The fall semester started last week. I'll spare you my first day photo, even though I did head back to the classroom. I'm teaching a section of First Year Seminar at UNCW, which is basically College 101. How to manage your time, how to establish good study habits, how to use the library, etc. Compared to the classes I taught while in graduate school, it's a piece of cake. It's also exactly what I needed.
Teaching three times a week provides just enough structure to my freewheeling freelance lifestyle (I'm putting on pants and interacting with humans on a regular basis!). It's a nice bump in my income. And it's eerily fitting. You see, each time I meet with my students, we talk a lot about transitions, adjustments, and survival strategies. How to make friends, form a community, and turn this university into home. The struggle of figuring out who you are and what you want and creating a life you can be proud of. And even though it's been 14 years since I was a college freshman, I find myself in a similar position.
When you live in a college town, goodbyes are a part of life. People disappear in the summers, friends graduate and move away, programs begin and end, and you can't even count on tenure to keep folks around. Nacogdoches was a college town, and the seven years I spent there were filled with goodbyes until one day, I was the friend moving on. Now that we're in Wilmington, it's the same sort of life.
I've said goodbye to a lot of people this summer, and each one has been a heartbreak. The last friend to leave was Erica, who took off two weeks ago for a job in Rhode Island, and that goodbye was especially devastating. Erica was the very first person I met in the MFA program, and we bonded instantly. Meeting her was a sigh of relief, the feeling of finally coming home to the friend you always knew was out there.
Obviously, I'm still friends with Erica and everyone else who left Wilmington. But Wilmington is different now, and I feel like I did when I first arrived three years ago. Brand new all over again.
So when I sit in that classroom three times a week, and I tell my students that change is hard and transitions are tough, but by the end of their college career - hell, by the end of this fall semester - they'll barely remember a time when this place didn't feel like home, I'm telling myself the same thing. "Listen," I say. "I've started over a bunch, and each time I've ended up with more friends, more love, and more joy in my life. Change is good, even though it doesn't always feel that way in the moment."
It's hard to tell if they believe me yet, but that's okay. One day they'll look back and see that I was right. And so will I.