Back to Learning
Do you envy the kids, just a little bit, as they load up on school supplies, dress up in new clothes and walk to the corner to meet the school bus?
Maybe not the school bus part of the proposition. At least for me.
My first day on the school bus, which coincided with my first day at a new and distant all-girls’ high school, ranks as one of my life’s traumas in a minor key. Those were the days before backpacks, and we carried our books in our arms as if they were cafeteria trays. As I mounted the steps, my pile cascaded to the ground. Laughter contorted the faces at every window and poured out of the open door of the bus.
The rest of the ritual shimmers with promise, especially if you’re revisiting it in nostalgia rather than living it in real time. For that early autumn moment, the universe was as well ordered as a box of freshly sharpened, unchewed pencils with resilient erasers; new well-pointed crayons; and a three-ring binder with section separators so everything had its place.
So when writer Jane Elkin told me she’d gone back to school to learn to fly — and fly ultralights of all crafts — I said story!
Which is just what she was hoping.
Elkin is one of those nimble women (of whom I’ve known and admired quite a number) who rise to the challenge of mastery like rockfish to Dennis Doyle’s bait, as he reports in this week’s Sporting Life column. Elkin gets into things, and not just any old thing.
You won’t find her taking up stretch and sewing, like a beloved old friend who was another of those women. No, Jane throws herself into things that require expertise. You don’t fly an ultralight poorly.
Jane gave the same discipline and dedication to French, handwriting analysis and singing, taking them to professional levels.
Imagine the torment a perfectionist — and she’s likely one — must feel in the ungainly stages of learning a new skill. She describes a bit of that as her flight lessons progress and she finds she’s not a bird.
Not doing very well is undeniably one of the stages of learning a new skill. Nobody wants to go there, for a thread in the motivation of every learner of a new skill, I suspect, is the hope that you’ll strike a vein of genius.
When The Golf Club at South River opened and offered lessons with a woman pro, deep down I believed I’d tap into the potential glimpsed by golf pro Tony Henschel, my mother’s friend who tried to interest me in the game way back when I was a girl.
I didn’t. Nor could I coil a pot. Nor manage pastels.
On the other hand, I’m slowly getting a feel for watercolor. And all those painful drawing classes of recent years, when teachers forced me to draw draperies and cornices, seem to be paying off. I’m good enough at quick sketching — with its lax rules — to love it. Best of all, in master human face and form artist Gerry Valerio’s figure-drawing workshop, I could turn off my brain and let my hand feel and capture the model’s form.
The other day, opportunity headed me into a bead store. Now, again for the first time, I’m restringing my broken necklaces and bracelets, redesigning gingerly as I go.
Unlike Jane, I’m not a perfectionist. I’m not going to sing anywhere, let alone in the choir of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Plus, I’m kind of awkward.
But like that rockfish, I rise to the bait of learning new things, from tying knots (nautical as well as ornamental) to drawing nudes.
The world is full of classrooms and teachers. Diana Beechener leads you to a number of them in her feature this week, Class Is In. You can find many more on your own, by following your nose or your interests.
Walk into a yarn shop, bead shop, specialty grocery or nursery and you’re likely to find schedules of classes waiting to take you to new heights — and depths.
Your continuing education — for pleasure as well as skills — is a thriving sector of the economy. Old enterprises are boosting income by adding classes. Recognizing that we’re a population hungry to keep on learning, entrepreneurs make it their business to teach us how to do all sorts of things we’ve missed.
School is starting. Maybe this fall is your time to soar.