2010-01-28 / News

My brain is in stimulation overload

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

I think I am trying to learn too many things at once. It’s not going well.

Each winter, I take classes to expand my knowledge base, and learning new things also gives me something to write about – but this year, I think I am overdoing it.

Last winter, I took 12 weeks of Spanish classes at a local adult education program. It was a pretty intense program – two nights a week, plus homework. It gave me the confi dence to go into a Mexican grocery store and chat with the cashier. I was also able to understand the conversations between the landscapers who have done work in my yard, and I chatted with them when I had a chance.

I also learned how to make soap.

Soap-making is something I have started doing on a regular basis because I prefer the natural soaps I make to the stuff I can buy in stores. For me, knowing how to make soap is sort of the equivalent of knowing how to make jams and chutneys. I make a batch that lasts me for several weeks and when they are gone, I make another batch. As with homemade jams, I can use soaps for holiday or hostess gifts. It has become a very useful skill.

I was happy in my soapy, Spanish speaking world last year. The combination of cerebral activity and sensory experience worked well.

This year, I screwed up somehow and didn’t plan my courses as well as I could have.

I am taking a class in wheelthrown pottery. This is something that has always been on my radar, but it never occurred to me that I might not enjoy it. My intentions were sound: I would make some pots to grow plants in, or maybe some simple bowls in which to serve candy or nuts. I never envisioned being able to give them as holiday gifts, not for a while anyway.

What I have discovered about pottery is that it is incredibly hard on my hands and wrists. All my joints ache, especially the ones at the base of my thumbs. The other thing I have discovered is that I really don’t have the aptitude for it. Not even a little bit. This is a real mind blower because I usually don’t fail miserably at anything.

All my efforts seem to come out the same shape, whether I start with the idea of a vase or a bowl or a mug. They are all squatty, fat, dumpy pots that I wouldn’t serve nuts to my enemies in. As a potter, I am regrettably hopeless. I have three weeks of class left and I plan to see this through to the end, mainly because I am getting a kick out of my instructor. Perhaps there will be a transformative moment that will turn me into the next Guy Wolff – or not.

Someday, I will write the epilogue to this.

The other thing I am learning to do is knit. A neighbor of mine has taken a few fledgling knitters under her wing and we are all trying very hard to turn out at least a scarf. My blue scarf is about a third of the way to being wearable. I may finish it, but – as with pottery – I’m just not feeling passionate about it and I don’t think I really have the knack. There are times when the needles are clacking away and my entire focus is on the knitting process. I concentrate intensely. I enjoy the feel of the soft, nubbly yarn. Then, the puppy will attempt to tug at my scarf and I will yell at her. Then I will drop a few stitches and then I will feel my blood pressure rise and I lose focus and give up. I have needles, yarn and a portion of a scarf.

Someday, I will write the epilogue to this.

The third thing I am trying to do is improve my Italian language skills. I have taken some Italian in the past and am now working with the Rosetta Stone program at least an hour a day so that next time I go to Italy, I will be more proficient. Luckily, this is going pretty well and I see improvement every day.

I have read several times that adults should do more to stimulate their brains in order to stave off memory loss and dementia as senior citizens. I am told that learning new languages and playing musical instruments are two of the best ways to do this. I imaging pottery and knitting are someplace on that list, too. Regardless of my failures at certain things, I am confident that the process of learning is just as important as the pots and scarves that may or may not come out at the other end.

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