Buckle Your Seatbelt: It’s A New Semester by guest Cynthia Kuhn

Welcome to the Wickeds, Cynthia!
The Semester of our Discontent3x4

One of the things that most suits me about the teaching life is the constant change. I’m always excited about the beginning of the semester. Maybe it’s because when I was little, my mother always bought me a new pair of shoes before the school year started. (Thanks, Mom!) And yes, I recently carried on that tradition with a nice pair of clogs. But mainly, I think it’s the fresh start of a different journey. There is new material to be read, thoughtful discussions to be had; in short, there are possible learning adventures everywhere.

The flip side is that there is some settling into the groove required, which leads to a constant and necessary stream of over-checking. Where is that classroom again? Will it have the equipment I need? Do I have enough handouts? Did I pack the right book? Where is my roster? When are my office hours? Wait, am I supposed to be in a class right now? I’m on how many committees and the reports are due when?
Perhaps that’s why I always have strange anxiety dreams before a new semester…like I’m super-late for class but can only move in slow-motion for some reason, or I am trying to teach a huge group but all the chairs are facing away from me, or I realize that although I’m standing at a podium, I am actually a tiny grey mouse wearing flip flops, and no one can hear my panicked squeaking.

If you have a child, then you know That Haunting Feeling you had the first time you left him/her with a babysitter or at daycare. Like an essential element was missing…say, your arm. Like you’d forgotten an item absolutely crucial to the day’s activities. Like you should have been doing something other than what you were doing, every minute. That’s what new semesters feel like, in my humble opinion.

But while it might require some heroic action to stop obsessively triple-checking my book ck2x3bag before heading off to campus, I will try to take some deep breaths and remember that it’s only temporary. Eventually, I will know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and will spend my energy inventing ways to avoid doing them.
I guess the important thing is…I have new shoes! Bring on the next semester.

Readers: What fresh start do you look forward to? Do you have anxiety dreams?

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean mystery series. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama PhD and other publications. Originally from upstate New York, she now teaches and writes in Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

35 Thoughts

    1. Thank you so much, Edith! I teach literature, writing, and the occasional film class. I love your series with the linguistics professor, btw…

      1. That’s very sweet of you, Cynthia. Lauren Rousseau is on a very long sabbatical right now – because I can’t write four books a year. Who knows, she might be back. Heck, maybe she’s even out on maternity leave!

  1. After years of teaching, and being a student and a mother of students, I always look to September as the start of a new year rather than January. Even now that my children are grown I find myself shopping for school supplies in August. I can’t help it, I need the smell of pencils and crayons and the feel of clean, white paper. I don’t recall having anxiety dreams, I usually save all my anxiety for when I’m awake and can have full-fledged panic attacks! I look forward to reading your latest book!

    1. Kimberly, YES! There’s something so wonderful about fresh paper and supplies–agree completely. Glad you don’t have the anxiety dreams (but that other option is no fun either). 🙂 Thanks for the comments!

    1. Lost rooms…or being in a wrong room…those dreams are frustrating, aren’t they? I don’t know a lot about dream symbolism, but once I read that those room dreams acknowledge something going on in our lives that makes us feel “out of place.” That makes sense, I suppose! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Carol!

  2. It was so nice to share a panel with you at Malice! I have to admit that I get anxious before I travel. I love being other places, even in other countries, but I hate the “getting there” part, whether it’s by car, train or plane. Once I’m on the road, even if it’s only pulling out of my driveway, I’m fine. (And I always overpack!)

    1. Sheila, it was *lovely* to share the panel! Hope we can do another one together in the future. And pre-travel anxiety is no fun…very glad that it dissipates once you begin. Overpacking is being prepared for anything, I always say…as a fellow overpacker. 😉

  3. I always run on a semester schedule, even when I don’t teach. September 1 is new year. Still time to get the calendar year on track, but time for a new planner.

    Your book is on my Kindle, looking forward to reading it!

  4. I still have a dream that I haven’t turned in my homework or that I’ve forgotten the combination to my locker. Your books sounds wonderful!

    1. Thanks, Sherry! Finding it interesting that the “school days” situations persist in a number of our dreams even now–based on the comments here. To ponder.

  5. This will be brilliant – really look forward to reading it! My father was a college professor and I have family members “in the business.” Lots of good stories and lots of fodder in the college/university academic environment. My recurring stress dream is not being able to find my shoes when I have an important meeting where I will be presenting.

    1. Vida, thanks for your kind words! So much material in the academic environment–absolutely agree. And I can imagine how not being able to find shoes with that presentation looming would be a very upsetting dream indeed!

  6. I can identify with the semester start-up jitters and excitement. Meeting a new bunch of students, getting each one into the groove, seeing how they bring their experiences into the material– I love it!! And, yes, the endless intrigue in the corridors of academia. We have no shortage of murder material!

    1. Great description, Kate. I like “jitters” to describe it. And “seeing how they bring their experiences into the material” = YES. (Said this above–forgive the repetition but I really want to know: is your academic mystery out yet? Can’t wait to read it.)

      1. Planted by Ct. T. Collier is up for pre-sale on Amazon (Kindle version). Print version will be available next week from Amazon and Create Space. Watch for an email on Guppies asking for reviews 🙂

  7. My nightmare is that I’m late to a final in psychology, I don’t know where the class is because I cut all semester and I didn’t read the book so I’m wandering around a campus (usually naked) wondering whether I should even both showing up but if it’s multiple choice, what the hell, I might still pass.

    1. Wow, Keenan, there is a whole lot going on in that dream right there! That sounds so stressful. The “If I Show Up, I Might Still Pass” idea = LOL. 🙂

  8. The timing of this post if perfect. I just got a large order from Henery Press, including your book, Cynthia!

    I have anxiety dreams all the time, especially before starting something new like a new job or a new semester. Does that mean I worry too much?

    1. Thanks, Mark–hope you enjoy reading!

      Not sure if anxiety dreams always come from worry or if other things, like excitement, could trigger them too? That would be a happier catalyst. 🙂

  9. I graduated from college more than 30 years ago and for the first 15 or 20 years I had nightmares several times a year. The same nightmare over and over: Queens College registrar called to say I was short credits and had to come back because my degree wasn’t valid. Finally after nearly two decades the nightmare faded into oblivion.

  10. I still have school-related anxiety dreams — I can’t find my locker, I realize that I’ve forgotten to attend a class all semester, or that I’m attending college all over again just for the heck of it. Such a sense of relief to wake up! I really enjoyed The Semester of Our Discontent — it’s a great book!

    1. Celia, I have variations of those too–the one about missing class all semester always haunts me for a whole day afterwards…like a cling-wrapped layer of guilt! It’s amazing how much of a grip those school experiences have on our imaginations.

      (And I’m happy you liked the book–thanks for reading–really appreciate the kind words!)

  11. I think the first day if anything (school, a job, a vacation…) is exciting and yet can be anxiety inducing. I have a tendency to visualize the worst case scenario, however I usually am pleasantly surprised. Great post, I enjoyed it.

    1. MaryAnn, that’s an excellent point, the combination of emotions are powerful. And first days can be so stressful–you’re right. Thanks for your comment!

  12. All these classroom anxiety dreams! Those aren’t mine. Instead, me a world traveler since I was 17, I have flying dreams, usually involving traveling to China (one of the places I have NOT been). The usual late to the airport, the passport is back home, don’t have the ticket, am severely wrongly dressed, etc. The worst are when I’m piloting the damn plane, and I know very well in the dream that I have no training whatsoever to fly it. Terrifying.

    But the Gestalt therapy dream theory I studied in college (majoring in linguistics, of course), all parts of the dream are parts of yourself. You are the terrified unprepared student/teacher/pilot/prey – but you are also the professor/airplane/predator/whatever, and “all you have to do” is integrate that power into your same powerless self. I like that.

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