Learning to Learn

Do you have a moment or event in your life that you continually look back on with shame or regret? I’m not speaking to monumental things like getting divorced twice or anything as life changing and stupid as that. I’m more referring to small moments that you hope possibly went unnoticed by others, or even if they didn’t, they were just little embarrassments. I have one that I’d like to share, in order to exfoliate it from myself. This confession will be my loofah.

When Ingrid was alive and I was working “full time” caring for her (aka driving her around, lotion-ing her feet, cleaning the boxes of cat shit) I used to take her to her knitting club once a week. It was at her friend’s house in Timonium and there were usually between four and six women there. Sometimes Ingrid would send me to the store to do the grocery shopping while she knitted and sometimes I would stay and hang with the girls. These were retired women in their fifties, sixties and seventies in Ingrid’s case. They were all very kind to me and I enjoyed their company very much. Their conversations ranged from hen-type gossip to current events to their own life events and books. They were all readers and they talked about books often which was (is) my favorite topic.

Now a word about the discrepancy in the education levels here. I have an annoying Baltimore accent. I say wooder for water (though I’m trying to break the habit!). I graduated high school with a low B/high C average and only went on to community college. And that was over twenty years ago. The job I quit to work for Ingrid was safe and vault technician, a fairly dirty man-job that required zero higher education. But I love books. I love to read, I love to write and I LOVE BOOKS! Bookstores and libraries get me high. The fifty cent book aisle at Goodwill makes me weak-kneed. One time I went to Powell’s books in Portland and I almost believed in god that day.

These friends of Ingrid’s – all educated, well spoken, well compensated women. They went to or sent their children to (or both) private schools. They had vacation homes in New England and sons who took their students to South America for field trips. They drove BMWs and Mercedes. They shopped at small local grocery stores where you could buy fresh dates stuffed with cheeses I’d never even heard of. But here was our unifying fact: We all loved to read (yay books!).

I mistakenly thought that at least my love and knowledge of books could put me in the ballpark with them, if not during the game, maybe for warmups. Cute, aren’t I? One of the ladies, Mary, asked if anyone had read The Life of Pi (this was the year the movie came out so everyone was reading the book). I had recently read it and LOVED it so I piped up right away, raving about how good it was. Mary said she heard it was an allegory. And here is what I said:

“Oh, I don’t know what that is but one of the reasons it was so good is because the whole story is actually just an analogy for something else!”

When their eyes all met each other’s and their smiles got deeper as they nodded and said nothing else it was a true testament to how sweet these women are. It wasn’t even until about a year later when I learned what an allegory is. In ignorant girl speak it’s: an analogy for something else. You might be thinking, so what? You didn’t know what an allegory is. Big deal. Me neither (Well maybe I’m just hoping the last part). But the reason why it is a big deal is because I think I can be a writer. I think I can write books that people will want to read. I actually tell people I want to do nothing but that for the rest of my life!! And to me, a person who wants to do nothing else with the rest of her life but write books who is sitting in a room of educated, well-read women showing her ignorance of allegory is like a wannabe plumber at a plumbing convention saying he doesn’t know the difference between PVC and copper.

Oh. Well, maybe it’s not that bad. I mean that would be really bad, right? So I think in writing this down I may have already exfoliated. Huh. Everyone starts out not knowing anything about anything. You don’t know what you know until you know it. If you actively open yourself up to learning new things every single day, the world is never boring and every moment has the potential to be an adventure. I didn’t know it then. I know it now. So maybe what I’ve been agonizing over these past several years hasn’t been the fact that I’m a wannabe writer who didn’t know what an allegory is but that I’m sadly no longer in touch with any of these wonderful women and therefore can’t update them: I know what an allegory is now. But there are still billions of things I don’t know yet – isn’t that exciting?!

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