Learning 101 with Ananda and Ben: Role Reversal

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.

Ananda2

“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 . . .

BenVogtGardener

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.

Still learning.

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

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60 thoughts on “Learning 101 with Ananda and Ben: Role Reversal

  1. What I have had to get over is/was going to doctors younger than I am. But wow, I’m impressed by your work with your writing coach. Kudos. I want to get back to a yoga class, I took it for years; it is harder to discipline myself to do much of it on my own. I’ve often pondered the differences between pilates and yoga. I guess I should find out! Now walking–that is pure recreation I do for the joy of it.

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    1. Melodie, I like classes too. A pleasant instructor and camaraderie with friends helps we keep up with it. Besides, the gym is just a mile from home. As I understand it, George Pilates began as a student of yoga but then in the 1920s designed his own poses with the goal of improving flexibility and balance, much like yoga. However, we do lots of roll-ups in Pilates, and I don’t remember doing much of that in yoga.

      I love walking too. It’s lures me outside and there’s always a change of scenery up and down the Killarney “hills.”

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  2. A wonderful post, Marian! I love the Whitman quote, too. I believe we can and should continue learning throughout life, and that we can learn from many sources. I applaud your efforts in Pilates and in having a writing coach!

    On the physical level–I also learn from younger women at the gym (but honestly, I get a thrill when I can keep up with some of them). 🙂 On an intellectual level, I have to research all sorts of stuff for test writing and my books, so I think I’m constantly learning about new things.

    A funny observation about age–at Thanksgiving, my older daughter mentioned how much she liked working with some “kids” recently. It turns out that they were college students, and she was speaking from the ripe old age of 27. It is so cool though that she has become a mentor.

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  3. I too am a lifelong learner. To once again quote my uneducated but wise father, “The day you stop learning is the day you die.” He believed you should learn one new thing a day. He also believed you learn something from everyone you meet. I´ve certainly learned things from you. I am also learning things from my kids, grand kids and many other young people, Pilates is a good choice for keeping things moving. 😀

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    1. I believe your father was an educated man since he was both knowledgeable and wise. You are a living testimony to the power of this combination of traits. Your family anecdotes are always inspiring, Darlene. Thank you!

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  4. This is again another wonderful post. I love learning I try to learn something everyday. I also try to be a mentor and to be mentored. I always tell my children and grandchildren you never stop learning. Last night Imani my oldest granddaughter made her first candle. Watching her put it together from a distance made me very proud of her to try something on her own through instructions on the internet. I learn so much from them. My Samantha is my computer instructor I learn so much from her. She’s 12 years old. They get a kick out having to teach me.lol. Everyday is a new adventure. I learn so much from your blogs, I look forward every week to see what will I learn from you. Thank you for your weekly post.
    Gloria

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    1. You’re welcome! Imani and Samantha are benefiting from their wise role model – you! Obviously, curiosity is catching in your family: I love the idea of a 12-year-old computer instructor. 🙂

      When we are in public and want to take a group photo, I always look for a young person. People that age know how to hold the camera still and don’t need explanation about which “button” to push.

      Your stories show your love for life and an openness to new ideas. You rock, Gloria!

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  5. Marian, those whippersnappers have nothing on you in the area of learning from life, but one reason for that is that you are confident enough from past experiences that you know learning will never stop for you. I admire that energy so much. In fact, it seems to be the next subject I am moving into. I just applied for a writing residency called Jubilación: Vocation in the Third Act of Life. You are a marvelous exemplar.

    Can’t speak about the Pilates (my practice is yoga twice weekly, weights in the gym, and walking). But what tickles me is that you found Ben Vogt and that he is proving to be a rigorous, insightful teacher. The two of you, both memoirists with (quite different) Mennonites in your past, must have much resonating to do. Makes me smile to know you’ve found each other.

    And let me say how much I admire your persistence and care in writing your memoir. I know –now– that mine would have benefited from more time and more coaching. I almost said I can’t wait to read yours. Correction. I can wait. Keep learning from those all-caps comments. 🙂

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    1. You are smiling about Ben becoming my writing instructor, but I think you introduced me to him and then I made the connection through Jane Friedman’s website. Is that so? Whatever the case, I appreciate your always giving me gentle nudges along the road you have blazed for me and others.

      I believe many writers second guess themselves. To me, your memoir read like a song of myself having lived in a similar culture and era. I wouldn’t change a thing. But then, I have not a whit of bias!

      Cheers to you in applying for the writing residency. “Jubilacion” is a wonderful word to describe a third act. If the applications are juried, I’ll hope and pray for a thumbs up on your account.

      Thank you always for your affirmations here. I’m writing this at 2:13 EST, and my energy is waning. 😉 Maybe time for a book nap.

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      1. Yes, I did give you the nudge when I saw the course by Ben. And I found him on Jane’s website when he replied to a guest post I wrote on memoir for her. The wheels on the bus go round and round. 🙂

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  6. Marian — The sentence that jumped off the page at me is: “I am submitting to tutelage because I want to.” The WANT to part is clearly what animates you and puts that Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah spring in your step! I applaud that you are ready and rarin’ to learn.

    I learn every day, be it from clients and/or most recently from my publisher and copyeditor. Am I daunted? Not in the least. Like you, I WANT to learn.

    [But if I HAD to, I assure you I’d be chomping at the bit]…

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    1. You are the poster woman for channeled energy, Laurie. You are always rockin’ and rollin’ because you choose to have an open attitude and receptive mindset. I am convinced that though writers write in solitude, we certainly can’t succeed without the help of others. I’m so glad you are part of my small “stadium” of supporters!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very interesting topic. As human beings, and definitely as educators, we never stop learning, or at least we shouldn’t. I teach, but I also give learning support to students in other teachers’ classes, like chemistry, for example, which I always found difficult in school. I am learning more about this topic now in my 50s than when I was in school myself, mainly because the teaching methods have changed so much! Fascinating!!! 😁

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    1. I’m happy to learn more about you here, Fatima. I knew you were a world traveler, but you also teach chemistry ( ! ). The fact that you always found this subject difficult in school makes me wonder whether you are a bit like psychologists who choose such a career because they wants more insight into their own lives. Wow – I admire your willingness to learn new tricks of the trade!

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    1. You too speak as an English teacher and life-long learner. I think you are now involved with a community foundation that takes advantage of your creative talents. Also, as family historian you are documenting Sage’s remarkable childhood. We have lots of photos, but no online journaling was available when our kids were little. Brava, Rebecca!

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  8. We need those teachers, Marian. I’ve had many teachers and helpers as I learned to live life on my own. First was a writing teacher–only a little younger than I. Second was a book development editor, more than a decade younger. She’s a terrific editor and taught me what I needed to know about the business of being a writer. Then there’s my dream therapist who keeps me glued together. She’s about twenty years younger than I am. My doctor for most of my life is retiring. I’m shopping for a new doctor and one of my requirements under 50 so they are there when I need them.
    It makes me feel good about myself and life when I learn new things. It also puts me up against my perfection-seeking self who feels I can’t do it right. I see you have one of those voices, too.

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    1. Yup, you got me pegged, Elaine.

      Last evening I read a mind-stretching “personal history” piece in The New Yorker by Jhumba Lahiri, a writer I adore. Bengali was spoken in her birth family, she learned American English, but got the urge/passion/obsession to learn Italian, inspired by reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses in her University days. She got a “Teach Yourself Italian” book which didn’t work, hired 2-3 Italian tutors, the last two sandwiched between a pregnancy. Finally, she hauled her whole family to Rome, for full immersion. I believe she is/was trying to invent another version of herself as a writer, an idea she more than hints at.

      Because you love mythology, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the last paragraph: “Oddly, I feel more protected when I write in Italian, even though I’m also more exposed. It’s true that a new language covers me, but unlike Daphne I have a permeable cover—I’m almost without a skin.” (Dec. 7 issue)

      Why then should I have been surprised that she had written all six pages – in Italian – translated by Ann Goldstein.

      Thank for entertaining me with a description of all your “helpers.” My own doctor whom I have known for over 40 years is now 78. I’d better go shopping . . . .

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  9. Yup, you got me pegged, Elaine.

    Last evening I read a mind-stretching “personal history” piece in The New Yorker by Jhumba Lahiri, a writer I adore. Bengali was spoken in her birth family, she learned American English, but got the urge/passion/obsession to learn Italian, inspired by reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses in her University days. She got a “Teach Yourself Italian” book which didn’t work, hired 2-3 Italian tutors, the last two sandwiched between a pregnancy. Finally, she hauled her whole family to Rome, for full immersion. I believe she is/was trying to invent another version of herself as a writer, an idea she more than hints at.

    Because you love mythology, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the last paragraph: “Oddly, I feel more protected when I write in Italian, even though I’m also more exposed. It’s true that a new language covers me, but unlike Daphne I have a permeable cover—I’m almost without a skin.” (Dec. 7 issue)

    Why then should I have been surprised that she wrote all six pages – in Italian – translated by Ann Goldstein.

    Thank for entertaining me with a description of all your “helpers.” My own doctor whom I have known for over 40 years is now 78. I’d better go shopping . . . .

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  10. Great post Marian. I believe we are always learning, and if we aren’t, we’re definitely missing stuff. Good on you for staying motivated physically and sharpening your writing skills, which I think are great already! But we never stop learning, nor should we.

    And I also think that when we were youngsters in school, everybody seemed older than us and the older generation wasn’t known for going back to school and continued education. The stigma disappeared with the decades. I think it’s wonderful how you are focused on your plans of staying active and fine-tuning the writing craft. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, comrade in ‘rime. Writing partners like you help stoke the creative fires, especially on days I don’t particularly feel motivated. You are right – lifelong learning is the “in” thing now with books and articles about one’s third act, the encore vocation.

      I appreciate your regularly showing up here and being part of my cheering section, Debbie.

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      1. That’s what friends are for Marian! I enjoy visiting your words of wisdom, it’s very ‘homey’ over at your place. And I look forward to the day I can read your published book! ❤

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          1. Lol, never homely! No rush Marian, the book will be done when it’s ready. In the meantime you are such a great contributor to the blogging and cyber world. You’re way ahead of the game by already establishing a great platform. 🙂

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            1. I must admit I am rather surprised and pleased at what has happened here on my blog. Perhaps there is an inverse relationship: the crazier we perceive the world to be, the more attractive a slower, simpler, and saner life becomes – not true of me now but certainly of the Mennonite life of my origins.

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  11. Brava! Marian, you have some superb inspiration, mentoring and support. The mark of a good teacher is the ability to welcome and appreciate learning from “young whipper-snappers”–er, those young enough to be our children and/or former students.

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  12. Thanks Marian ~ I think immediately of sages past, Buddha, Jesus, Mother Mary et al and what we learn from them … I think of mythology rooted in the ancient past and what we learn from them. Fairy stories too, taken from a psychological perspective. Everything and anything is a teacher, Mother Nature and her beauty, even her destructiveness …

    The youth – there is soooo much we can learn from them (and visa~versa) … the younger generation always brings about change as we did in our youth, loosening the shackles ..

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    1. You’re expression “loosening the shackles” really resonates with me. As we age, we tend to atrophy or, worse, petrify. But that’s not you or I fortunately. Incidentally, I always learn something new on your website too. Thanks always, Susan.

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  13. Marian, I suspect you would find Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir enormously helpful. I just read the book–it’s rich rich rich. Good luck to you!

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    1. I appreciate your sharing a title I haven’t checked out yet though I’m familiar with Karr’s memoir The Liar’s Club. It goes on my to-read list.

      Right now I’m reading two books for writers both by Natalie Goldberg: Old Friend from Far Away and Writing Down the Bones. One of my lists in Riffle Books is entitled Memoir How-To Books: https://read.rifflebooks.com/profiles/136032 When I read Karr’s book, that’s where I’ll post it. 🙂

      Thanks for caring and sharing here, Shirley!

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  14. From behind the scene: when Marian can write, quote a poet or author that ties into her current theme, inspire others, share insights, she beams as though she were a young girl, braided pony tails bobbing up and down.

    A thank you to all of you followers who comment regularly. It keeps her buoyed up as she makes up her future posts and continues stitching her memoir together.

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  15. How lucky you are to have acquired such enthusiastic helpers around you. I don’t think we ever stop learning. I have learnt from yoga teachers, artists, poets, cooks, craft people da da da . I hear what they tell me and I think I’ll put that in my journal for later … always comes in handy 😉
    Cherryx

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  16. Love this, Marian! Indeed, we are all lifelong learners and as you have clearly spelled out, when we remain open to this fact, we give ourselves the opportunity to blossom. You are a perfect example of a beautiful blossom. 🙂

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  17. We’re never too old to learn something new. Like you, I am a lifelong learner. It makes life much more interesting. While you’re learning from your teachers, I’m often learning from my students. I get one of those “ah hah” moments when they share something or tell me something I hadn’t known before.

    Marian … I think you have wonderfully descriptive writing. Keep on keeping on. 😉

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  18. I am a life long learner and these days almost everyone who teaches me new things is younger than I am. I know how you feel when my yoga teacher corrects me and uses my name. It seems I one of those who loves to please people. That can be a good thing as well as a bad thing, if we’re aware of it and can keep ourselves from melting into embarrassment.

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  19. I think learning is the whole point of life. We are here to gather knowledge and pass it on but, sometimes, the lessons are hard. Right now my hard lesson is letting go. Our beautiful Candian cousin lost her battle with cancer this week and it’s been tough not to rail against the injustice of one so vibrant and young being taken far too soon. She lived life to the full though and, at the end, knew when it was time to stop fighting.

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    1. My condolences to you and the family of the cousin you lost. I wonder whether you visited her when you were in Canada recently. It sounds like she had a valiant spirit but realistic enough to let go. Still, it’s hard!

      You are right – learning is the whole point of life. And passing it on represents our legacy to the next generation, something you and other bloggers are doing as we record our musings in words and pictures. Comfort to you, my friend.

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      1. Thank you. We did visit with Katie when we were in Canada and knew then that her time was short. I’m glad we saw her though and knew that she was as happy as could be in the circumstances right to the end.

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    1. You feel that way because you are receptive to the wealth of knowledge available, a good thing. Others in this phase of life just coast along content with the status quo. Well, not you – or me! Thanks for you sweet smile in this column today, Anita.

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