It’s that time of year again, and I’m joining the back-to-school crowd with a few new learning projects of my own. For 25 years straight, my life followed a school schedule, and though I’m no longer a student or teacher at school, old habits die hard.
I mentioned last week that I’ve recently started sewing lessons. Lately, I find myself drawn towards traditional activities that every person used to know, out of necessity, how to do, like gardening and basic construction. Hence my never-ending home improvement projects, last year’s herb garden (you should see my basil this year–it’s so happy since I put it in a bigger pot!), and now with the sewing. Come the apocalypse, I don’t want to die as a result of my own lack of skills in these basic areas. Or, you know, greet our zombie overlords in any non-cute clothes.
It’s not like I haven’t taken sewing lessons before. We did a unit on sewing in 10th-grade Home Ec, and my mom, who is an excellent seamstress, tried to teach me, and I’ve made forays into the world of fabric and thread many times on my own, in various bursts of unaccountable optimism. It never took. I can replace your toilet no problem; my sewing projects generally look like a drunk monkey put them together with its own three hands. I am, shall we say, challenged when it comes to kinesthetic learning. It takes me a long time and a lot of practice to learn physical things. The concepts seem straightforward enough, but something gets garbled between brain and hands, and despite my best efforts, things never quite work out the way I want them to, or the way I see them in my head.
But I am trying to overcome that. And as I love clothes, and am tired of being at the mercy of cheapass, unoriginal, and overly expensive plus-size retailers, I’d like to have the option of DIYing it if I can learn to sew. We’ve spent the first two lessons creating a customized pattern to perfectly fit my particular and abundant curves, and I have the fabric picked out for two skirts. I should have something wearable within the next two lessons, and I haven’t cried at the sewing machine yet. A new personal best for me!
In addition to sewing, I’ve been learning to play the ukulele. Beth and I made my uke several years ago now, and it sat, lonesome, in my guitar cabinet while I struggled along with guitar, never taking the time to learn ukulele because I had so much to learn on guitar. While that situation hasn’t changed, and I’m still learning new things on guitar all the time, I decided I’d really like to learn to play my beautiful uke, so I joined a uke meetup group. I’m the youngest ukester during the weekday sessions by at least 30 years, as it’s mostly retirees, and there are not a lot of retirees my age. There’s one other lady close to my age that I’ve seen at the Sunday gatherings. The songs we play are pretty easy, and that’s just what I’ve needed to learn where the chords are on this new instrument, so it’s been pretty beneficial so far. It’s no longer a foreign instrument.
And I’ve been corresponding in Spanish with an internet pal to slow the appalling atrophy of my second-language skills. Foreign language is very much a use-it-or-lose-it proposition, and once I quit teaching, where I used it every day, I started losing it fast. The occasional conversation with random wrong numbers and strangers I’ve discovered don’t speak English isn’t enough to keep the rust off. At first, I found myself looking up tons of words in the diccionario, and taking forever to write in Spanish, but with every exchange, it goes faster, and now I’m more likely to look things up in the dictionary to check my memory, rather than to find a completely unknown word. And I’m happy to find that I’m right more often than not. The more I write in Spanish, the more it seems to prime the pump, and vocabulary comes back to me bit by bit, stuff I’m surprised I ever knew. I grow more confident all the time, and am feeling like I’m no longer at such a great risk for losing my Spanish. I’ll have to find an outlet to practice spoken Spanish, too, in time. Writing is great, but I need to pick up my speed. Ain’t nobody got time for me to consult my dictionary and 12 verb tenses mid-conversation. And I need a refresher on subjunctive usage, and verbs that change meaning in the preterite. Fortunately, I’m a trained Spanish teacher, and can provide these booster lessons for myself.
The funny thing about all this stuff is that it’s an odd time of life for me to be picking up new things (or refreshing old ones), considering age and hormones are conspiring to make my brain, and my memory, less reliable than in the past. But it feels good to really stretch my mind, and challenge it. For years, at work, the only mental challenges I had were bad ones, mostly dealing with the interpersonal workplace drama, politics, and the consequences of variable competence amongst my fellow inmates. There was nothing that really pushed me mentally and woke me up. And even when I had to really focus on something, it was nothing new; it was merely painstaking. I hadn’t realized how true that was until I started up with all this stuff and revisited the joy of really concentrating hard on something new, and the feeling of accomplishment with each new baby step forward. Of making mistakes, and knowing they were part of the process. Of playing a Spanish song on my ukulele in a fabulous new skirt.
Well, it may be awhile before that last one happens, but I’m on my way. And, I hope, keeping my mind reasonably agile going into the latter half of my life.
So what about y’all? Learning anything new lately?