Today is my first day of school (again). Tomorrow is my 40th birthday.
I don't think I'll ever stop being a student. I take breaks now and again, but I always return to the classroom. While I am constantly leaning on my own, there's something about formal education that works for me: probably the structure most of all.
After years of studying, using, and then teaching others about brain-based teaching strategies (aka neuroeducation), I found myself craving that structure. One day, my husband, son, and I were sitting around talking, and I asked them if they could study any topic in college (in the future, for my son, or in the case of my husband and I, if we could have a do-over), what would it be? At the time, my son was obsessed with presidential history, so his answer was "The Presidents." I think my husband chose graphic design. My answer? Brains.
I poked around for a couple of years, exploring various programs, and nothing seemed to click. I need something online to fit into my schedule, and because I thrive in online learning environments. Most of the programs I found were focused on K-12 education. Then, I stumbled upon Drexel's certificate in neuroscience, learning, and online instruction. There's a strong higher ed emphasis and I actually met the lead professor at the OLC conference years ago. She was presenting on brain-based teaching strategies, so I made a beeline for her, of course, and we had a great chat. When I realized she led the Drexel program, it seemed fortuitous.
The simple idea behind brain-based teaching is that the brain is the primary organ of learning, so understanding how it learns best helps to make us better teachers (and I would argue, better humans). I remember once that my yoga teacher training instructor said to us that if you're a curious person, yoga is a great thing to study, because you'll never reach the end; there's always more to learn. I feel that way about the brain. I'm a very curious person, and a lifelong learner, and I'm quite sure that the brain will keep me busy for years to come.
This term I'll be studying the Neuroscience of Learning. Here's the course description:
This course introduces neuroanatomy and processes associated with learning, memory, emotion, and perception. The course examines the relationship between stress, trauma, sleep, health, and aging on cognitive function as well as adaptive cognitive function. Current and emerging research in cognitive neuroscience is explored to inform educational practices to meet the needs of diverse learners. Topics include neuroplasticity, neuroimaging, learning cycle, effective differentiation, and self-efficacy.
Neuroplasticity. One of my favorites. To me, it's the science of hope. The hope that everyone can learn, grow, and change.
Birthdays always feel weird to me. Like, it's just another day, but it's also not. I try not to overcomplicate it, but...I'm an air sign, y'all. Overthinking things is written in the stars for me. So there's some stuff swirling around, but one thing that always grounds me is learning. My humungous textbook arrives tomorrow, and I plan to ring in forty with some cake, my best boys (two humans, one canine), and the joys of studying and annotating three chapters from Brain & Behavior with my favorite highlighters and colored pens.
I'm also taking a watercolor painting class at the local community college tomorrow; there's something very healing about sitting in a room for two hours and painting a flower. No one uses their phones. Since this is a day class, it's me and three older adults, all retired, so we talk about things like birds and butterflies. Speaking of brains, mine screeches for much of the class: "You have seven hundred things you could be doing right now! but I just keep painting my tulips. Maybe forty is the age when you learn how and when to ignore your brain.
I'm not going to get too weird about setting intense or specific goals for the coming year, but one thing I know is that I'm going to keep learning, both inside and outside of the classroom. I'm going to make bad art and put myself in front of timeless art.
Here are some pics from our visit to the MFA this weekend:
Life is good.
I've been thinking about blogging for at least a year. I hemmed. I hawed. Life is so busy; did I really want to add another task to my plate? And yet, I was feeling the urge to write on a regular basis. Not for paid publication, but just for the joy of creating.
It's been a guiding theme of my life that when I'm ready to read it, the book appears. This summer, I read Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist.
I bought it because I've realized that I need to relearn how to be creative. I've buried that part of myself for a long time, or ignored it, or just let other things become priorities. I know that to feel whole and balanced, I need to spend ample time each week creating, just for the hell of it.
I expected that I'd learn some ideas about how to be more creative. I didn't realize I'd get some much-needed advice on how to approach blogging.
Here's what I learned:
WAIT WAIT WAIT. You mean I can just do good work and then share it? It's that simple? I don't have to completely overanalyze the blogging experience, trying to map it out twenty years into the future, anticipating every possible outcome? I don't have to take a class on SEO, or even know what SEO is?
Yeah, I do the analysis paralysis thing quite a bit.
I love step-by-step instructions.
I also love to wonder. I wonder about everything. I love to learn. So many things fascinate me. Could this be the way forward with my blog? Could I simply wonder about things and share that wonder with others?
I can put things on the internet. I can do that.
Ah, here we are at a piece of advice that feels a little bit more challenging. How to find my people?
I think we can all agree that we are being bombarded with information and personalities online. How do I find my little school of fish in this big ocean of the internet?
I'm working on it. I'm trying to be a bit more intentional about investing my energy in people who love what I love: books, brains, introversion, teaching, learning, trauma-informed practices, self-exploration, big ideas, and purpose. If you're one of those people, know that I'm also one of those people. Maybe we can be those people together?
I've had a lot of questions about why I bought a vintage typewriter. I've also done a lot of self-reflection about why I wanted to buy her (yes, it's a her, and her name is Rita), why I resisted it for so long, and how freaking glad I am to have overcome that resistance.
To get there, I have to back up a bit.
This past spring, my husband, son, and I went to our local craft story after lunch one day. As I wandered the aisles, I wanted things. I wanted big cardboard letters (maybe I can spell LOVE and decorate them, I thought). I wanted to make something with my hands. I wanted to play.
But then, a voice came into my head: "What are you going to DO with those letters?"
We'd just done the whole Marie Kondo thing in our house, and it felt really good to release clutter. I wasn't too keen on adding more stuff to our lives. Then I thought, "And no one's going to want to buy those, if you were to try to sell them."
Those were the options that I presented myself with: hang my art on the walls or sell it.
I left the store empty-handed. My husband and son, not so much. Over the next few weeks, I watched them create. They started making artist trading cards, and they had so much fun with them. They were spending hours creating while I watched from the sidelines. I wanted in, but those same arguments played on repeat: if you aren't going to hang it up or sell it, what's the point?
One night, my husband and I were talking, and I told him about that internal battle I'd been having, of wanting to create but not feeling like it was worth it. I told him about my vision of decorating those letters.
"I don't know what I'll do with them once they're done."
He nodded. "I know exactly what you mean. I have those thoughts too. But I think that's sort of the point of making art. You don't need a reason."
"Yeah," I said. "I think I'm starting to grasp that idea."
Talking it through with him and getting that inner voice out into the light exposed my mindset. I was thinking only in terms of productivity. I was ignoring the innate value of play, joy, and creating.
We went back to the store. I bought paper, paint, glue, and an artist's notebook. I started to make art, on my own terms. Collage, watercolor, doodles. Not to be productive. Just because. Because colors make me happy. Because I feel grounded when I create. Because every once in a while, I make something that I'm just a little bit proud of, and surprising myself like that feels really good.
Of course, everything takes practice, including the art of because.
After a few months of integrating creativity into my life, I found myself stalking vintage typewriters on Instagram. Blue ones, like Rita, were calling my name. As I started searching for one on eBay, I could envision it becoming part of my morning practice, something that I've built over the past few years that sustains and inspires me. I could see myself typing up meaningful words and quotes and sharing those words and pictures with people who might also dig blue, vintage typewriters.
"But do I really need this?" I wondered. "Aren't there a million other things, more important things, that I could be spending my money on?"
I would find the perfect typewriter, only to get cold feet at the last minute. Over and over for weeks.
Until one day, I must've gotten tired of myself, because I saw a typewriter that looked pretty good, and clicked "Buy Now." Rita arrived a week later. As soon as I put eyes on her, I fell in love. I had no regrets. Not one. Not even a little.
Now, after about a month of living with Rita, I'm happy to report that she's a regular part of my morning practice. Most mornings, I type up words or phrases that feel important in that moment, I snap a few pictures, and I share them with the world.
Some people have asked me why I bought a typewriter, or looked at me funny when I say that I did. My ten-year-old son said, "Why did you buy a typewriter when we have computers?" Of course, a few seconds later, after watching me type and hearing that satisfying key-clacking, he said, "Can I try?"
Why did I buy Rita? Because. Because she's blue. Because of that perfectly imperfect font. Because she has told secret stories that she'll never reveal to me. Because you really have to push on those keys, and that extra effort feels like it's solidifying the words that I type into my brain. Because she brings me joy. Because no matter what kind of mood I'm in, when I look at her, I feel a little bit happier.
Last week, Rita got sick. I had changed her ribbon, and I must've pushed the wrong button somewhere, because when I typed, no letters would appear. The eBay seller was willing to take her back, but instead, I wrote to a typewriter repair shop about an hour from me. In the meantime, I managed to diagnose her online. Luckily, I was able to nurse her back to health, but when it was touch and go, I knew that no matter what happened, I was in it with her for the long haul, cost and time be damned. She's mine, and I'm hers. It's not practical, productive, or logical. It's just...because.
I write about higher education.