Adult Education: A Neverending Curriculum

A wave of stale high school sweat wafted over me as I opened the door to the gym. Last week I started a community adult ed class for circuit weight training. I’ve taken a lot of classes over the years – everything from Chinese ink painting to yoga to first aid.

It’s always the same. There’s a group of people who have been taking the class together since the dawn of time, who smell new blood in the water. I end up on email lists,  preceded by an onslaught of handshaking introductions, and unsolicited advice. I take classes because most of them are local, relatively cheap, and I am likely to walk away with something I didn’t have before – a broadened perspective.

I believe in lifelong learning and not as a euphemism for what retired people do. It’s what we all do if we’re paying attention. Not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new – about myself or others or the world around me.

*****

It’s been a week of talking people down from trees. This is when the concept of “sandwich generation” hits me like a ton of bricks.

canstockphoto21347802.jpgThe week became about moments. My daughter is now in that world of preteen entanglements – friendships fraught with shifting loyalties. As an adult, I want to laugh it off for all its impermanence, but I know that her present moment is intense and painful. There are tears and conversations and hugs. I try to remember what it was like to be that age. I am not confident in my ability to teach her, but I tap into all that I know to offer her ideas and options. Sometimes I just try to make her laugh. This morning she told me that she dreamed she was being made fun of by high schoolers and that I beat them up. I try to be measured and wise, but sometimes all she hears is that I care. Violently so, apparently.

My mother-in-law was moved to a better room at the nursing home, triggering a cascade of cognitive impairment, common with dementia. She still remembers to call. Pick me up. Take me home. I’m at the casino. The staff expressed concern. She keeps hovering over her roommate, worried that she’s not getting fed. She wants to make sure the baby is okay. There is no baby. We make big decorative signs that say it’s her room. My husband or I visit her twice a day to remind her where she’s at. A palpable sense of relief comes over her when she sees us. At that moment, we are her home.

*****

canstockphoto8525201It might have been the setting, but with 700 stringed instruments, a gym was the only place to have the concert. One of the music teachers exhorted audience members to create an orchestra hall environment by turning off the sound on their cell phones and asking them to pay attention to the performances.

It seems like common sense, but over the last year, I’ve heard Bach and Mozart accompanied by ringtones and followed by hooting, whistling and hollering as if we’d just witnessed a professional wrestling match.

If I’m a snob, I come by it honestly. Growing up poor meant that live performances of music, theater or comedy were a treat. When money is tight, seeing the Cleveland String Quartet is a special occasion. Tickets to many events are expensive. We dressed up, used our best manners and treated the performers with awe.

There is something to the idea of making music accessible to a wider audience by not having etiquette expectations. Which is fine, until you slosh your drink down my back and do a shrill whistle in my ear to let your friends know where you are sitting. Or I can’t see the stage because of all the cell phone ambient lighting and cameras flashing around me. It’s an I hate people moment that I wrestle with every time I go to live performances these days.

My daughter said “Mom, sometimes I feel like crying when I hear live music.” Music does the same thing to me. The start of a symphony or a choir or an acoustic band sends chills up my spine. The ability of human beings to create such beauty, to cooperate and harmonize – this is an amazing thing.

Besides the love of my family and the natural world, the rhapsody of live music is the closest thing to faith that I experience. Hence the conflict between a roller derby audience and what I feel. But gratitude comes in all forms and I have to remind myself of that, next time someone yells woo-hoo! in my ear.

*****

This morning I struggled to write a letter. For several years, I’ve sponsored a girl in Ethiopia who is my daughter’s age through Save the Children. I know there are people who do more than I’ve managed, but I’ve told myself that at least I’m doing something. Perhaps too easy and too convenient, but something.

Ethiopia is now going through a terrible drought. The child I sponsor lists “fetching water” as a typical daily activity. I look at her picture. Her eyes are big, but her body thin. Her shirt has a tear in it. She does not smile. She wants to be a teacher.canstockphoto11235653

I fetch another cup of coffee. I’m thinking about taking a shower. I wash my hands and brush my teeth. Each moment, water taken for granted. What do you say to someone who cannot take water for granted? What do I say to a child in Ethiopia or in Flint, Michigan for that matter? My discomfort in writing a simple letter is nothing.

*****

canstockphoto8176108As I walked tonight, the crows swooped and raucously cackled as I crossed the park. The wind was cold and sharp on my face. The world expanded around me and I exhaled.

Sometimes the weight of my insecurities and fears presses down on me. I hear the voices that tell me that I’m a failure, that what I do matters little, that I’ll never be good enough.

Those thoughts are always there, flapping at the edges of my brain, trying to get my attention. A good week is when I feel strong and intentional and do nothing more than wave them off. This week, I invited them around a campfire. The s’mores of self-loathing were cooking away.

Like the crows, though, I know those thoughts are never going to stay. They can make all the noise in the world and that’s all it is, just noise to distract us from our true intentions. Sort of like politics these days.canstockphoto1392244

Spring couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Wishing you a sense of renewal and happy intentions this week!

41 Comments on “Adult Education: A Neverending Curriculum

  1. My sponsored child, who lives in Barranquilla Colombia, just had a baby of her own. She is 15 and being raised by a single mother herself. We started sponsoring her as a Brownie troop when my now-16-yo daughter was around 8. I intend to keep sponsoring her; she needs my sponsorship more than ever. But I have also struggled with what to write to her, and so far it has been, nothing.

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    • I have not written to my child much. I’m starting sponsorship with a 2nd child and decided that I wanted to put a little more effort into writing both of them. It may have little impact on their lives, but sometimes it’s just one more voice telling them they matter. When I focus on writing a letter that is sensitive their socioeconomic situations, it reminds me of how grateful I am for my life. It’s not ever truly altruistic, since I have something to gain as well.

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  2. Wow! It sounds like you have a lot going on right now. Great big hugs to you and kudos for staying strong and for writing it all out!

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    • Thank you. When I write about it, it does seem like a lot. Still, I recognize that it’s just life and that I am grateful that I’m in a position to care for others and to sort myself out as I go.

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  3. I think it is wonderful to adopt the posture of being a lifelong learner, which demonstrates flexibility, open-mindedness, and enthusiasm! As far as the “I hate people” moments when watching musical performances, that is the reason I stopped going to movie theatres (mainly the cell phone activity was what bothered me) and watching Netflix or Amazon movies at home. You seem to be holding your own. Congratulations!

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    • Thank you. That’s sort of what it’s all about – “holding our own”, isn’t it? I consider it progress that I know for certain that whatever thoughts I’m having, whatever chaos is around me, I’ll come out of the other side. Some weeks are just a little more tiring than others.

      I avoid theaters because I can’t stand the volume – it renders the whole experience unpleasant. I find the use of cell phones during a live performance less forgivable than all the hooting and hollering. It seems disrespectful to me, but I’m also becoming an outstanding cranky old lady.

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  4. “Sometimes the weight of my insecurities and fears presses down on me.”

    Sometimes I feel the weight – and that’s a good thing. Sometimes, feeling how I feel is not that easy. Sometimes the construction work of shoring up the foundations makes it less obvious to me how I feel.

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    • I’ve been actively working with the thought processes that serve as obstacles in my life. When I get too busy or stop paying attention, fears and anxiety come down on me like a ton of bricks. It usually serves as a reminder that mindfulness is the next step to recover my footing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll keep the phrase “shoring up the foundations” in mind – it’s a good visual!

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  5. Well done on sponsoring a child. I guess anything that you might consider mundane and she would consider exotic would be interesting to her. Maybe even dropping a ticket stub or the flyer for the course description for your circuit weight training class in the envelope could be interesting.

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  6. You or your husband visit m-in-law twice a day? Wow! Reminds me of the Gibran line that “work is love made visible.” Those visits are work! When I showed up at “Independence Court”–ha–my dad always looked as though somebody had just thrown him a life preserver. Anyway, it sounds to me like your deeds are multiplied by your care. Peace, John

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    • We deliberately found a nursing home close to us. She lived a few blocks away from us for many years, so we were grateful to still be relatively close. The last year was more challenging, because we had to be concerned so much about her safety when she was living independently. I visited daily to help her through a physical therapy routine. A visit to her nursing home, where she is safe and she goes to physical therapy, leaves us free just to visit and enjoy her company.

      And John, you’re right about deeds multiplying. My daughter has been witness to how to love and care for the elderly, as well as someone with dementia. These are lessons in action and I feel fortunate that our family has had this experience and time together.

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      • Oh, man, what a gift to your daughter. Being centered enough not to be anxious (i.e. freaked out) while interacting with somebody whose behavior is erratic will help her in so many situations–as you well know, I’m sure. (As a side note, I want you to know I always appreciate how well you write. Please understand praise for your work is implied all the time.) John

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  7. I really like your wording and the imagery it brings up. I too, get those nagging thoughts, (like the crows swooping down) telling me I should be panicking about something; I’ve been through plenty of bad things so I know it’s possible something bad may be around the corner. After all, my son is still 19. The “smores of self-loathing” tell me I can’t just be content, I need to be ready. I need to imagine all the horrible that could happen because it just MAY happen, soon. Maybe they’re telling me I don’t deserve to enjoy the happy moments. But I fight it. As I’m sure you do. There is much to be thankful for.

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    • What you described is what I think of as the “when is the other shoe going to drop” wariness. I’ve been trying to recognize that it is anxiety that absolutely eats up the present moment, sucking the joy right out of it. I’ve thought this way my whole life, so the work to lessen its impact is tough.
      And YES – the idea that we don’t deserve to be happy is toxic. I’ve been working through the “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris. It has been really useful to me, giving me a lot to think about in terms of dealing with all those habitual and detrimental thoughts. I have gratitude that I’m ready to do the work. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and your own particular “crows”!

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  8. Sorry to hear about your nursing home challenge. Your attempts to uplift others amidst this challenge is admirable

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  9. Ah, sublime thoughts Michelle. “The start of a symphony or a choir or an acoustic band sends chills up my spine. The ability of human beings to create such beauty, to cooperate and harmonize – this is an amazing thing.”
    I hear ya! Collaborative creative efforts are intense, so unlike the work of a writer or visual artist–yet not completely. We also draw off of each other’s energy and work just not generally in groups! Thanks for all the random thoughtfulness this post.

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    • Thank you , Ilona. I laughed a little when I read this, because being who I am, I immediately thought, well, maybe it makes up for my random un-thoughtfulness.
      I am very fortunate to live with a growing musician, because I get to go to so many performances, both school-related and professional. But it does tap into the misanthropist in me when seeing some of the concert attendance behaviors. I just have to focus on the beauty of the music.

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      • Yes, husband and I love live music, but usually pass on the large arena performances. We much prefer the smaller theaters and outdoor venues in our area.

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        • We love the outdoor music festivals. Nothing better that acoustic music under a starry night or small stage performances. We no longer go to stadium/arena concerts. The tickets are incredibly expensive and then there are the people…

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  10. So much in this post! I’ll focus on the parts about the ‘live music’. As a performing classical (tho not limited to that genre) musician, I appreciate your understanding of audience etiquette, but more importantly am encouraged by your ‘spine-chilling’ reactions to it.
    Thank you for supporting the arts by attending live concerts/music shows.

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    • Our family is made up of musicians, former and present, and my daughter is an emerging violist, so perhaps that makes us appreciate even more the efforts needed to create music. When people talk about spending money on experiences, as opposed to material possessions, this is where we’ve made our choice. And summer is coming up – my favorite 3 things combined: family, being outside and music festivals!

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  11. Self-loathing is the worst. I wake up like that several times a week. What is my subconscious doing to me while I’m sleeping??!!

    Music and dancing (and trees) are the best. If there is a heaven, it must have music, dancing, and trees.

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    • Very funny, John! My self-loathing is an unwelcome shadow that follows me around, just waiting for me to feel slightly good about myself and then leaping out and yelling “Surprise, you big loser!”
      And don’t forget books – lots of music and books must be in paradise!

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  12. I came back today from a very long absence. I saw your title in my reader and said, “Wow.” I have missed reading your posts. Graduation is a little over a month away and I feel completely wrung out after this last go ’round of adult education. Soon I will be in Romania doing something I never thought possible. We must keep learning. All the best to you, Michelle.

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  13. The Piggy Roller Derby Audience. **shudder**
    The Self-Loathing Bully has been whispering in my ear all week. It’s exhausting. I hope you’re getting some sleep.

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    • It’s funny you should mention sleep – I’m on a restless sleeping kick that is exhausting. Still, life is slow enough at the moment to work through these things and occasionally nap. Give that bully a timeout – tell it to just go sit in the corner, the little bastard, you have better things to do. Hang in there, Sandy and remember that crows are bullies until you flail your arms at them. Cowards, every single one…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Interesting post! It’s like a snapshot into your mind. Good stuff!

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  15. The last bit moved me a lot. I call them demons but your description of crows seems to touch the core. Maybe because the word ‘demon’ gives those feelings too much credit. Flapping and crackling seems to fit them extremely well.

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    • Demons always remind me of exorcism, with all its creepy implications. It has taken me a long time to realize that there is no getting rid of them, just managing them, sometimes befriending them, but mostly getting to the point of giving them an eye roll and moving on.

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  16. Everything about this post moves me deeply, for reasons I am finding difficult to put into words. I thank you for all of it.

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    • Thanks, Alice. I’m having some difficulty finding words these days myself, as evidenced by the lateness of this reply. It feels like a repeat of fall melancholy in my head, despite spring finally reaching Minnesota. My depressive brain knows no seasons!

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  17. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. I thought your writing was descriptive and enjoyable. The classes you have taken are extremely diverse in nature which allows for broad range of audience to enjoy.
    Thank you for sharing. I am in the process of setting up a page and will be posting soon about my experiences enduring college during middle age.
    KellsBells

    http://kellyemens.wordpress.com

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