When I was little, I was unafraid to learn things. I didn’t care what people thought of my learning because I didn’t know yet that one was supposed to care. And one is only supposed to care, in this culture, when the “appointed time” for learning is over. I think the reason people say it over and again, that “you’re never too old to learn,” is because the baseline assumption in American culture is that there is a time in one’s life that you are “too old” to learn things, and that people learning things out of their “time” is laughable, or scary, or subversive, or admirable because it is also all of those other things.
I was told by a new love this week that he is completely unintimidated when it comes to learning, to other people, to that which life contains. With a statement like that, one can only hold it in one’s hand, a stone, neither accepting nor rejecting. It does not matter if it is provable, or if his self-image differs from the way he presents himself to the world– the statement itself is powerful.
I had to pause, mid-dinner, and fitfully reflect upon those words. When had I last felt so uninhibited when it came to learning? Since graduating high school, at least, I’ve felt constrained by internal “can’ts.” I can’t learn that, I can’t do this other, I haven’t the background, I haven’t the training, it’s out of my reach. Yes, it was all out of my reach. I had defined it as so, and in this very specific way, my thinking had shaped my reality. By imposing a hurdle where there could have been none, I had stymied my own progress before it even began. This is very different from the idea that “positive thinking” will fix all my problems– I loathe this notion, and its lingering taint in the Pagan community, but that shall have to be expanded upon another time. Instead, this notion is one of thought behind action, of beliefs reflected in the doing and beliefs that shape the doing. If one does not see an option, one cannot take that option.
Why had I for so long slunk about in the dark? I feared what I would look like in the process of learning something new, how I would appear to others who already knew what I was learning when I didn’t yet grasp a concept. I am being disingenuous. I cannot place “fear” in the past tense; it is still there. I still dread this. I still dread the accusations that I don’t comprehend something because I am female, and the implication that I will never be able to simply because of my gender and sex. Bound to this body, battle lines have been drawn even in my learning process. I did not catch the basics as a child because it was thought unimportant for a girl to know; I did not learn it “in my time.” I am older now, and I am a novice: a novice bladesmith, a novice woodworker, a novice with electronics, and a novice in the math that I am relearning. There is a great resistance to my learning– old novices are judged harshly.
To cope with that resistance, I will relearn something else. I will relearn a lack of intimidation. Even if that state is unattainable in its fullness, the attempt itself is valuable: it will cause me to approach learning differently. The difference, then, is in the doing.