No End to Learning

When I graduated from Frostburg State College (now University), I was probably naive enough to think, “Good. No more going to school. No more classes. No more homework.” Thank goodness I wasn’t naive enough to think, “No more learning.” I recognized that learning would be a lifelong process. I just couldn’t anticipate how long my life would be or how much I’d have to learn between then and now.

Several months later I found myself in the classroom again, teaching tenth grade English; the next year they moved me down to ninth grade. Aware that the direction of my career depended on getting a Masters of Education, I spent parts of two summers taking two classes each year. My word! Why did I sign up for “20th Century Russian History”? Even though the Soviet Union was still intact at that time, the course was the kind of challenge I’ve rarely encountered since.

When I quit teaching at the end of December 1974 to take a State job, I was elated. No more spending my free time planning and correcting papers. And no need to finish that Masters program.

The State job involved a lot of paperwork, but virtually no classroom training. Okay!

My parents–amazing how perceptive they can be as we grow older–recognized that I wasn’t overly thrilled with what I was doing, and for some reason thought I might really enjoy computer programming. So they offered to pay for me to hop up the road an evening or two a week to Chesapeake College.

Even though I was back in school as a learner, my parents’ insight had been dead right. I LOVED programming and ended up with a 4.0 average on the 24 credits I took there, completing two certificate courses simultaneously.

No need to go into the problem of “how does one find work without experience and how does one get experience without working.” My good grades barely counted in the real world–except for showing my potential. I almost wished I was back in the classroom.

I started working as a computer programmer in September of 1984. Although I had to attend an occasional class, most of the learning I didn’t do on my own came from attending (and later teaching) sessions at a semi-annual computer users symposium called DECUS.. I’d made so much progress in my learning that I was also invited to teach a day-long class at Australia DECUS in Melbourne.


Nothing seems to stay the same for long in life. As mainframe computing surrendered to networked personal computers, I was no longer the expert I’d once become. So I dug into web programming, but without the degree of success I’d experienced before.

And then in 2002 I was asked to join a different team. For a very important new piece of software we were to begin using, I attended a week of formal classes along with the rest of the team, but–probably for the first time in my life–my ability to learn what I needed to learn fell short of expectations. I didn’t catch on, and I did miserably at the job. So much so that my being downsized a year later was actually a relief.

What I’d learned more than anything else during that year was information technology was changing faster than I could keep up. I knew my career in that field was doomed. I ended up on the register at Target for three years until I was old enough to retire. Definitely no formal education needed for that job.

I wrote my first novel during those three years and discovered that I needed to begin the learning process all over again. 21st century novels weren’t like their predecessors, and graduating from college with an English major wasn’t the background I needed to write better.

So, for the past eight or ten years I’ve attended at least one writing conference yearly. Invaluable learning experiences. I’ve subscribed to and pored through Writers Digest, and I’ve amassed over a hundred books about writing.

Learning never ends.

One thing I’ve become especially conscious of is the fact that authors must always strive to do better with each successive book. That may not always involve learning some new writing technique–I’m not sure there is such a thing–but in relearning and applying things that may not have seemed relevant earlier.

And so I strive to make each book I write the best one yet.

What part has learning played in your life? How about leaving a comment?


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Best regards,

Spanish That Wasn’t Quite Adequate

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I took three years of Spanish in high school. Early in my studies, I started feeling pretty confident. So much so that I tried showing off to the slightly older (and very attractive) sister of my best friend.

Doggone! How was I supposed  to know that their father had been stationed in Puerto Rico long enough for her to know Spanish better than I ever would?

I learned two things from that experience. Don’t show off about my Spanish, and don’t show off—period. Maybe that’s why I don’t compare myself to other guitar players. If someone tells me I’m good, I’ll thank them graciously, but I know better than to let it go to my head.

But we weren’t talking about my guitar playing.

When I entered junior college, they told me I needed one year of a foreign language. They didn’t offer a second year Spanish course, and they weren’t about to let somebody who’d studied it three years in high school meet the requirements with the first year course.

So, out of necessity, I started taking first year French. I hated it, and I could easily see it ruining my 3+ GPA.

But one of my instructors, Mr. Kirkconnell, befriended me and arranged to teach a second year class with me as his only student. Now THAT was something else, even if he did miss a lot of classes.

Flash forward forty years or so. I was writing Found in Translation and needed to use some authentic Spanish. With a little help from the Internet, I was able to do what I needed to do.

Flash forward to a month ago, when I first learned about my church’s upcoming mission trip to Nicaragua. Hmm. Perfect time to brush up on my Spanish, huh?

I bought a grammar refresher book. From going through just the first fifty pages, I discovered how much I hadn’t learned in high school, much less forgotten. So I abandoned that book in favor of a Spanish-English dictionary and a little Dummies book of useful Spanish phrases.

I wasn’t set, but I was as set as I’d ever be.

We arrived in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. The signs were pretty easy to figure out—for the greater part.

But spoken Spanish? Forget it! Even if I didn’t Have a hearing problem, I couldn’t listen fast enough to follow it. So I got real good at saying, “Lo siento” (“I’m sorry”), “No comprendo” (“I don’t understand”), and “Donde es el bano?” (“Where’s the bathroom?”). I didn’t bother with “No tan rapido, por favor” (“Not so fast, please”) because I knew it wouldn’t help.

I’ve concluded that part of the problem is the same thing that makes Spanish such a beautiful language to listen to (if one doesn’t need to know what’s being said): The words basically roll together in such a way that somebody like me can’t easily separate  them into individual words.

I’m glad I brushed up on my Spanish, though. But if I get to go to Nicaragua again, I hope I’ll at least have a larger vocabulary. Maybe I’ll get a little further than “Hola” (“Hello” or “Hi”), even if I still can’t understand what the person I’m trying to talk to says back.

What’s your experience with a foreign language? Or are you still working on English?


Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,