by Daniel Bayer
I leave the house, hoisting my backpack as I head towards the campus, past the restaurants and bars at the corner of Walker and Elam. The sidewalks are empty this early; now and then a bicyclist passes, and slowly I’m joined by others as I cross the Chapman Street intersection. By the time I reach University Village, a block from UNCG, I’m one of a line of students moving slowly through the muggy August air. My calves and Achilles tendons ache; I’ve only walked about half a mile, maybe less, but I’m not used to this much physical exertion every day. My breathing labors as I cross Aycock Street and walk past the softball field.
Becoming a full-time college student at 47 wasn’t a decision I made lightly.
I’d gone back before, almost a decade ago. After leaving my last newspaper job, I went to Randolph Community College for an associates degree in photojournalism. Somehow that was different, though. The plan was to use my photography degree to further my journalism career, but I found the experience to be enjoyable in and of itself, aided by the fact that I lived in a collective house with young people from backgrounds where one wasn’t necessarily expected to forego a creative life in favor of more utilitarian concerns. It was a wonderful time, full of new friends and experiences.
I walk into class and take my seat. It’s British Authors, Romantic to Modern. I’ve never been much into Wordsworth and Coleridge, or poetry in general, but I notice that the Romantics’ obsession with the wonders of nature mirrors the same in the Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles.” I wonder if Shaggy Too Dope and Violent J are fans of 18th Century British bards. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. I don’t bother to bring up my theory in class, though.
As I walk from one class to another I notice a distinct lack of middle-aged students. In my first week on campus I only see two others who appear close to my age. Makes sense; most people in their forties probably attend school at night or online, studying around adult responsibilities such as family, career, mortgages and the like, and can’t really afford to toss it all out the window to become full-time students. I didn’t have much of an adult life to give up, though. No wife or kids, still living in the same house that I resided in when I went to community college and a delivery job that was draining me, financially and otherwise. I had nothing to lose by packing it in and going back to school. Again.
The next class is American Politics. I have a leg up on this one. I was an activist for years, covered local issues as a journalist and argue politics on Facebook almost every day. (I’ve tried to be clever in choosing my classes for my first semester, picking ones that I think I’ll be good at so as to get my scholastic career off to a successful start). The professor breaks us up into groups to discuss the merits or lack thereof of different healthcare delivery systems around the world. Contrary to the hell-in-a-handbasket hand-wringing of pontificators and pundits, the students in this class don’t appear to be any dumber than my cohorts and I were at their age, and are maybe even a bit more serious; the class weisenheimer appears to have become an endangered species. Can’t say I blame ’em. They’ve known nothing but international conflict and economic stagnation since they were toddlers, a far cry from the carefree days of hair metal and Pac-Man that my generation enjoyed.
Outside of class, I don’t really talk to other students. I didn’t come here to make friends necessarily, but it would be nice to feel at least somewhat in sync with those around me, a little less alone. I attend an interest meeting for the school literary magazine, but it’s short and most of the talk centers around how to get published and establish a career as a writer or artist. I sign up for an email list and leave.
As I’m walking home I see a mob of students marching across the campus, chanting something indistinguishable. I think it has something to do with Take Back the Night. Then it occurs to me: Whatever our common interests, all this stuff is new for these young people. Getting published, passionately throwing themselves into activism and/or romance — they’ve got a million things to look forward to, things I’ve already done and left behind.
I hoist my backpack again and begin the walk back to the house, feeling a little older than I did this morning.
Daniel Bayer is a musician and writer who lives in Greensboro.