Thursday, November 5, 2015


Long before “Lifelong Learning” became an educational policy, I’d enrolled.

So, most likely, did every one of you.

Think about it—we start out as totally dependent infants with only a few ways to communicate, mainly bawling our heads off. When we get satisfaction—food, clean diaper, a cuddle—we have learned how to get what we want.

From there, it’s easy-peasy. New stuff comes along every minute—noises, voices; lights, darkness; tasty foods, icky foods; same with smells; and tactile delights, or not. Learning is innate, not an option. That is, if you’re going to survive.

So lifelong learning has always been with us. It just got discovered, or rediscovered, and made into a virtue. And, as I said, an educational policy.

How do we learn? Let me count the ways . . . books, films, one-on-one teaching; observation (my youngest daughter asserts that she was “the good child” because she watched her older siblings get into trouble for this, that, and the other, and decided it wasn’t worth doing); osmosis (this is probably what the philosophers meant when they tried to say we become what we are by Nurture, not Nature); even deliberate choice.

What we retain, however, is probably only dependent on ourselves—our intent to remember what we learn, our need for it (good motivator, need), our interest or not.

Given that opportunities for learning surround us, what I want to explore today is the process of re-learning.

It goes like this: I have a method for doing something, say, cleaning up the yard in the fall before the snow flies (if I’m lucky and take the time). My method involves sweatshirt, work gloves, sunglasses, mask; rake, push broom (for cleaning off the patio and driveway), regular broom (for getting leaves out of corners and cracks); keys for all the outside doors, in case I want to get back in without walking all the way around; and a tarp for loading leaves and hauling them from back yard to curb out front.

(It takes longer to tell about than to do. Trust me on this one.)

That’s my method. Thus, a couple of weeks ago, when it looked as if the weather might be going to break and rain/chill/wind was the climate du jour—in fact, every jour—I went through my routine and went out for my first leaf-raking session. The day before’s rain had helped the leaves stay in place; it also added more weight than I was ready for. I hauled two heavy tarpsful out to the curb, and that was it for me. I was out of breath, out of energy, and out of patience with limitations.

I decided to wait for the yard man’s return from Florida.

And, I decided to buy a leaf blower.

When the yard man got back from his nice vacation, he mulched and bagged most of the leaves from the back yard (heaviest leaf fall) and mulched the (many fewer) leaves in front. We both knew the front was going to fill up again, minute by minute.

Yesterday was LB-Day. I got out the leaf blower, found the heavy extension cord, hooked the whole thing up, pressed the button, and hey presto! leaves scattered like magic.

I’d intended to stay outside 15, maybe 20 minutes, learning how to manipulate the new machine and decide if I really liked it. By the time I cleaned up a large chunk of the front yard and had a respectable percentage of leaves at the curb (of which I was shamelessly proud) I’d been out 40 minutes. Came inside—no back ache, no sore arm/shoulder. Had a cup of coffee and patted myself on the back.

I’d re-learned something. How about that?

I have to admit right here: The new method isn’t the be-all and end-all of leaf management. I don’t want to use an electrical appliance outside in the rain, for example. And I doubt if even the higher powered setting will lift sopping wet leaves with enthusiasm. But for these halcyon, sunny days of autumn, the leaf blower brings back some of my former enjoyment of yard work.

Re-learning, I believe, occurs in a spiral—not in a circle. We’re not repeating the same old-same old and getting nowhere. We’re starting at the same place, and upping our approach a notch. And then maybe another notch.

This works for nearly everything—woodworking, needlework, designing, cooking . . . .

The underlying question is: What If?

What if . . . I try cutting the boards this way first?
What if . . . I combine two yarns instead of using a thicker one?
What if . . . I change the shape of the house to an L, instead of a rectangle?
What if . . . I use allspice instead of cinnamon in the apple pie?

Once you start asking “What if . . .” you become creative. You dare to think of a different method, another view of something you’ve always done one way.

Kids do it all the time. They color a giraffe green. They use purple shoestrings in red shoes. They lie on the floor and put their feet on the couch while they read.

Try it! You might like what you re-learn.

Of course, you’ll find sometimes there’s no good reason to change—it’s the old “ain’t broke so don’t fix it” situation. Your choice.

One area of re-learning has caused me some grief. I refer to the matter of being Politically Correct.

My thinking is not naturally of the P.C. kind. Here’s an example:

When I was a kid, the Chicago Tribune ran a great, large, picture/drawing of an Indian (now, Native American) leaning against a tree smoking a pipe. In the background are teepees with smoke coming out of the top, the air is hazy, and all around the crops have been harvested. We didn’t need a caption or a story to tell us: This is Indian Summer.

[It’s called by other names in other places. St. Martin’s Summer and St. Luke’s Summer were formerly used in the UK, because the feast days of these two saints occurred in autumn.]

I mean no disrespect to Native Americans by using the term Indian Summer. What I recall from my youth is descriptive and conjurs up exactly how I think of this dry, sunny spell after the first killing frost.

Enjoy this season, whatever you call it. Celebrate the seasons, new inventions to lighten our work load, and the opportunity to change our ways of thinking.

Have a great week!

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