Identify five learning moments in your life when you gained a deep understanding or insight. Write down five attributes of the experience, like where you were, who you were with, and what was happening.
I’m the third of four siblings. When we were young, we belonged to “The Club” which consisted of a golf course, tennis courts, and a rectangle swimming pool. Every day during the summer I rode my bike to the pool, spent the whole day there, ate a giant .25 pickle for lunch and rode home when the pool closed. I have no idea where my brothers and sister spent their time.
One summer, my father made us choose between joining The Club, or being on the swim team. I was outvoted and had no idea there was third choice. Neither being on the swim team nor belonging to The Club. Thus, every morning before dawn, I was in a pool trying to swim laps, without really understanding the point.
During high school, my older brother and sister were simultaneously captains of the boys and girls swim team. I was still too stupid to realize I didn’t have to be on the team just because my siblings were. And thus, every morning before dawn, I was in the slow lane trying to swim laps without really understanding the point. One practice, we were supposed to swim “the fly”. It’s a gravity defying stroke where you suck water, choke, flail, and pray you make it to the end of the lane before drowning. During this practice, I refused to even try and swam freestyle, while everyone else defied gravity. The next meet, Coach Whatsisname had entered me in the 50 meter Butterfly. In a competition. Where everyone would be watching.
And I did it. I was disqualified and I cried. But I did it. I went on to qualify for and go to State, eventually lettering in the thing I didn’t know I could do.
My mean Daddy would never buy me a horse. I had read “Summer Pony” by Jean Slaughter, where a family rented a horse for the summer and kept it in their garage. We had a garage. So . . .
When I was in my early 30’s, I started taking horseback riding lessons. Riding a horse is actually terrifying. When you’re on a horse, you’re about 5 feet off the hard ground, atop a being with free will. Until you learn to communicate in horse language, you’re kinda relying on the grace of God to keep you on top.
After some time, I learned the basics, but always on lesson horses that kind of ride themselves, doing the work for you. One morning my regular was still out in the pasture and they put me on Frankie. (I would later affectionately call him Frankenshit.) The first time I rode him, he left the arena and charged into the row of stalls where a very accomplished (and handsome) horseman was saddling his steed. They both looked on in alarm as I struggled to get Frankie back where the instructor could instruct.
Next lap, I anticipated Frankie’s move, and each lap got smoother and smoother, with Frankenshit eyeing the exit and me guiding him in yet another circle. Poor guy.
Frankie taught me, not only that, with a lot of work, I can learn to communicate effectively. But also, that I can do hard things.
Max and Bella
I signed up with a local rescue to foster a small, old dog that kinda matched the small, old dog I already had. I ended up with two young, giant dogs. They’d never been inside a house. Never been in a car. It took them a week to learn how to get upstairs. They were never bad, they just didn’t have any experience.
I loved them instantaneously.
They were ruining my life and scaring the neighbors.
I was never a good student. But I was smart enough to get by, so developed neither study skills, nor habits. I was able to just cruise by. I started taking Max and Bella to a dog trainer, and when he said I couldn’t come back until I had mastered some very basic skills, I took offense. We quickly grew bored. So, I took to the library. I read every dog training book. I watched every dog training video. I immersed myself in getting these two dogs as adoptable as possible.
And it worked! I would read the section on a command, watch the video, read the section again, and then go practice. It worked! I transformed these two giant goofballs from dogs people would angrily cross the street to get away from (because they were dragging me everywhere and sometimes getting away from me), to dogs that had people apologizing to me for their dogs behavior, because mine were so good.
When necessary, I can learn hard things.
After years of advocating for the library to send me to a writing-related conference instead of a library-related conference, they sent me to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. I went alone which, as an introvert, wasn’t a problem. Until it was.
I’m not a writer myself, so I’d been learning about writers and writing from the very people I was trying to serve. It was slow. It was clunky. And I was super-excited to be immersed in this strange world.
Did you know . . . there are 600 million tiny literary journals all produced by extremely passionate people who care about writers and writing? Also, did you know . . . there are about 500 million MFA programs, all run by extremely passionate people who care about writers and writing? Me neither! And I talked to all of them.
Then, I took crowded public transportation to Powell’s Books because I was told I had to go there. (Frankly, the library’s better.) Then I was on my way to an after event I’d been invited to. I really wanted to go and socialize and make connections and be a good steward of county resources. They’d paid for me, after all, to go make connections and by golly, I was gonna give them their monies worth! Except I wasn’t. My phone died and I had trouble finding my way back. When I finally reached my hotel room, I ended up under the bed sobbing in the fetal position. OK, not really, but I did cry and not leave my room til morning.
I can do hard things, but ya gotta respect the introvert.
In summary, I’m bad at math (I'm way over 500 words), so I’m only sharing four learning moments. Besides, sharing a fifth just feels too hard.