Today is the first day of our third week of classes already. There are plenty of tasks I should be working on, but only one at a time can actually find progress. So this is one of those I’ve decided to tackle at the instant: writing. This isn’t much of anything, but I’ve told myself over and over that I need to write more; I’ve yet to tell myself I need to write less, except for wordy emails. I still think that having something, anything to write could only be helpful in the long run. The problem, though, is that there are other things to do, and currently the other things to do are mostly in regards to students (and conferences and faculty and committees and budgets, too, but the students come first, we say).
My solution to the problem is to make a writing prompt out of students. Sometimes in the past this has turned into an interesting exercise. The last few days I’ve been watching student en masse, rather than as individuals. It’s a back-to-school kind of ritual, everyone coming back to campus with new clothes and new backpacks and even a re-newed look in their eyes. Or maybe they’re just terrified and/or lost. They look as if they need direction and advice, and just the other day the New York Times provided them with a wide variety of wisdom from seasoned professors across the nation. That was all good advice, for the most part, ranging from which classes to take and which books to reach to how to think about the purpose of the education. But they didn’t say anything at all about flip-flops or poetry. This is clearly where I can come in and do some good.
Advice to the student:
First, stop wearing those flip-flops. They’re dumb. I don’t know how else to tell you this that could be more gentle or kind. They keep falling off your feet, you keep shuffling in them as your cross campus, and they have to be terrible for your back. Yes, I’m telling you this as I’m hunched over a keyboard, but I’m old and I’m writing this for you. You’re simply wearing those things because you’re lazy.
Second, go to class. It would help if you weren’t wearing those flip-flops — you might actually get there on time. Class is not just a place where you can pick up the homework assignment or copy down some notes, but the place where you will learn something about the person in the front of the room and something about the person sitting next to you. You’ll learn a little bit about how to interact with another person, and how not to interact with another person. You’ll also learn something about how to hold onto a different perspective from your own. This might be the most valuable thing you could carry out of this institution.
Read some poetry. I never did enough of this, and now I just feel like I’m catching up. Fortunately, I had a math professor who put poetry in the heading of calculus exams, and fortunately that gave me just enough of a hook that I started looking for poetry later in life. By the same token, I hope that there are English professors inserting scientific findings at the top of essay assignments. These reachings across the aisle could do everyone a fair amount of good.
Bring a pencil to class. Use it. And use the eraser, but don’t worry about covering up too many of your mistakes. You may need to refer back to them later.
Read something. Write something. Read some more. I often wish I had a better habit for reading and writing more often. I try to make up for it with rash fits of hurried writing. This is one of them. Sorry.
Ride the bus. There are people there you should get to know, or at least watch.
Go to the library. There are books there. You should go find a stack of them — pass up the computers with the fancy search engines — and start pulling some off the shelf. You’ll be surprised.
Go outside. Find some good shoes, first. Leave your phone behind. Take a walk on something other than solid cement and see how long it takes you before you get somewhere you haven’t been before. Sit there a while. Then go back to class. You’re probably late, but if you aren’t wearing those flip-flops and you aren’t talking on that phone and you have the excuse of having just hiked down from the hills, I’ll forgive you. Just remember to bring your pencil.