I’m too old to learn. Honestly, I must be. I’m 50. I mean who reaches the age of 50 and says, yeah, let’s learn stuff? I need to learn lots of new things. I need to study more. Come on, let’s be a bit sensible here. At 50, I know everything. Right?
If only life were that simple. Go to school and college, maybe university and that’s your lot. That’s you all finished. Nothing more to learn, no reason to study anymore. Just go and work and enjoy your life, free of the pressures of discovering new information and ideas.
How terribly dull life would be.
At 50, I feel my capacity for learning has increased, not diminished. I am more curious about things than I ever was at school. School, the last great bastion of learning, but regulated and controlled by necessary structure and requirements. Little choice or flexibility in what YOU wish to learn about, rather than what the government imposed curriculum says you must learn.
Today my interests are broad ranging and eclectic. Not the stuff of secondary education curricula. Volcanoes and earthquakes, the importance of silence and mindful thinking, ambient and experimental music and soundscapes, road and cyclocross cycling, vegan lifestyles and cooking, language and culture, history and the arts, opera, flamenco guitar, poetry and creative writing, contemporary novels and travelogues. I could go on, but how many of those subjects are taught in the high school system, even briefly.
A bit of physical geography, history of course (bound within the general limiting world view of British history, not the global context) , perhaps music (appreciation as opposed to theory, form, structure and influence), English language and literature (again limited in its scope by the sheer weight of the English literary pantheon – yet at school I was spoon fed Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and George Orwell. Spanning the centuries, yet barely scratching the surface of creative English expression).
Learning for me has come through the evolution of my own personal development, discovering new interests and finding some things I had dismissed previously as boring or too difficult, actually of merit and worth and surprisingly very interesting.
Take opera. I grew up on 80’s pop, indie and rock music. All synthesizers and wailing guitars. Opera was never music I had listened to, nor explored. Yet, my father loved the classic tenors, Pavarotti and Domingo, Carreras, Gigli, Caruso, Bjorling. I shunned it at the time, but hearing Una Furtiva Lagrima, or la Donna e Mobile or the Toreador’s song must have registered somewhere. Because with age, I found a new appreciation for tenor singing, for the craft and skill, the dramatic and romantic voices that were suddenly projected on to a popular platform during the 1990 Italy World Cup. When football and opera collided in a perfect marriage of expression, beauty and enjoyment.
Subsequently, the world of opera opened. Not just the wide repertoire of the tenor, but the vast and dynamic field of opera. The enjoyment from watching the great ensembles sing in chorus, the comedy of Donnizetti and Rossini, the dramatic story telling of Verdi and Puccini, the lyricism and poetic beauty of Bizet and the musicality of Mozart. And the arias that elevated opera to world renown. Nessun Dorma, E Lucevan la Stelle, Largo al Factotum, O Mio Rimorso, E’ la Solita Storia, The Pearl Fishers duet, The Queen of the Night Aria.
But with learning comes the desire to know more, to delve further, to discover and unlock the secrets to this new world you have opened. And thankfully no longer do we need to trawl libraries and await monthly journal publications; although there is a joy in spending an afternoon in a library, consumed by words and silent wonder and a pleasure as the latest journal or magazine bounces on to the doormat. Learning has never been so accessible. A few clicks on the internet and you are taken immediately to wherever you want to go. The world unlocked, the door wide open and the vastness of knowledge awaiting you. Just walk through the door.
My father was a military man. A soldier and an officer in the army. 30 dedicated years. A passion for all he did, yet the inflexibility the military affords to its personnel. Times, dates, schedules, their whole life controlled and regulated. A time for rest, a time to play, a time march and train and exercise, a time for learning. But the subjects of the military’s choosing. Could a 20 year old private spend hours over the works of Verdi? Not to the detriment to their career, their job and the role they were training for.
What did my father do the moment he left the army in his mid 40’s? Learn. Study. He took ‘A’ Levels in politics and geography and passed with A grades. He went on to complete a Masters in Health and Safety management. He is 71 now and studying for a Phd, a doctorate. His thesis is about the ‘Efficacy of Managers in the Third Age’ – ie the effectiveness of managers in their 70’s and 80’s, using their wealth of experience and knowledge to the betterment of their (perhaps retired from) companies and their employees. At a time when many would be happy playing a round of golf and booking a cruise with SAGA holidays.
So, as I take inspiration from my father, I can see there is value and worth in continuing to learn. We are bound only by the limitations of our own curiosity, not by age. At 50, I am spending more time with my head in a book than I do listening to the diet of The Smiths, The Human League, The Cure, ABC, etc that I always used to do. These days you will often find me sat at the table, early in the morning, 5am while the world sleep, sat in silence. Alone in my thoughts, reassessing what I know and what I have learned and how I can apply that knowledge. Or sat, writing a poem, looking at photographs I have taken and critiquing them myself. Or sat reading, absorbed in the words and knowledge of others. Ready and willing to learn. Wishing that I was 15 not 50 and better suited to the rigours of education. And more prepared, as I am now, to give time and thought and dedication to learning.
We are never too old to learn. We can always learn from each other, from the world around us and the information at our finger tips. But as important is that we help open the door to learning and knowledge for the next generations. That we pass on not only our knowledge, but also our desire for learning and discovery. Today, the younger generation are very often consumed by smart phone apps and social media. A world of selfies and pseudo-stardom, minor celebrity, desire to go viral and a need for likes and shares and a validation of themselves by universal approval and acceptance of their ‘status’.
But I would encourage another way. By all means interact and use your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Take pleasure from it. But, let these apps fire your imagination. And let them lead to learning. You see a photo of somewhere you have never heard of. You can either dismiss it, swipe to the next post or photo, or you can be taken there, immediately. Open Google maps, Streetview, Wikipedia, visit their homepage, learn the history, the flora and fauna, the landscape, the climate.
We are bound only by the limitations of our curiosity.
And we should always have the capacity for learning and should never ignore that curiosity. No matter how old you are.
PS, if you have read this and have considered you are not too old to learn or improve your English…then get in touch. I would be only too happy to help you and unlock the door to the English language!
To read my poetry please visit
http://www.frobipoetry.com or go to instagram @ajfrobisherpoetry
Tony Frobisher, Worcester, September 2018