There’s a song called “Night School” on Rosanne Cash’s new album, and I’ve been listening to it (and its cohorts) on the drive between Fort Wayne and Huntington, where I am teaching (you guessed it) a couple of night classes here at the beginning of the summer.
In a lot of ways, these are perfect classes for me. I get some solo driving time, which is my favorite thing, and I get to teach writing on Mondays and humanities on Wednesdays. Students who take night classes (or “evening classes” in the vernacular of academia) come from varied backgrounds. Some of them are just a few years removed from high school, working in a factory or retail job that has already burned them out and looking for something that uses their minds and not just their bodies. Some of them are forty and have kids and have lived twelve lifetimes since I was born. What they have in common is that they’ve all already lived a whole day before class starts at 5:30.
And me, I basically just woke up. These are the first people I have spoken to all day, unless you count Sebastian, Alexis Davis, or the guy at the Starbucks drive-thru. On a typical work day, I’ve done maybe all or none of these things: run, washed the dishes, sang “Drunk in Love” at the top of my lungs, did some writing, and/or watched General Hospital before IÂ drove to Huntington. The one guarantee is that I’ve spent a lot of time in my head. The transition to work is a little rough at first. These eight people stare at me with their pens poised above their notebooks and expect me to guide them toward something resembling knowledgeâ€”or at least information they can regurgitate on an exam. They’re grownups. I don’t need to tell them to stop talking when it’s time to start class. I don’t need to remind them to bring their books to class. They focus their eyes on me, and for a split second, I can’t remember my own name.
Then it all clicks and we’re off and running. We’re discussing essay lengths and we’re arguing about whether a thing has to be made by a human in order to be called art. They laugh at some of my jokesâ€”not the one about the semi-colonâ€”and they make some of their own. We do our best to concentrate but we can’t ignore the fact that outside, the evening is slipping away. In the summer, the evenings last longer, but by the time we’re done, the evening has pretty much become night.
On the drive home, I reflect, as I am wont to do, on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Am I making these people’s lives better? It feels like my day is just beginning, but it is almost 10 p.m. when I get home. The neighborhood is settling in for the night, and I am alone in my thoughts again. It’s a strange weekday existence, but I don’t mind it. I am made for just a few hours of human interaction a day. At the end of the day, I take out my laptop and spend a couple hours typing away, half-working and half-watching TV, before I head to bed with a novel.
This isn’t the night school of Rosanne Cash’s lyrics. There’s no romance here: no longing or nostalgia and certainly no “hungry ghosts.” It’s a good song, though, on a great album that is perfect for drives in the country at the beginning of the summer.