Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Month of Transitions: Celebrating "Back to School"

“Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms.” –Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) in an email to Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail

Here in New England, summer made a memorable exit with a relentless five day heat wave followed by a small hurricane. After which, Labor Day weekend dawned with unmarred cerulean skies, the morning air holding a crispness that promised that the transition of the season is near.

September, as it falls in natural time, is a calendar month rich in transitions. It heralds the end of summer and the official beginning of fall with the Autumn Equinox.

In many faiths it marks a new year or a new way of thinking, such as Alban Elfed (Light in Autumn), a Celtic celebration of the Autumn Equinox, when the perfect balance of day and night is a chance to reflect on what has been learned (harvested) throughout the year and how it will be used or applied. In Judaism, the first of the high holy days begins with Rosh Hashanah, the “Jewish New Year,” the beginning of the civil year for people, animals and legal contracts.

More commonly known to all of us though, this time of year is marked in both the Academic and Retail Calendars as Back to School.

With a new fall semester of Creative Thinking officially beginning tomorrow, my thoughts have been increasingly of the “back to school” variety. Time is planned, syllabi are written, texts are read and re-read, lectures reinvigorated. And yet, this is all still the beginning. As the beautiful late summer weather beckons, I sit with my laptop amid a half-built fortress of books and notes that consumes the dining room table, and remind myself (not half-jokingly) of Aesop’s fable,The Ant and the Grasshopper.

As someone who loves learning and paper, and who also has the retail calendar deeply ingrained in their psyche, I will (unsurprisingly) confess that I have many positive associations with the fall. From new school supplies, to sweaters and boots, to the arrival of candy corn and Halloween merchandise, and even the hint of Christmas merchandise to follow, the fall always feels like a new start, a time to focus my attention and achieve new things.

On the other hand it means relinquishing the carefree, daylight-filled hours of summer which hold so much inspiration. But for me, that means it is time to take those ideas (many inspired by the Summer Challenges) and return to the page with a deeper motivation and care for my craft.

Even if you are no longer on the academic calendar, the workplace environment still harbors evidence of the semesters, with people returning from vacations, desks filling up, and the preparations in place to meet the goals of the final quarter of the fiscal year.

Just like the religious and seasonal traditions above, I believe that Back to School should be a chance for mindful celebration to mark the shift in our intensity of focus. As with all things Paper Compass, “celebration” is interpretive and provides a great chance to tap your memory, inspire your creative side, or just have a moment to play.

Take time this month to indulge in one (or all) of the following:

Rekindle a love of pen (or pencil) on paper: Rediscover, fix up, or purchase a new writing instrument. It can be whatever strikes your fancy from a No. 2 pencil to a fountain pen with turquoise ink refills.
Treat yourself to an after school snack: Martha Beck in The Joy Diet writes about reclaiming part of her childhood by indulging in milk and cookies in the afternoon along with some down time. I highly recommend this, especially as a great time for jump starting your creative thinking.
Add an element of organization: Take time to look through the back to school supply aisle, pick up something that will help unclutter your work area.
Buy a new Back to School item or outfit: (Even if you are not going anywhere near an academic institution) Fashion is an outward expression of creativity, make sure to let yours out.
Meditation on learning: Think about something new that you want to learn or refocus on.

No matter what about celebrating Back to School inspires you, set goals for yourself this month and make sure to "do your homework”—you’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ve made by the time the "calendar" New Year rolls around.

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