Monday, August 23, 2010

Into the Great Wide Open

I guess I am, by nature, what is known as a "morning person." At least, I was until I got to college.

I'll get back to that in a minute. First, permit me to reminisce a bit.

I grew up in central Arkansas, a state that is on the outskirts of the South geographically but (unlike Texas) is far more Southern than Western in its attitudes, climate, accents and other things.

Arkansas had its pluses and its minuses, I guess, and there were certain aspects of life there that I didn't like, but one of the things I did like about living in Arkansas was the fact that there was always a time in the early hours of the morning when the temperature was cool and the air was still.

Sometimes — for example, during an unseasonably hot stretch of weather in the summer — that time was brief. But if you happened to be awake at that time, it was an ideal time to think, to meditate, without fear of interruption.

In the fall and the spring, that time was considerably longer, and I used to enjoy waking up before anyone else in the household, opening the window in my bedroom and smelling the freshness in the early morning air.

Sometimes I went over the homework assignment I thought I had completed the night before — and, on more than one occasion, I discovered and corrected mistakes I had made. To this day, I believe that some of the grades I received when I was in junior high and high school were better than they would have been if I had opted to sleep an extra hour on some mornings.

Well, I am reminded of things like that this morning for a couple of reasons, one of which is that I awoke around 5 o'clock this morning.

The reason I did was simple. It's just been too darn hot here in Dallas the last three or four weeks.

Now, I know it gets hot in Dallas. I used to visit Dallas in the summers when I was a child. My grandparents lived here. Many of my parents' friends still lived here. And I know that, occasionally, the temperatures get into triple digits.

Most of the time the temperatures stay in the 90s. That's hot but not unpleasantly so. The heat index might get into triple digits, which makes it more uncomfortable, but the actual temperature usually doesn't. And, at night, it usually cools off enough that I can sleep.

But, lately, we've been getting into the 100s every day (with nighttime lows in the 80s). The air conditioning is running constantly — and the only thing that scares me more than the anticipation of my utility bill these days is my fear that my air conditioning will go out on me.

(It's happened to me before, about six years ago, in August. I struggled to sleep for four nights before the apartment management replaced my air conditioning unit. The memory of that time is incentive enough to hope and pray it never happens again.)

When I got up this morning, the temperature was 86°.

Today's going to be another scorcher, with a projected high of 105°. But, if the forecasts are correct, the temperatures will be going down gradually as the week progresses. Tomorrow, the forecast high in downtown Dallas is 99°. Currently (and that is definitely a crucial word when one speaks of Texas weather), forecasts call for highs of 94° on Wednesday, 96° on Thursday, 95° on Friday, 92° on Saturday and 95° on Sunday.

That's not jacket weather, but, after nearly a month of 100–plus–degree days, the difference should be noticeable.

And, what's even better, after tonight the nighttime lows are projected to be mostly in the 70s. The forecasts I've seen call for a low of 73° on Thursday night. I don't know if it will drop to that level or not — this is Dallas, after all, and it is August.

That doesn't help me right now, though.

Today — actually, tonight — I will be starting a new job as an adjunct journalism instructor at the nearby community college campus. I probably could use another hour or so of sleep, but I'm awake. Wide awake.

And I'm nervous. Without going into too much detail, I taught journalism on the university level in Oklahoma many years ago, but I gravitated away from both journalism and teaching. In the last couple of years, though, I have been out of work, like millions of other Americans, and the opportunity came up to teach journalism again.

Originally, I was supposed to teach two journalism courses this semester — news writing and news editing. Unfortunately, one (news editing) had low enrollment so it was canceled. I agreed to teach something I have never taught before — developmental writing — which meets for the first time tomorrow.

The news writing class meets tonight. And I'm nervous about that, but it's the kind of nervousness you have when you're about to do something you haven't done in a long time.

Developmental writing meets tomorrow, and, if anything, I am more nervous about that because it is a subject I have never taught before. Perhaps it is something that is better suited for someone with academic training in English. Then, again, perhaps these students can benefit from learning the basics of writing from someone with a journalism background.

I guess I will see.

I said earlier that my tendency is to be a morning person. That changed in college, when I found myself staying up all night to finish stories for my journalism classes or to study for major exams. Then I got my first newspaper job, which had more traditional hours (it was an afternoon paper), but I often found myself having to work at night so, rather than pay time and a half, the newspaper would compensate me in the form of time off during the day. Sometimes that made for short nights.

After two years of that, I took a job with a large metro paper, working on the sports staff as a copy editor. It was a morning paper so I worked nights. The hours varied, but, most nights, I didn't get home until after 1 o'clock. I kept my curtains closed because I couldn't run home and jump into bed. I need to wind down, and I didn't want to be wakened after about four hours.

So I got into the habit of sleeping late for the next 4½ years. Then I moved to Texas to work on my master's degree. And I got a job working at the newspaper, which was an afternoon paper, but editors had to be at work before the sun came up on weekdays in order to get everything done.

And the difference in my lifestyle was — literally — night and day.

After I got my master's, I took the job teaching journalism. And I enjoyed it, although I always felt I got mixed results. But, after my mother was killed in a flash flood, I felt the need to be close to my father, who had been injured in the flood but survived. And I returned to Dallas.

I worked as a writer/editor for a trade magazine for a couple of years, but after that, I sort of gravitated away from journalism.

Now, I'm about to return to the classroom. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm nervous about it at the same time.

I guess, when you combine my nervousness with my tendency to be a morning person, I'd be up early, anyway, even if it wasn't as hot as it has been. And I'll probably be waking up early every day until I feel more relaxed.