When a teenage girl I was mentoring told me she wanted to become a really good artist, I told her she should take classes at the Art Museum. “I don’t want to learn anything,” she said. “I just want to be an artist.”
It irked me, seemed to me to be one more time when she wouldn’t spend five minutes in sustained effort, conversation or thought. But that was when I was all about solutions and paths. It was before I learned that mentoring is more about driving safely while a teenager is talking to you than it is about actually shaping someone. No one will do what you want them to, except by accident. That’s what I learned from her.
Anyway, my mentored girl reminded me of my younger daughter, adopted from Nicaragua when she was six, who announced proudly that she didn’t need to go to school anymore because she had gone to “Kinder.” She knew all she needed to know. There is a lot more that’s next we tried to tell her. Layers and years of things to know. You can’t imagine, we told her. And she couldn’t. She didn’t know what she didn’t know, a paradoxical and potentially dangerous situation experienced by many of us.
Oddly, at the moment, I’m in a ‘not knowing what I don’t know’ phase, although I cover it with a healthy layer of ‘I already know a great deal’ and ‘it would be really hard to know more. ‘ In other words, I seem to be sitting in the same tiny chair as my mentored girl and younger daughter.
I want to become a better writer. For years, my method of pursuing that goal has been to write. It is, I think, the surest way and it has worked so far. I’m a lot better writer now than when I started.
But there is also the concept of being taught.
Time to go take a writing class, I tell myself. Oh no, I think, I can’t do that. I can’t talk to people. You know, hearing disability and all. It makes group activities impossible.
Oh, I remind myself, that is true and has been true but will it be true in the future? With a cochlear implant, I am going to hear better. The whole purpose of getting the implant is to better understand other people’s speech. So if I will be able to do that, what would keep me from taking a writing class?
Other things. You know. People. Talking. Reading. Responding.
So there is this conundrum where my likely hearing improvement will make a lot of things possible but some of the newly possible will be things I would rather not do in the first place. And now I will have no real excuse for not doing them.
In a few months, it really could be possible to take a writing class or read my work to a group for reaction. Maybe even change what I’ve written because of people’s feedback.
It all makes me feel very shorn, very exposed. And makes me wonder how I will handle other things that better hearing will enable. It is tempting to decide that I don’t want to learn anything, I just want to be a writer, or that I’ve gone to Kinder as my daughter put it, so I don’t need to learn anything else.
The problem is I don’t know what I don’t know. About writing or about life after years of serious hearing loss. The hearing loss pains me in countless ways but also keeps me warm, protects me, is my insulation, shields me from risk, keeps my life small and careful. It has been a heavy, woolly cloak, suffocating but home.
I fear I’ve forgotten what it is to be uncloaked. To even wonder or care about knowing what I don’t know.
I have to decide, though, how I will proceed.