They say, "you're never too old to learn something new." They also say, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." I've often wondered which adage is correct, and I guess I've always given the nod to the latter. It just seems younger people learn with so much more ease than the folks who've been hanging around the planet a few decades longer.
That said, I've found that as I've grown older I've become more convinced that learning is not limited by the passage of time. I've come to believe that older learners might even have an edge on their younger counterparts, simply because we tend to be more patient and our lives less complicated by issues encountered by the younger generation, such as climbing the career ladder, paying the mortgage and raising children.
I've discovered in recent years a gnawing need to creatively express myself. I long ago gave up art, finding it too hard to maintain my artistic passion while holding down a full-time job and raising four sons. But now that my "baby" is a senior in high school and I am unburdened by the responsibilities of work (i.e. unemployed/retired), I'm ready to dip my toes into the pool of creative expression.
So, last fall I bought myself a camera. Not an inexpensive "point-and-shoot" model, and not a costly pro-caliber DSLR, but a moderately priced "bridge" camera designed for a more advanced enthusiast who wants to shoot professional-quality pictures without all the gadgetry of a pro's camera. It was love at first click.
Since my acquisition, I've taken better than 5,000 pictures through all four seasons. And I've loved every second of it. Most recently, I was hired to shoot senior portraits for one of my son's classmates, a beautiful young lady who has the poise I only dreamed of when I was 17. It was so much fun – and the pictures turned out so well – that I can't wait to do it again.
As much as I've had a blast with my camera, I recently felt the need to expand my horizons even more. After attending a concert featuring a Celtic band, I decided to take up violin. I've always heard that it is the most difficult instrument to learn, but I felt I had to at least try it. I purchased a used violin from a local musician and began my screeching, squawking journey down the road to fiddlership.
It hasn't been easy on the ears. It has been vexing at times. I'm studying an instruction manual for third-graders, but it's where I have to start. After all, my almost-56-year-old fingers – adept though they are at typing 100 words a minute – are rookies at this violin thing. Just learning what the G, D, A and E strings sound like when they are correctly tuned has been a challenge.
Just as I don't envision myself becoming the photographic equivalent of Ansel Adams, I certainly don't expect I'll someday be as accomplished on the violin as Stradivari. I'll be thrilled to squawk out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on my trusty and aged violin. And just as I've grown as a photographer and learned something with every click of the shutter, I know each time I draw the bow across those G, D, A and E strings I'm getting a tiny bit more accomplished. And that feels really good.
So, if you are a child of the middle of the last century, like I am, don't be afraid to challenge yourself by learning a new skill. You might be surprised by the positivity it brings to your life.
Cynthia J. Simmons, who lives in Middleport, is expanding her horizons via photography and learning to play the violin.