Friday, February 03, 2017

Contrasting views of the life process: (1) It's never too late. (2) It's almost always too late.


Without a single mention (or almost)
of a certain orange-headed person

by Ken

It wasn't till the order arrived that the full preposterousness -- or at least a fuller version of the preposterousness -- of the whole thing hit home. It was an extravagant expenditure at a time (a time, for one thing, of unemployment) when the extravagance is a really big deal, regardless of how much money I had saved.

Still and all, come on, it was an 80-percent-off deal, and it was all stuff that really interested me -- some interests that have been life-long, others that are more recent but possibly more intense. And just because I'd never allowed myself to try this form of learning didn't mean either that it isn't a good form of learning or that I couldn't still experiment with it. It's just that it was, still and all, an expensive experiement.

What it was, or is, is a whole bunch of courses offered on video as taught by apparently highly qualified professional educators. You've seen the ads, including the big-sale ads, a million times. Only this time, for some reason, I had found myself looking through the extensive brochure describing (I think it was) 80 included-in-the-sale courses. And what would have been the point of looking through it without taking the only-slightly-additional step of noting which of the courses might be of interest to me.

So I'd carried the thing around with me for a number of days, keeping in mind the end-of-sale deadline, until finally I took some time to look through to see what I'd flagged. And from there until nearly midnight on the day of the aforementioned end-of-sale deadline, I scrutinized those listings. I made a list, with asterisks for the courses that seemed most irresistibly interesting, even potentially important. I made another list when I misplaced the first one, which eventually turned up nestled inside the brochure. Just for fun, I added up the dollar figures in the list. I gulped. I scratched out a few of the listings, then re-added the dollar total, and gulped again.

With the deadline looming, I looked over the list once again, and re-presented to my inner judge the case for the inclusion of each item on the list, which now numbered seven -- or actually eight, since one of the listings was an even-more-reduced-price bundle of two courses. With an eye on the clock, I went online to scout the ordering process. For the heck of it, I started entering the courses from my list. This also meant, for a number of the courses, choosing either an audio (CD) or video (DVD) option. (In all cases I wound up opting for video.) And when all that was done, I went ahead and clicked the button that turned a harmless little exercise into a real-life purchase.

I could have "cashed in" fairly quickly by going online and figuring out how to stream the courses, since the streaming option was included in the deal. But that was a little futuristic for my old-school brain. No, I could deal with streaming at some point in the future; for now, I would just wait for delivery of the DVDs with the books that accompany each course. And during the wait, I was pretty excited.

Then the package arrived, and as I said at the outset, a fuller dimension of what I'd done hit me.

Viewed most mundanely, the obvious question was: Where was the time going to come from to sit down and watch the damned things, which range from 24 half-hour lectures to 48 45-minute ones? At a time when I'm hard pressed to find time for basic (or maybe extended-basic) life functions. The larger question, however, drawing back a bit, was: What kind of ridiculous "investment" is this, purporting to take on this large heap of learning at such a ridiculously advanced age? Even assuming I actually do it, now that I've got the stuff, what possible return can I expect, or even hope for, for such a large financial outlay?

And I didn't/don't have a convincing answer. In fact, my characteristically helpful brain piles on with the memory of a conversation from a bunch of decades ago. In conversation with a really trusted friend, I must have mentioned some sort of undertaking I wistfully wished I might have undertaken. My friend ventured, "It's never too late," and almost without thinking I replied something like, "In my life it's almost always too late."

So there!

Of course if I don't actually use these lovely new resources, the answer is plain: It's all a bloody giant waste. And in another flashback, I flashed back to the great pleasure I always took in my college years in each start-of-term textbook-buying expedition. I should add, in case it isn't obvious from my above-referenced ridiculously advanced age, that my college book-buying orgies date from the ancient era when textbook-buying didn't involve negotiating with the IMF for an aid package. It just meant going to the college bookstore, finding the shelf section that contained the designated materials for each of my upcoming classes, and schlepping all those goodies to the cashier. Then, of course, schlepping them back to my dorm room and fondling them all lovingly.

It would be pointless pedantry to add to this bright memory the harsh fact that many of those lovely books remained almost as little used at the end of the term as they were at the start. Except that now this part of the memory becomes suddenly present-tense. I can fondle the shrink-wrapped DVDs, arrange and rearrange them in various groupings and orderings, even open the books that aren't sealed inside the shrink wrap, being either hard-covered or otherwise too large in format. But I didn't actually crack any of that shrink wrap open until I sat down to write this piece, when I thought that perhaps the least I could do was to slap in the first DVD of one of the courses.

I think you'll agree that that's the very least I could do. Since I'm writing while I "watch," it comes perilously close to doing nothing at all.

I don't know what the distribution of the courses says about me. Here's how the eight courses break down:

• three on various aspects of mental function -- one dealing with practicing mindfulness (we hear so much about mindfulness, so what the heck does it really mean, in real-world terms?), one with cognitive behavioral therapy (for years I've been aware that CBT exists and might be helpful to me, without managing to puzzle out what exactly it is), one with scientific understanding and presumably buttressing of memory

• going a step beyond the above, one on fitness as one ages

• an extensive series on classical music, about which I have long-standing curiosity because the course is a famous one developed over many decades by a gentleman who has apparently had enormous success in what once would have been called the "music appreciation" genre (something I eventually felt obliged to take a stab at myself, with results that I've judged a resounding failure), my reasoning here including the possibility that I might be either seriously bored or seriously jealous, but either way there's always the music (which was a consolation in looking back at my efforts)

• two interesting-looking cooking courses (this is the hybrid two-for-a-special-price deal)

• a course in Spanish-- (for a number of reasons, I've long regretted not having more than the most rudimentary Spanish in my linguistic arsenal

As if this wasn't all enough, the shipment arrived with a economically attractive offer, time-limited, to buy more of the original sale list, which amazingly I'm considering.

I still can't explain how all of this makes financial sense. Perhaps more surprisingly, though, I still don't feel bad about doing it. And none of it, you'll notice, involves as much as a single mention of Trump. (Though somewhere in there, I think, is some rubbing up against the phenomenon of what we might call Trumpery.) I guess we shall see.



At 2:28 PM, Blogger samuel glover said...

It *is* never too late. Seeking knowledge is always laudable, and it's one of life's pleasures, no? But I don't understand why you *paid* for it. Do a little web searching and you'll find a phenomenal assortment of high-quality lectures, tutorials, etc., available gratis.

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Hone said...

I assume your are talking about the Great Courses taught by well respected professors. A great way to learn but it requires commitment. The professors are very appealing in their presentations.

We have purchased some of these series in advance of travel. One on Impressionism was fantastic and enlightened us a great deal for our trip to the south of France. It was wonderful learning about the artists and their backgrounds and it helped us appreciate their paintings as well as the houses, studios and environs that we visited. Another on Italian Renaissance Art was okay, but we did not finish the course. It was a long one, with I think 24 lectures. We eventually got tired of all of the religiosity - the Annunciation, Madonna and Child and Jesus on the Cross. As my husband said, "Where are the paintings of Jesus when he was a teenager?"

Good luck Ken!

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude... respect. Truly it is never too late. I derive perhaps far too much enjoyment in learning something new.

However, if you're on a budget (like moi), there are probably many fine volumes in your public library that are free (to borrow), as well as CD/DVD versions when they exist. You can search by author, if you know some that have created the kind of learning resource you seek, or subject or title. And, at least in my case, you can reserve them and have them mailed to you when they become available.


anyway, go to town. It's truly a joy.

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very cool. As Joseph Campbell said, "Jump."

At 3:44 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks for the encouragement, all!



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