In September, Hope Springs Eternal

This article is more than 7 years old.

I've never been a big fan of New Year's.

January 1 as the time for a personal reboot? I don't think so. Whose idea was that? I'm in no mood for New Year's resolutions in the dead of winter. I'd rather crawl into my cave for another few months, and wait till I see my shadow again — admittedly, a somewhat more rotund shadow after months of inactivity — than reassess and reassert myself in a futile, post-Xmas gesture of renewal.

Labor Day signals back to school time, and that has always felt like the start of the new year to me.

But the arrival of September? Now you're talking. That's the perfect time to take stock, make plans and chart a new course — or sign up for a course. Labor Day signals back to school time, and that has always felt like the start of the new year to me.

I suspect this is the case for many of us, especially academics (and recovering academics) in the Boston area. Despite having left behind the classroom decades ago, we tend to think of the calendar year in academic terms.

For me, it probably helps that both of my parents were teachers. But there are solid reasons, for all of us, that this time of year should be rife with renaissance, resurrection, and reawakening.

For one, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and a time for reflection and self examination, is always in September, and practically an extension of the Labor Day and back to school season. The Jews are really onto something.


Also, summertime is play time. Or it's supposed to be. It's a chance to avoid all responsibility. To see what the woods and beach can teach you. To slow down, and avoid your more pressing life online and let go of the world that is happening around you. The very idea of a summer vacation — if you do it right, if you even get a summer vacation — is to do nothing.

Then, when the earth tilts away from the sun, and back towards autumn, living things begin to fade and fall off the vine. A dread feeling hangs in the air. A good kind of dread. For me, it's a voice that says, play time is over. Time to get serious. Time to harvest what you've sown, put your beans and berries in jars, and gather your acorns. Buckle down.

And to think, what or who do I want to be this year? Perhaps that voice says, I want to be more fit. Or make a change. For me, that voice still says, "OK, Ethan, it's time not to be a dork."

I recall that potential in the air, as I stood and waited for the bus on  those early, bright September mornings. My Mom had dragged me and my siblings to Morton's to buy a new wardrobe. Perhaps that year cords were in, or perhaps cords were out. Maybe it was the year I was dying to have a new pair of Nike Cortezes, with white leather uppers and a red swoosh.

Maybe this year, I thought to myself, with the right kicks, clothes and accompanying attitude, I could remake myself. Perhaps, finally, I could be cool.

Still working on that. But each year, around this time, that sense of blind hope returns.

The last time I was a true student was 1992. I was 25. I had just finished my MFA program in poetry at Louisiana State University. Yep, me and Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal, who was an LSU undergraduate at the time), we ruled Baton Rouge. When we weren't dunking in the quad, we were busting some serious rhymes.

Even though I've been out of school all these years, the end of summer still exerts its influence on me.

OK. I never actually spoke to Shaq. But that was my last taste of proper academia. Sure, I flirted with staying in school for another 17 years to pursue a doctorate entitled "Do or Do Not, and That Has Made All the Difference: Post-Structuralist Synergies in Robert Frost and Yoda" but thought better of it.

Today, I do teach, but not full time, and my teaching schedule does not adhere to a traditional academic, September to May/June calendar. Even though I've been out of school all these years, the end of summer still exerts its influence on me.

Dusk comes sooner. Leaves skip down the sidewalk. The nights grow chilly.

And as I walk past schools and campuses, and look at the crop of fresh faces, I think: Now is the time. Perhaps I can lose those 10 pounds and fit into that pair of pants I've been avoiding all summer. Maybe I'll take up the guitar, jazz dance, or Esperanto.

This could just be my year.

This program aired on September 4, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.