Lifelong Learning

I don’t think of Gotham Writers Workshop as an educational institution or even as a school, though we are obviously both, considering our chief activity is offering classes. I just prefer something that sounds more entertaining, perhaps a laboratory of storytelling.

That name conjures mad scientists and fizzy potions and has a bit of pizazz to it.

Whatever we call it, we do help people learn. We’ve been doing that a long time (over 30 years) and we plan to keep on doing it, well, forever.

While re-reading T.H. White’s glorious telling of the King Arthur tale, I was struck by this quote from Merlin the wizard:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.”

In this version of the tale, Merlin lives backwards, growing younger every day, coming from a past/future where he has seen the ravages of the 20th century. Which gives him an interesting perspective on things. Having lived in the time of the atomic bomb is reason enough to convince King Arthur that might should not mean right.

And it strikes me that learning makes you both older and younger. Older because when you learn stuff your mind matures in a way. Younger because when you learn stuff you’re increasing the flexibility of your mind. It’s inspiring to watch a child learn something, like those first fumbling attempts at walking or reading, but it’s equally inspiring to watch someone who’s been around a while pick up new tricks, like writing a novel or baking a soufflé.

And that gets me thinking that learning is like a Möbius strip, one of those strips with a half twist that you can trace with your fingers for years and years and never reach the end or the beginning—the way learning makes you simultaneously older and younger. Which is kind of sensational, isn’t it?

What are you going to learn this week? Go on, be ambitious about it. If you fail, that’s fine. Even then, you learned something.

Alex Steele

Gotham President

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