GOING back to school in one’s 50s is like returning to kindergarten: at the end of the day, the senior student monopolizes the dinner conversation with “I did this” and “I did that.”
That’s a thought expressed by N., who’s my classmate in two courses this semester. We sat across each other in our first class. By our next class, we were seated beside each other, swapping notes about our reading assignments.
Our classmates, who could be our sons and daughters, prefer e-books they can store in their phones and read while commuting. N. and I are old-school; we prefer to photocopy, highlight pages, and make longhand notes in notebooks that don’t require batteries.
N.’s children point out that one can also digitally mark pages, minus a sore back from lugging around all that paper. My boys—a husband and sons who speed around the information highway—rebuke me for holding back from technology.
N.’s rejoinder says it best: Let me do it my way.
I would be glossing over if I left the impression that the freedom to pursue my way is what alone distinguishes the two cycles of kindergarten.
A word of German origin, “kindergarten” literally means “children’s garden”.
The promised Eden of exploration and discovery was, I discovered when I was five, a terrifying place. I had to find a voice to get the teacher to give me permission for the toilet or plead with a classmate to return my pencil.
That voice never seemed to be around when terrors rattled the gates of my five-year-old mind.
At 51, being able to say what I want no longer seems as important as knowing what I want even if others doubt that I do.
I remember a terrifying first meeting with two poets. Both are decades my junior. My classmate has published a book of poetry; my teacher is awaiting his seventh.
In contrast, I wrote my last poem for the Silliman Writers Workshop perhaps three decades ago. The last poem I read, liked, and reread was three years ago.
Had I done the math, I would have fled that classroom as if all the wraiths of bards, from classical to free verse, were yapping at my heels.
Yet, I stayed in my seat for easily the most uncomfortable and illuminating discussion in nearly half a century of learning in classrooms: why writing poetry is the most useless activity, and why in this uselessness lies its greatest use for society.
There’s nothing quite like youth and its prodigious gifts of energy and self-regard.
But before the sap dries, one should put all one’s heart, soul, and strength into replenishing the well of one’s ignorance. The more we learn, the more we unlearn.
Or, as N. said: Let me do it my way.