School will be starting soon. This doesn’t mean a lot to me because I matriculated for the final time a few decades ago although I do enjoy the sales on various office products that happen around this time of year. And I also get a strange feeling that I can’t exactly name. It’s not regret. I’m glad I got an education, although if I hadn’t maybe I wouldn’t be knowledgeable enough to know what I was missing. Anyway I think I’ve done better with a few degrees of separation between me and the world’s autodidacts even though very little of what I learned in school has really been useful to me outside of games of Trivial Pursuit. And I’m glad I left school behind and went out into the world to join the rat race, although being around that many rats kind of creeped me out so I got a job instead. I’m really not that interested in going back to school at this point in my life. On the one hand I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot better at third grade math than I was when I was nine but on the other hand I don’t think I’d fit into one of those desks as well as I used to. The feeling isn’t exactly nostalgia either. I have some fond memories of school and some not so fond memories. There were things about school I liked and things about school I didn’t like, especially math which I was always terrible at, especially algebra. The only time I ever remember getting anything even remotely close to a right answer in algebra was when we had an equation with the answer “9W” and I scratched out the equation and wrote, “Do you spell your name with a ‘V’, Richard Wagner?” I was just a perpetual C student because I did enough work to not fail but I couldn’t really motivate myself to put in the effort to get straight A’s until my senior year of high school when it really didn’t matter anymore because I had such a lousy record behind me and by that time I was taking such easy classes the only way I could flunk would be by setting the school on fire, which I’d already done the previous year in chemistry class, but that’s another story. The problem was I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t, but at least I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer, professions you really have to start studying for in preschool, especially if you want to get into Harvard’s kindergarten program. For a long time I wanted to be a marine biologist but as I got older and took more science classes I started to realize I was terrible at running experiments (see class, chemistry) because science experiments are like algebra problems where you have to figure out in advance what the answer and the question are, and I had enough trouble with the quadratic formula which at least gave me one half, although I could never remember whether it was the answer or the question. I realized from all my time watching science documentaries that what I really wanted to be was the guy feeding moray eels for the camera, although being the guy behind the camera sounded even better, and the more I learned about the dangers of scuba diving the better being the guy in the editing booth or maybe the guy doing the voiceover sounded. And that led me through a lot of things I wanted to be but ultimately gave up on: parapsychologist, archaeologist, director, waiter, scriptwriter, sculptor, wash, rinse, dry, folder, spindler, and candlestick maker, most of which required going back to school.
Anyway the feeling I always get at this time of year is that school never really did prepare us for life. If school prepared us for anything it prepared us for more school because for so many years of our life it provided structure. I thought I hated the end of summer but deep down I really kind of looked forward to it, and every year I’d think to myself, “Yes! This is the year I’ll put forth that little bit of extra effort and be a straight-A student except for that C in math!” I realize it was ridiculously optimistic to think I’d ever get a C in math but every year I’d start out with all new school materials: new pencils, new papers, and one of those cool plastic binders to hold all my folders because I was a big enough geek to think that a binder was cool. And because I was such a geek I’d carefully sort and label those folders, assigning each one to a subject based on color: green for English, because green was my favorite color and English my best subject, and orange for math because, well, you can see where this is going. The first day of school I’d be ready and enthusiastic and eager to go and the second day of school I’d say, “Screw this,” and would leave a trail of crumpled papers on my way to the bus. But no matter how it ended, or how quickly it all descended into Lord Of The Flies, the important thing is every new school year was a chance to start over. Maybe it wasn’t a clean slate exactly because I did have a permanent record but summer was a time to decompress and face the new school year with a feeling that this time would be different, this time would be better, this year I would not have such a bad case of acne you could use my face as a cheese grater or get caught writing unflattering erotic fiction about the gym teachers. Most of us went through this pattern during our formative years of school, summer break, then back to school, and then once we graduated we were spit out into the stream of life and steady jobs. And in most steady jobs we don’t have a scheduled break of a few months to decompress. The most we get is one or two weeks here and there which is hardly enough time to figure out what we want to be when we grow up.