University of One

July 7th, 2011

When I was 17 and first married right out of high school, I educated myself. I read with a hunger that  couldn’t be satiated. I haunted the public library because we had NO money to buy books. I read everything from bodice rippers to Madame Bovary–not really making a distinction between them then. If I read a trashy novel set in France during the reign of Louis VI, I would start an obsessive exploration of everything I could find about the history and culture of that period. I enrolled in a University of One, and although I was thrilled that I could start “real” college when I was 29, nothing could equal the beginner mind I brought to my indiscriminate reading during those years when the world of knowledge was revealing itself to me. Now so many decades have passed and I can afford to buy books, but thanks to computers and email and writing in paragraphs and sound bites for my work at Skirt! and my hobby of a blog, I find myself unable to settle my mind to read difficult books or even long articles in magazines that require concentration and mulling over. I start to read a dense novel or nonfiction, but I’m embarrassed to admit that my interest dwindles and I skim or simply put it aside. I feel as if technology has rewired my brain in a very discomforting way. So I’ve decided to re-enroll in the University of One, to try and rediscover my original joy in learning, to retrain my brain. And I have to admit that it is horrendously hard! I have more time since I stopped watching TV cold turkey last September (and for a Bravo addict, that was a huge step), but I haven’t really filled it with a more edifying activity. My first stab at University of One curriculum has been learning by trial and error to make linoleum block prints (a botched example is the swimmer above), because after all, art classes are an important elective.  I’ve gone back to a book called At Day’s Close to learn and feel more about living in the dark before electricity. I’ve had it on my bedside table for months and months and just dipped into it here and there, but now I’m reading it with more intention. I’ve discovered the fascinating On Being site for an NPR show we don’t get in my area. It explores a main topic and then branches off onto deliciously related paths. It reminds me of browsing an old card catalog when one book led me to another and then another and on and on and on.  I feel like I’m caught up in a conversation I wish I could be having with my friends. I’m also wrestling with Proust…I’m not sure who will win.  I bought a Kindle Singles essay by Jane Hirshfield on Basho and haiku, and it’s inspired me to try my hand at the 5-7-5 form again. I’m fumbling around in iTunes to mend my ignorance about classical music, and I’m falling in love with Shakespeare’s sonnets and John Donne’s poems years after first being introduced to them. It’s as if I’m finally ready to appreciate them. This new University can never duplicate the excitement of its predecessor, but I’m so tired of Twitter time, of absorbing information but lacking wisdom, of living at the speed of light that I’m ready for some continuing education.




4 Responses to “University of One”

  1. Jen R. says:

    I just wanted to share that I’m thinking of giving up TV for my next “year without” and every time I get geared up to do it, I feel a little ache in my chest and think, “But what about Bravo?”

  2. You might try some Bill Bryson–readable, factual, funny and meant to sate curiosity about the ordinary.

    In my 20s, I was stuck in the backwaters of Oklahoma after my own early marriage. I enrolled in a correspondence program at the University of Oklahoma, to earn a Bachelor of Liberal Studies. This was when “distance learning” programs didn’t involve computers or satellite lectures or classrooms. It involved getting a ginormous box of textbooks delivered to my door, and a comparatively small set of study guides. I was to read and study the books on my own, and then sit for a comprehensive exam at the end. I studied science, including genetics and ecology that way. Sociology, psychology, political science, philosophy, world history etc. It was hard, hard work. Sometimes interesting, sometimes not. I eventually dropped out of that program and decided to go back to college and finish on campus. The sad thing? None of the approximately 30 credits I earned in the BLS program were accepted anywhere.

  3. Sandy Donn says:

    Oddly, after slogging through “Anna Karenina” I’ve now found intense interest in memoirs. Not modern, but of days gone by. . .people, places of a more romanticized era! (At least in my mind.)

    I’m thinking it’s one step down on the ladder of our current voyeuristic society and not as crass as looking at People Magazine on the Internet. Hmmmm…maybe not!

  4. nikki says:

    I agree. I hate modern memoirs!

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