These days, I find myself in a classroom four days a week. Three of them are for journalism and one for literature. Most of the other times, I am researching, interviewing someone for a class assignment or writing. In each of these settings, I find myself learning again, whether it's from someone I get to talk to as a part of an interview, from a teacher who is trying to help us learn something new, from the other students in the classrooms, or from myself as I am slowly digesting what I have learned and drawing new connections as I write. And I am reminded again what a pleasure it is to learn.
I thought I had done a pretty decent job of keeping myself on the learning curve even while I worked in law firms. I tried to read a fair bit and had signed up for classes here and there, particularly earlier in my career. But more often than not, I had found myself having to miss a class when work kept me in the office late or being too tired to engage fully. I remember just dropping my pottery class when I missed two days in a row and pictured the pots I had painstakingly made sitting on a shelf cracked.
When you work in a field for ten years, that sometimes becomes your life, whether you intend it or not. I'm sure some others are better than me at keeping their lives in flux, but despite myself, I seem to have settled into the life of a lawyer over the years, like sediment that slowly drops, finds a resting place, and eventually calcifies. Most of my friends are lawyers, and the things of the lawyer world became the norm. It no longer seemed strange to talk about billable hours as if everyone in the world tracked their lives by the tenth of an hour. And when some associates went around talking about how they were the "favorite" of such and such a partner and were told that they were a "star," I had learned to stopped wincing.
Last night, in my Berkeley Extension literary analysis/writing class, we analyzed short stories by Virginia Woolf and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I walked into class feeling thick-headed after trying to read the Woolf piece four times and failing to get what she was trying to say. Once discussion started, I was amazed by the insights other students had on the story. It was so refreshing to sit with a dozen people with sensibilities that had not been eroded by years of bad television. Oh, don't think I don't relish my share of The Daily Show as much as anyone else, but it was a relief to be reminded that there is room to talk about subjects like the subtleties of human alienation, desire to connect, and the wistfulness of longing without feeling corny. I walked out of that room realizing I have so much to learn.
Sitting in that class reminded me that no matter what, I need to make the effort to keep myself engaged. That whatever I choose to do as a career, I can reach out beyond the comforts of my immediate environment and find inroads to different ways of thinking and approaching life. That I don't need to sit lazily in my own little corner waiting for the world to reveal itself. That that is a sure path to mental decay - and unforgivable waste of what has been given to us.
I know I sound corny, but I prefer it to calcification.