My Pilates instructor is a spring chicken, and my writing coach is young too, just thirty-nine years old, younger than either of our children. Still, They are teaching me.
Since childhood, we have been conditioned to think of our teachers as older than we are. Such a perspective probably was formed in elementary school when our teachers were the age of our mothers or fathers. And then in high school, if we’re honest, some of those 45-year-old faculty looked absolutely ancient to us. I imagine I was viewed as an older sister when at Lancaster Mennonite School I was a mere four years older than my senior students. As I aged in my teaching profession, in my students’ eyes I may have passed for a mother or aunt, and later, in my sixties, students at the college must have viewed me as a grandmother or great-aunt.
Now after more than forty years in education, I am well into an encore career as a writer. To support such a sedentary life-style, I need to get off my duff and twist and turn, bob and weave, flexing muscles that get very little use otherwise as I finger the back-lighted black keys of my laptop, warming a pillowed chair. Ananda at Bailey’s Gym helps me do that. On her Pilates mat in front of a class of middle-aged women, she is as flexible as a rubber band, inviting us into poses of bold bends that I can at best only approximate. Gentle and petite in nature, this native of Colombia helps me correct my efforts.
“Ma-ri-ann, eez this way . . . extend your left leg a lee-tle further.” And so, I adjust my appendages to comply with her instructions, but not without cringing a little. Yes, though Ananda is ever so easy-going and gracious, I do chafe at being singled out for wrong moves. After all, she called out my name. Everyone else heard that I messed up! Still, I know I will bring out my exercise mat next week and sit for another session with her gentle but precise guidance.
Then, there’s Benjamin, my writing coach. A poet, gardener, and memoir-writer, Ben Vogt is my writing teacher in an online course entitled All in the Family: Research and Write Your Family’s History. He too is gentle, introspective, always affirming. But he is also incisive, biting into the scripts I send him with loud barks in return, always in caps: HOW BIG IS MEDIUM? YOU’VE GOT TO BE FAR MORE DETAILED AND DESCRIPTIVE FOR US . . .
And on the next page, I see more yelling in loud crescendo as I notice I have missed the mark trying to describe what my Mennonite pastor was wearing: LET’S SEE THE WARDROBE WITH MORE DETAILS – NAME THE CLOTHING PARTS MORE, SHOW SHOW SHOW! To be fair, every once in a while I see that I have succeeded: “GREAT PARAGRAPH!” he shouts in all caps. He is thrilled when I use sensory detail (All five senses now!) to properly develop a scene instead of resorting to flabby adjectives. Then I’m both surprised – and pleased.
What is the point here? I am submitting to tutelage because I want to. I believe there is way more for me to learn. I’m not a finished product, and probably will never be, so I need more priming and polishing from folks expert in their fields. Why? Because I don’t have the insight to see how or where my efforts have gone awry. And, yes, these tutors can be younger, way younger, than I am.
Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?
Have you not learn’d great lessons from those who reject you, and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?
Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass
Of course, neither Ananda nor Ben have ever rejected me or treated me with the slightest bit of contempt, but each has sought to “dispute the passage with [me],” and though it is uncomfortable, even painful at times, I have benefited from these lessons. Indeed, I am learning lessons from them and others. Learning. Still.
Are you are lifelong learner? How or when have you learned from “teachers” of any age? Inquiring minds want to know . . .
Coming next: Faraway Friends: Kitsa & Lydia