fitzgerald says, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”  It doesn’t matter if school starts in August or October – on the first day of school, I view everything through a frame of rustling, reddish leaves.  Back To School smells like the spice of crunching foliage underfoot, like the fresh wax of a new box of crayons, like the curlicue wood shavings emptied from a pencil sharpener.  And Back To School has all the potential of a freshly sharpened pencil, smoothing perfectly from school-bus-yellow barrel to graphite spear point.

Never mind that I haven’t actually used crayons for school since 5th grade, or that it’s August and smells more like a campfire than spicy leaves outside (thank you, wildfires).  No matter what year it is, Back To School is a comforting blend of fresh start and familiarity.  Everything is new and clean and open, but I also know already that I’m good at it.

Some of the comfort has departed from this particular First Day of School in that it is no longer one in a reassuringly lengthy series.  For the first time in my life, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next year.  Even during other transition years in my academic career, I knew, in broad terms, my plan.  High school, whether B or C (I picked B).  College, whether B, P, or W (I went with W).  Essentially, the plan was always More School.

That’s an option here, too.  I could go to grad school.  I took the GRE in the hopes of keeping that avenue open.  I could choose to stay at my undergrad university or go somewhere else.  I rather like the sound of an advanced degree.

But it’s not a given, like all the other times have been.  The decision is no longer a formality.  And depending on which choice I make, this could be my last first day until my own child dashes off into a kindergarten classroom, backpack full of crayons and safety scissors.

So forgive me, fellow college seniors who are too cool for school, if I ruin our collective jaded image by joining Nemo in excitedly chanting “First day of school!  First day of school!  First day of school!”58303176

Reclaiming Blue

I’m something of a pen thief.  If someone hands me a really awesome pen, the kind of pen that rolls smoothly across the page without smearing and seems to suggest beautiful things will come naturally to one’s head when one uses it, I’m liable to slip it into my purse without thinking and only later realize my transgression.

And then keep that pen for five years.

One such pen is a light blue ballpoint that has lasted me since study hall my senior year of high school when I accidentally stole it from Ashleigh H.  (I’ll probably apologize to her at our five year reunion.)  It’s lived in my pencil case ever since, usually employed to note important events in my beloved planner (which, as we’ve established, I love to color code).

Freshman year of college, I designated this blue pen for events pertaining to the Catholic student center where I spent most of my free time.  Dinners, movie nights, youth group, etc. were all recorded in light blue ballpoint, next to the green fountain pen reserved for work and the orange highlighter that means something horrible like a test or a huge paper is about to happen.  Through the beginning of sophomore year, I associated blue with this student center, and because this place was such a huge part of my life, blue showed up a lot in my planners.

Then, midway through sophomore year, a Really Big Conflict arose.  The details are a story for another time, as is the extent of the fallout, but it involved A Certain Person from the student center, and led to me pulling away from some of that involvement.

I fought with a lot of mental murkiness following this Really Big Conflict.  I fought to regain my faith, and I fought to maintain friendships, and I fought to keep the community that had become central to my college life.  Things have gotten better – a lot better – in the year and a half since.

But I realized that I stopped using blue.

The events I still went to at the center were labeled in plain black.  Even my blue highlighter was getting far less use.  Green, which now represented a job I love, made me happy, but when I flipped a page in my planner and found an event I’d written months earlier in blue, I flinched.  I was avoiding a color I’d chosen originally for its calming qualities!

So I’ve made an Executive Decision.  I am reassigning blue.  Blue is now for things that are good for me, things that help me with self care, things that make me happy.  My anniversary with the Engineer, for instance, or my dad’s wedding, or a girls’ weekend with the Southern Belle.  (I might even put some dinners at the Catholic student center in blue again.)

I am reclaiming blue.  And it does feel good to write with that wonderful pen again.

Stuff To Do This Summer


Bible study with Bird.

Study for the GRE.

Enjoy and learn from my new internship.

Do DuoLingo or something to keep up my extremely rusty Spanish.

Maybe learn some basic Italian while I’m at it.

Keep up an exercise routine.

Keep up this blog.

Work on some of my own stories.

Get back in touch with old friends.

Go to a friend’s wedding.

Start research for my thesis.

Speaking of which, should probably get that proposal revised and turned in.

Visit the Engineer.

Visit the Southern Belle.

Learn my way around my new town, including finding a bookshop and coffee place to frequent in my down time.

Start journaling again.

Put on sunscreen.

Drink a lot of coffee.

Be happy.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Perfectionist in a Group Project

I have trust issues.  More specifically, I have trust issues when it comes to group projects.

You see, the trouble with group projects is that in my formative years, everyone in the group got the same grade regardless of the amount of work they had put in.  I learned very quickly that if I let most of my classmates half-ass our posterboards and say “I don’t care” the whole time, the end result would be a posterboard I was embarrassed to stand in front of while we presented to the class.

So I took over.  The way 5th grade me saw it, they didn’t want to do the work, and I didn’t want them to do the work, so everyone was happier if I just made everything just the way I wanted it.

But then high school came, and even though I still ended up taking over most of my group projects, I had a new weapon at my disposal: evaluations.  Secondary education, apparently, was not quite so idealistic in its assumptions of how children would divide the labor.  These new teachers knew perfectly well that the nerds and perfectionists (and believe me, I stand proudly at the intersection of that Nerdy Perfectionist Venn Diagram) would end up doing all the work if the slackers had no carrot or stick to move them along.  Suddenly I had power; instead of being the group workhorse or overachiever, I was the taskmaster.  With a gleam in my eye that was the precursor to my Soul Burning Glare, I quietly but significantly jotted down notes of who was and was not working during group meetings.

I was usually a benevolent dictator, or at least I tried to be.  After all, I only wanted what the rest of the group wanted: to get a good grade.  But it was often difficult not to wish that I could just do the whole thing myself and only have to worry about my own time management.

Of course, group projects have taught me some valuable skills, though probably not the teamwork and collaboration my teachers hoped I would get out of them.  More accurately, I learned that most of the other kids actually didn’t mind pitching in but were afraid to try to wrest control from me.  (To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have responded well to an outright coup.)  I learned to delegate, to reluctantly relinquish little bits of the project, and to pretend to be okay with relying on other people.  And I found allies in unexpected places.

Sophomore year of high school, we had to draw a map of the Odyssey, including quotes from the book.  My group sat around on the floor of the hallway, staring at the markers and the terrifying expanse of blank butcher paper in the center of our circle.  They all claimed not to have a mental picture of Odysseus’ journey.  Conscious by then of my domineering tendencies, I had been trying to bite my tongue, but at that I pulled out a pencil and started sketching the islands as I had envisioned them the whole time we’d been reading.  After I placed the islands, my group members followed behind with the markers to color them in and add some scenery.  That night I went home and compiled a list of short quotes we could write next to each island and showed up to the next class ready to write and draw, feeling as though I hadn’t done much.  At the end of that meeting, as we divvied up the remaining labor for the weekend, I volunteered to take the poster home and finish it.

“I think,” a boy named Will said, looking at the printed list of quotations in my eager hands, “that since Grace has done pretty much everything so far, she shouldn’t have to do anything else.”  A murmur of agreement ran through the group, and I blushed down at the poster.  He didn’t say it meanly, as though he thought I had steamrolled all over everybody.  He simply acknowledged my work and kindly pointed out that they could take it from there.  It was a nice moment.

But then I had to keep six people on task for an entire semester-long government project senior year, and my exasperation with group projects was cemented.

I understand that they have their place.  Really, I do.  I’ve learned from having to deal work with other students and communicate with them.  But college is so busy already that I would rather not have to track down five other people and twenty disparate pieces of the project just so we can pass the class.

As for the basic argument that we’ll need to work in groups in our careers?  Just one more reason I want to be a happily introverted writer tucked away in my garret.

Productive Procrastination


Productivity is weird, particularly in college.  One can be domestically productive, or scholastically productive, or literarily productive (I may have made that one up), but it seems that one cannot be productive in all these areas at once.

This morning, in a burst of motivated energy, I did three loads of laundry and put them all away, changed my sheets from flannel to cotton because it’s finally above 50 degrees, did the dishes, tidied the kitchen and living room, read my Shakespeare assignment for Monday, found articles for my Coleridge presentation on Tuesday, caught up on Doctor Who recaps on my favorite blog, read a great deal of my leisure book, and planned out my homework schedule for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, this leaves me with a presentation and an HTML project to finish, two papers to start, a five page rough draft of a creative nonfiction piece to write, meals to plan, and grocery shopping to do, not to mention preliminary research to do for my thesis project.  So although I feel like the day was well-spent, academically speaking my to-do list has not shortened by much.

The Commodore pointed out that I’m laying the groundwork for the homework I have to tomorrow, since I found sources for the projects I have to finish this week.  And now that some domestic chores are out of the way, I’ll have the uninterrupted time I need to delve into the more time-intensive tasks I left for tomorrow.

At least, that’s how I keep rationalizing it to myself.  Yes, I was productive today…just…not with homework.  But in college, little else tends to matter.  So tomorrow should be…busy.

A Day Off

I’ve been thinking a lot about intentionality lately, about how much control I have over the way my life is going right now, when it’s a good thing to hold onto those decisions and when my grip is getting a little too white-knuckled. For the past few semesters I’ve had plenty of say in how my schedule and general way of life is set up, but sometimes that level of ostensible control results in high hopes that are inevitably dashed when circumstances arise in which I can’t control what happens.

The flip side of this is that I tend to be far more intentional about the new tasks and opportunities I take on, rather than making conscious decisions to give myself a break, so I accelerate the pace at which I hurtle through life when I should probably be putting on the brakes.

For instance, when a Three Day Weekend such as this one rolls around, and I’m a little under the weather, I still can’t help but spend the day making a list of all the things I need to get done. I may be curled up on the couch under a comfy blanket with Scrubs playing on Hulu, but I’m also scribbling down every single tiny chore/assignment/personal goal for the weekend in 15-minute increments and religiously checking all three of my email accounts and color coding my schedule for the next week and…

I can’t seem to give myself permission to slow down, even for one day. I feel like I have to make up for the fact that I slept in this morning so my afternoon and evening had better set world records for productivity – even though I have Monday off and this was only the first week of classes so I don’t actually have insane amounts of work to do (yet).

Part of this discomfort with taking time off is probably linked to the similar discomfort I feel whenever I spend much time off-screen. You know what I mean; even when I don’t have anything pressing to do, my go-to entertainment is usually mindlessly scrolling through Tumblr or checking web series Twitter updates on my phone, and trying to step away from the screen once in a while is surprisingly difficult.

I’ve made small steps. I used to turn on my laptop to go on Pandora while I was getting ready in the morning, but I kept checking emails or opening other new tabs between putting on jeans and putting on a shirt, and then again between eyeshadow and mascara. Now when I feel like listening to music, I turn on my iPod and find that I’m ready a lot sooner and feel less scattered in the morning.

Of course, then I go out to the kitchen and check my email (all three of them) over breakfast. But hey, baby steps, right?

For now, I’m going over to a friend’s house and giving myself the evening off. The To Do List of Doom can wait.

Making a List and Checking It a Lot

This couldn’t be happening. It was always right here. I put it in my backpack every single morning – how could I possibly have forgotten?

But my beautiful, organized, color-coded, checklist-sporting planner was conspicuously absent from the set of binders and notebooks in my backpack. An empty pocket where my life should be.

This may sound a bit overdramatic, but it wasn’t until I had to spend the day without my planner that I realized how much I use it. It’s not so much the actual planning – I can remember assignments pretty well, and there’s always the syllabus if something slips my mind – but the security blanket part of it. You see, I love to make lists. Lists of chores, lists of assignments, lists of miscellaneous emails that need to be sent, lists of time slots in which to accomplish each of these separate, color-coded sets of things. It has become my habit to rewrite, reorganize, and otherwise revamp any and all of these lists whenever I’m bored, nervous, stressed, or overwhelmed (oh look, there’s two lists in this sentence alone!) or at intervals throughout the day. It’s how I convince myself that I have my life together. My planner gives me the proverbial handle on things. When I flip through and see the scribbled beauty of its check marks and highlights, it both soothes and empowers me, like the montage of Elle Woods buckling down and kicking ass at school while “Watch Me Shine” plays in the background. (I may or may not also watch that montage whenever I need some quick motivation.)

So at first, I felt adrift without my planner there to guide me. I reached for it at all the usual times. When Spanish class got boring, I made do with scribbling funny nicknames on my boyfriend’s practice test, to which he retaliated by adding “Her Majesty” to my own name. When I had to go last for a presentation, I made mental notes and adjustments to my prepared talk and asked a few questions of the two people who had gone before me. Now, as I sit at work waiting for people to walk in (I’m on receptionist duty this hour), I’m working on another post for this poor, neglected blog.

Generally, when life is a bit too much, seeing it all written down and prioritized helps me stave off anxiety and further stress – as I said before, a security blanket. But maybe, just maybe, I need to put the planner down every once in a while. I did survive a whole day without it and I didn’t go too crazy. Besides, what good is there in being organized if I’m not really present?

In Possession of a New Planner

Every year, I make myself wait until August to buy my planner for the upcoming school year. This is partially because the planners don’t actually include dates before August of the current year, and partially in order to fend off back to school stress dreams (less successfully than I might hope).

I love the cleanness of a new planner, the neatness of its blank pages, the promise that this year I will be more tidy, more organized, more prepared. Conversely, I also love the well-worn beauty of last year’s planner, filled with scrawls and margin notes and satisfactory crossed-out items. Some people keep their journals or diaries from past years, and I do that too. But I also keep all my planners.

Rereading them reminds me of stressful weeks where I nevertheless came out on top, triumphant presentations, get-togethers with friends, etc. They make me nostalgic for the school years past.

Once, while we were moving, I found my mother’s planners from her high school days. I loved poring over her slanting cursive, puzzling out what her personal shorthand meant, wondering which assignments had stressed her out the most. As I cram each year’s planner on my shelf, I can picture my own kids finding them someday and wondering about my life in high school and college.

Yes, there is a certain amount of nerdiness to this pleasure in buying a new planner. But I have always been one of those kids who couldn’t wait for the leaves to turn and the pristine notebooks and fresh crayons to fill my mother’s shopping cart. We used to plan those back to school shopping trips for weeks in advance, highlighting and quantifying every last thing on the school-supplied lists and jotting in our own requests at the bottom. Because my sister, “Bird,” and I often had the same items on our lists, half the pleasure lay in dumping the purchased supplies out on the living room floor and divvying them up. A box of markers for Bird, a box of markers for me. Three newly sharpened pencils in Bird’s pencil box, three for me.

Now that I’m in college, my yearly planner is all that’s left of the clean, crisp school supplies that marked the end of my summers.  Maybe it’s a little strange to be so excited about an organizational tool.  But if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go color code all the events for August in my pretty, shiny, new toy.