I have often admitted that learning and teaching gave me a way to temporarily turn off the challenges of living. Going to school comforted me after my father’s death and well into my teen years. I found it difficult to be too obsessed with my troubles while studying. As someone who is prone to chronic worrying learning provided me with a safe haven from which to escape from the concerns that seemed to follow me everywhere. Eventually my work as a teacher became my mechanism for feeling calm and safe. Keeping my mind active has always prevented me from becoming obsessed with my troubles.
I often regret not continuing with my education. I have a graduate degree but I think I would have enjoyed enrolling in the Creative Writing program at the University of Houston that so many of my professors were encouraging me to do. If not that, I might have worked toward earning a PhD. in educational leadership or some such thing.
I suppose that I might well have done either of these things but I always seemed to have more irons in the fire than I was able to handle at one time. I was a kind of perfectionist with my work as an educator but I also had a family waiting for me at home. I was already robbing them of so much of my time that I did indeed feel guilty about adding rigorous classwork to my already bursting schedule. Then there was also the care of my mother which always hovered in the background. At any given moment I often had to drop everything to get her the care and the safe environment that she needed. I never knew when her mental illness would rear its head, but I did know that it would always inevitably happen.
Now that I am retired I might have enrolled at a university not so much for career advancement but just for the love of learning. Instead I found the Glasscock School of Continuing Education at Rice University where I have taken a course each fall and spring since 2011. There is nothing more wonderful than learning just for fun, no certifications, no tests, no grades. I take the classes only because they make me happy.
I’ve become a kind of groupie for certain professors and mostly history but I’ve experienced other types of learning as well. I picked up some tips on writing and publishing that have helped me with my blog and allowed me to lose some of the fear that I once had of exposing myself and my points of view to the public. I’ve enjoyed several histories of the city of Houston that have brought back memories as well as shown me how and why Houston developed into one of the largest cities in the United States. I’ve learned about India, China, art history, current issues, and the backstory of Downton Abbey.
It’s been fun gathering information from extraordinary lecturers and surrounding myself with interesting and brilliant people who share my interests. Before COVID 19 I used my afternoons or evenings at Rice as a day out by always including a special lunch or dinner in the festivities. I’d dress up a bit more than I do at home and make a day of doing something just for me.
During the isolation of the pandemic I have turned to studying and teaching once again as a way of keeping my mind from wandering into dark places. Helping my students to learn mathematics has been a gift to me just as it has been for so many years. I’ve also read and watched tutorials on various subjects in addition to taking two history classes remotely. All of it has filled my hours and made the past year more than just bearable. I have mostly enjoyed the quiet of my solitude and the opportunity to do research and meditate.
I’ve recently watched a PBS series on Ernest Hemingway that has prompted me to want to reread some of his works. I first studied them as a teen and young woman in my twenties. I suspect that my age and my experience might cause me to view them a bit differently than before. I often find that the same words seem to change when observed from different points in time. I am now that old man fishing in the sea rather than a young woman feeling pity for him as he battles with the marlin. I’ve already realized that books I read long ago feel different when I read them now. I used to despise Heart of Darkness but in a recent reading I found it to be a masterpiece.
We can all do with a bit of continuing education. Learning should never end and need not have any purpose beyond simply enriching one’s life. For me studying and gaining new knowledge is better than hours with a therapist or swallowing an antidepressant. Keeping the mind active is as critical as exercising the body and eating a healthy diet. It’s the route to a good and happy life.