The Magic of Grown-Up Back-To-School Shopping

This morning I woke up and realized it was mid-August which brought me unbridled joy. First, because we know I hate summer, and every day closer to the end of this month is another day closer to autumn, which is my time to shine and thrive, thank you. But second (and most importantly), because it reminded me of my always-favourite time of year: back to school. And with it, the illusion that going back to school shopping will morph us all into the people we’ve decided to be.

Fresh slates are exciting. They give us the chance to be the people we believe to be better versions of the people we actually are, and they afford us the myth that a date or time will change everything for the best, forever (despite us also knowing that isn’t true). But the older we get, the less we get them. Because where childhood and our teen years and twenties offered milestones like new school years, new semesters, new apartments (at least more frequently), new cities, and new jobs, finding our groove as we’ve grown up has made us more confident in who we are and have decided to be, which means we need blank slates a little less.

Except I would still like them all the time, please. The myth that a calendar date or professional milestone will erase the bad parts of my life and open the doors to the 32-year-old equivalent of being flirty, thirty, and thriving is a mental reprieve I desperately need. I work best when given a goal, and I work even better when operating under the concept that I can bookend periods of my life and move on into new, fresh chapters. It doesn’t matter that I know that life doesn’t work this way, and it doesn’t matter that I know time is a construct and I could start a new phase whenever I wanted. What matters is that set beginnings and endings give me the illusion of control. Like back-to-school and September and the new year’s equivalent-feelings they bring. This is who I’m going to be this year, I think to myself every August, rifling through fall clothing and mentally categorizing what I plan to wear with what. This summer version of myself is only temporary.

Summer has always felt static, suspended in time as we exist under the umbrella of “Who cares?” Days and weekends and holidays feel like montages of non-productivity, especially as our tendency to do as little as possible is met with approval from everybody else (read: everyone in general) who are doing the same. And I hate it. I need structure, I need plans, I need to know what time we’re meeting and where. Which is why I love so autumn so much: it’s, to quote You’ve Got Mail, bouquets of freshly-sharpened pencils, referenced while carrying pumpkins down the street while the Cranberries play. It’s the universe throwing a bone and saying that while you may have felt like garbage all summer, that garbage will subside and you will be left as the bright and shiny version of you. The one you bought all those clothes for.

This summer has been weird. It’s felt like the worst parts of every summer tossed together, with only “Ugh, at least it’ll end soon” serving as a usable mantra. So to cope, I’ve done what I’ve done at the end of every summer when I’m ready to bid it adieu: I’ve gone back-to-school shopping. And while I will not be going back to school at any point in the foreseeable future, I’ve decided the practice of picking up pieces I know will suit the version of myself I need and want to be is helpful. It keeps me looking forward. It makes me feel less like I’m not in control. It suggests that despite 32 years of knowing otherwise, this autumn will change everything and blank slate the shit out of my life. It’s something to work towards. It’s the costume for a person you haven’t met yet, but who you’re ready to step into. It’s power through a mini-backpack, or through sneakers, or through a denim jacket. And it’s the magic of wondering what you’ll experience in your new back-to-school wardrobe because you’ve never worn it before. Or even more exciting: what you’ll be capable of.


Tags: Anne T. Donahue

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