I dipped a toe back into the pool of Education this week for the first time since I left School, almost 20 years ago. It was a beginners course in Digital Photography at a local Adult Education centre in Canterbury, Kent.
My girls are growing up fast and this September they will embark the ladder of their own formal Education, with my eldest child starting School and my youngest child starting Preschool (Nursery). My time is gradually being returned to me and the awareness of pursuing my own interests and carving out a career whilst dove-tailing their new routine is something that is preying heavily on my mind in both an exciting and anxious way.
The problem I am finding with Adult Education is that there is so much to choose from. Where do you begin ?, How do you choose to study something new that is both appropriate, engaging and affordable to set you on the right path? I was never someone who knew what they wanted to do with their life. I never had a calling or a vocation. I only knew I would at some point like to be a Wife and Mother. I also knew when I limped through my A Level’s at Sixth Form College I’d had enough of learning by then, wanting to get on with living and earning money. Ambition in itself, perhaps.
Now, with the opportunity to further my personal interests and cast my net afield I’m trying to hold onto that infamous line ‘find a job you love doing and you never do a days work in your life’. With this at the forefront of my mind I sat and thought about all the things I LOVE to do and at the top of this list is Writing and Photography.
By nurturing these interests I am hoping to discover if I can turn something ‘I love’ into something ‘I do’. I’ve looked at the wealth of courses available to me, during the days when the girls are at School/Nursery and nights when they are tucked up in bed.
The idea of pursuing my interests by using resources at hand, came to me as a direct result borne out of my 5% Course Correction I spoke of previously, it has enabled me to see what I really want to try to do versus what I actually do with my time. My priority is still being home to look after my girls, so for now I am trying to take small steps to laying solid foundations for my future. It is difficult for a person like me, that is all or nothing, to keep a tight rein on going all out and biting off more than I can chew.
I have looked at the free TED talks you can watch online, which I initially did through YouTube and then downloaded their app so I can personalise my playlist and listen to them during the day or when driving in the car through bluetooth. They are on average 15 minutes long and a great resource for the time starved and those with limited concentration skills, like myself. The catalogue of talks they have available is vast and inspiring.
Then I discovered the Open University FreeLearn resource. Again, they offer hundreds of free courses, open to anyone with access to a computer and Internet connection. I honed in on their Creative Writing courses, opting for a 10 week course and joining thousands of others to create an online community of support, at a time that suits me during the week to pick up and drop off. This works perfectly around my existing commitments. The course says it’s a 3 hour minimum commitment each week but of course it could be more. What you put in, you get out I guess.
I am so enjoying the course, taking it at my own pace and doing the exercises and hearing from other Writers. The practices and habits they enthuse you to adopt; keeping a daily notebook to jot ideas and stories down and flexing that writing muscle daily to keep the creative juices bubbling away. Most importantly the art of editing. Writing and re-writing and re-writing again as well as receiving ‘constructive’ criticism for your work. I find it invaluable and rewarding.
The learning bug has hit me hard and I’ve also since enrolled on a 5 week Digital Photography class. I found myself sitting alongside 10 other complete beginners in a class room last Tuesday night, listening to our Lecturer lay the foundations for what I hope is a promising path to somewhere new for me. Even if I learn to take only marginally better photos of my family it will have been time well spent I reason.
I arrived on time for my first lesson, a little nervous and after introducing myself took my place at the back of the classroom. Old habits die hard it seems. It was then I realised just how long since I last graced a classroom for my own gain, with heavy irony that I volunteered and paid to be there. In my case Education was largely wasted on my youth. How I would day-dream about escaping hours of lessons back then to now day-dream about finding myself lost in one for pleasure. This misplaced sense of being is a running theme throughout my life.
As I sat there waiting for the lesson to begin, in the sterile perfunctory class-room with its illuminated smart board taking centre stage (what ever happened to chalk boards I dare not ask ?) I noticed my impatience with the opening platitudes, they were draining my concentration. I just wanted to get on with learning. We were told about basic housekeeping practices – the best places to park, where the fire exits were, vicinity of the toilets in case they were needed and even where the best coffee machine to use was, blah, blah, blah. I wanted to fast forward this part like you do on Cable TV, yet on reflection I suspect this was a rouse to not just familiarise ourselves with the alien campus facilities but most importantly, put us at ease. It’s scary to go back to being a student and starting over. I feel this acutely especially having spent most of the past 4 years in the company of children.
The difference I felt sitting there as a ‘mature’ student was palpable to me. I didn’t care about any comparison of my contemporaries or their level of ability and my confidence in asking questions and getting what I wanted out of this lesson was all I cared about. As a student first time around I was always hampered by the fear of what others thought of me, too scared to raise my head or hand above the parapet to stand out.
Aside from the technical information which was new to me, our Lecturer who is a Professional Photographer himself made me seriously question what I like to photograph and what it is I want to do with photography. We were asked to share our thoughts.
As I stood up and gave my answer I realised then exactly what sort of photography I like to do. Social commentary in the every day, my family, those portraits that reach into other’s souls and lay bare who they are. I don’t for one minute imagine myself to be the next Annie Leiboivitz, except during the small dark hours when no one is listening, the reality is I am hoping this course sets me on a path that triggers a whole new adventure. For now I am happy to be enjoying learning a new skill.
What I hadn’t expected as the two-hour course came to a close on Week One was how exhausted I felt as I left. I felt emotionally and physically drained and my brain ached with all this new information I was trying to digest. I really am sadly out of the habit of learning which I must break, after all we can never know enough ….