The Perpetual Beginner

Many years ago, I resolved to try something completely new every year.  My list of activities tried now includes skydiving, hang gliding, bungee-jumping, motorcycle racing, swimming, traveling solo to Peru, rock climbing, being president of a CPSA chapter, and more.  Some of these were one-shot events, others turned into multi-year obsessions.  The underlying goal is to stay in touch with what it’s like to be an absolute beginner at something, with all the ignorance and clumsiness that go with it.

You might wonder why I would do such a thing, when our society encourages us to always take the safe route and stick with what we already know.  1) I love learning and trying new things, and 2) it helps me relate to folks who are new to my favorite subjects and activities, so I can do a better job of explaining or demonstrating.  Too often, experts are not the best teachers, because they don’t remember how they learned. Nobody wants to be talked down to, or be made to feel stupid.

For example, of all the new activities I’ve tried, the most frustrating was rock climbing.  The instructor would start a class by saying something like “Okay, today we’re going to learn smearing. You know what smearing is, right?”  Well of course I didn’t know what smearing was, that’s why I was there! She seemed bored as she half-heartedly demonstrated and then turned the class loose to try with only half a clue.  I learned almost nothing in that class and it certainly didn’t reduce my fear of heights.  It’s a wonder there were no injuries.

Similarly, when I was learning the breast stroke there was a man who was always at the pool who had a very efficient breast stroke, so I asked him for some pointers.  “It’s just kick and pull, kick and pull!” was all he could tell me.  I was already kicking and pulling, but certainly not the way he was, and he didn’t remember anymore how he developed his proficiency.  So I didn’t learn anything from him no matter how much I watched.  (My breast stroke is still terrible.)

This year my “something completely new” was moderating the district chapters forum at the Colored Pencil Society of American convention in Atlanta in July.  When the national board invited me to do it back in January, I accepted with trepidation because the moderator the past two years was so good; how could I possibly fill her shoes?  And I’m an introvert!  The format for the forum is wide open; the moderator can set a theme, or not; take a survey, or not; lead activities, or not, so there is no pre-set structure to fall back on.  There was no teacher to consult this time.  Where to start?  I put a lot of thought into it and decided that if the forum was geared toward helping first-time attendees understand their roles, it could be educational for all attendees.  So I set the theme “Drawing on Education”, and divided the day and a half into five broad education-related topics for discussion.  For the first time, the beginner mentality was both my state of experience and my source of inspiration!

It turned out to be a big success!  Not only did I receive unsolicited praise from attendees who have been to many of these forums, but one even wrote to the national board to say “Have to tell you the 2-day DC Forum was the BEST one I’ve attended – ever.  So much sharing, and especially the great conversations in the Joint Session too.   LOVED every minute – gained lots of “take back to chapter” info!!”  I’m still pinching myself–did I really accomplish THAT on my first time ever doing something like this?

So now, the national board wants me to lead the forum again in July 2016.  Was this year “beginner’s luck”?  Should I do it again?  Can I do it so well again?

And, what will my completely new activity be next year? Check back in a few months to find out….

Fall Workshop Scheduled

Once again, I will be teaching a half-day “Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil” workshop at the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto, CA!  This one is scheduled for Sunday, October 11, 1:00 – 5:00 PM.  Registration is handled entirely through PAL, so the fee is $73 for PAL members and $85 for non-members.  Read more about it and download the supply list here; to sign up, click here.