Life long learning. Life long learners. Those are words that come up often in the profession of teaching and the field of education. We want students to experience life long learning and we want them to identify with being a life long learner, but do we do the same?
I noted a change in my life long learning self when I turned 40. Maybe it was the clear realization that my life was most likely half over, or perhaps even more than half over, but I started to find myself interested in things that my former self would have scoffed at, things that were a bit more challenging for myself as a person or that even went in direct contrast to the person I had been previously–and the results were exhilarating.
Example A: Taxidermy.
A few years ago I found a muskrat spine at Storm King when up there for the day with family and friends. It was fully intact and beautiful. I put it in my backpack, came home, Googled how to clean bones (this kid is my hero), soaked it and gently cleaned off the cartilage, and became immediately obsessed with all things skeletal, especially animal bones. An amazing museum opened in Brooklyn called the Morbid Anatomy Museum which has exhibits, a great gift shop filled with bones and taxidermy, and a coffee shop (always uncrowded, you freelancers/writers in Park Slope). I love this place, and they have taxidermy classes! I signed up to take a mouse taxidermy class this spring, and it was a good kind of challenging.
Did you know that taxidermy means taxi–to move + derm–skin = to move the skin. In taxidermy, you carefully peel the entire skin suit off an animal (very Silence of the Lambs), you clean the fascia and tissue off the skin, you sculpt a “body” from materials using the actual (now skinless) animal body as a size model, and then you dress the fake body with the skin that is now clean and dry. You sew the skin together, manipulate the body to strike a pose, and voila! You have a taxidermy mouse.
It was beyond cool and super difficult (as in the skills were difficult, not the smells or blood or anything like that).
Let me say that my previous self would not have done this. I was that girl who cried in Science class in 8th grade when we dissected worms, fish, and frogs; and I flat out refused to dissect a fetal pig in AP Biology on ethical principles. I fainted in the hospital one time when my dad had had knee surgery from the mere smell of the hospital and the thought of my dad being cut up. I had a friend, Kristin, whose dad was a taxidermist and I was terrified of the back room of their house where he kept all his animals. But now, I’m totally into it bones and bodies and guts and blood and dissecting and taxidermy. I hope to do a bunny class next fall with my amazing teacher, Divya.
I have several other examples of my new skills gleaned from this past year of continuous learning (I learned to love dogs! I started doing archery!), but suffice to say that who we are as life long learners changes as we grow older and change, too. I think this is something important to stress to our students, our own children, and to remind ourselves so that we can embrace these shifts–I mean, the 13 year old version of me would have NEVER predicted that I’d be into taxidermy and bone collecting at age 41–and recognizing that shift of self is part of what makes it even more meaningful, especially as we get older. I am the type of person who prides myself on my consistency (I am consistently a good friend, wife, mom, professor, adviser, exerciser, eater, sleeper, writer…the list goes on), but it’s good to know that amid the beautiful daily grind of consistently being ME, I can still stir shit up a bit and even end up surprising myself.