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A Spiral Notebook

August 27, 2012

The fall semester already has its teeth in me this week; I’ve been working to fund and organize and am now running an orientation program for the students who will be working for me this year in the Writing Center.  It’s exciting because this is the first time I’ve actually had enough time to deliver all the information they need to begin the semester right. It’s fun because they’re an interesting and very bright group. It is, of course, exhausting, even though I managed to convince the Associate Provost and the two directors of the Math and Science Lab that they needed to organize and provide all the food for the day and a half until the regular student meal plan kicks in (hey, I’m helping to clean up).

Anyway, I’m thinking of the poem I always think of at this time of year, and it’s from Ted Kooser’s Pulitzer-prize winning volume Delights and Shadows:

A Spiral Notebook

The bright wire rolls like a porpoise
in and out of the calm blue sea
of the cover, or perhaps like a sleeper
twisting in and out of his dreams,
for it could hold a record of dreams
if you wanted to buy it for that,
though it seems to be meant for
more serious work, with its
college-ruled lines and its cover
that states in emphatic white letters,
5 SUBJECT NOTEBOOK. It seems
a part of growing old is no longer
to have five subjects, each
demanding an equal share of attention,
set apart by brown cardboard dividers,
but instead to stand in a drugstore
and hang on to one subject
a little too long, like this notebook
you weigh in your hands, passing
your fingers over its surfaces
as if it were some kind of wonder.

Even though I know I sometimes hang onto one subject a little too long, every fall it’s invigorating to interact with a new group of bright-eyed young people with their shiny notebooks and hair, sometimes 50 of them in one room looking up at me like I’m about to say something they don’t already know.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2012 8:39 pm

    What a lovely poem! It takes me right back to the excitement of new school supplies and empty notebooks waiting to be filled. With school long behind me, I sort of miss that feeling of a fresh start every year.

    • August 30, 2012 9:26 am

      The fresh start feeling is a good part of working in academia.

  2. August 28, 2012 7:32 am

    That’s the perfect poem! I’m glad my son is through with school (and we’re through with the expenses that goes along with it) but I do miss the excitement of a new school year.

    • August 30, 2012 9:28 am

      I know what you mean. My son got his driver’s license at the end of last spring, so by the time I asked him if we needed to go out and buy school supplies, he’d already taken himself out to the store and bought them with his own money (earned from teaching chess lessons). It was nice, but disconcerting because so sudden.

  3. freshhell permalink
    August 28, 2012 9:07 am

    I am shocked that kids STILL are required to have those 5-subject notebooks. And they are still making them. Paper notebooks. I guess I should be happy about this. I usually never look forward to the end of summer but this year I kinda am.

    • August 30, 2012 9:30 am

      Summer ends whether we want it to or not… I’m trying to appreciate the last of the hot weather as I dash about busily in it (which is so not what it’s FOR!)

  4. August 28, 2012 10:51 pm

    Oh Ted Kooser, champion of the every day. I love this opem.

    • August 30, 2012 9:31 am

      There is no one alive who is better at making you see the ordinary differently.

  5. August 29, 2012 8:14 am

    I love school supplies… However, one of my pet peeves is when students turn in work ripped out of a spiral notebook and it still has that ragged edge. ugh!

    • August 30, 2012 9:33 am

      I loved spiral notebooks because I was the kind of kid who always had a lot of papers. When a teacher made me rip a page out and turn it in, I never liked it, either!

  6. August 29, 2012 8:15 am

    oh, and Happy Back to School!! 😀

    • August 30, 2012 9:34 am

      Thank you. Now that my orientation is done, I may live.

  7. August 31, 2012 1:42 pm

    What a great poem, especially for this time of year. Even though I’m past the point of five subject notebooks I still feel like I keep my life neatly divided into different categories–guess out of school time habit. 😉

    Good luck with the kiddos. It’s an important (albeit I’m sure sometimes tough) job you have…

    • September 1, 2012 8:32 am

      Yeah, it wasn’t really a joke about saying something they think they don’t already know! They’re 19-22 years old, and if they can do something well, think they don’t need to learn any of the theory behind it so they can do it better.

  8. September 1, 2012 10:29 am

    The fall semester has gotten off to an exhausting and sometimes irritating start for me. Thanks for reminding me of all the potential it holds!

  9. September 1, 2012 10:48 am

    It’s good to remember that blank notebook feel. I think younger people get writer’s block looking at a blank page more than older people do–to me, a blank page is a relief sometimes. To create something new is more fun than revising something I’ve rewritten each fall for the last fifteen years!

  10. September 2, 2012 5:02 pm

    Oh I just loved this and can relate to it (what with my love of school supplies).

  11. September 3, 2012 9:51 pm

    There is something energizing about the fresh beginning that each new school year brings. This poem is a great reminder to hold on to the potential, even when things get rough.

    Geez. I sound more like a guerrilla fighter than a teacher! I think I need some sleep.

  12. September 17, 2012 6:08 am

    Yes, this long after the start of school (it began for me on Aug. 27), it seems like it was energizing and enervating at the same time.

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