Aging Doesn’t Make Us Stupid.

I occasionally spend time at a writing retreat called The Porches. After “quiet writing time” ends at 5:30, during which I stare out the window, drink coffee, sleep, and sometimes write something, I pour a glass of red wine (’cause that’s a hard day’s work) and play the old, out-of-tune piano in the parlor. Other writers sometimes sit and listen, which is fun for me and it breaks the ice.

Last year a woman made a comment I’ve heard many times when I play: “I wish I could play piano!” I hear that. I wish I could draw or speak Welsh. There’s always something to learn.

But when I ask, “Have you ever considered taking lessons?” The response is usually, “Oh it’s too late now.” Which is bullshit, because I’ve taught adults, and adults are my favorite people to teach. (Seriously. Screw kids and their ADD and germs.)

And I say “No it’s not,” because truth. And here’s the usual, entrenched-thinking reply:


This not only makes me sad, it makes me angry. Why deprive yourself of a new experience that you truly desire? There are a lot of reasons not to learn piano, but “my brain won’t learn it anymore” is not one of them. That sounds like laziness to me. Hey, I’m all for laziness, don’t get me wrong. Just be honest about it.

/piano rant

Good news: The Boston Globe reports that a new study–a big, big study–has been completed by MIT and Mass General that says many learning skills actually peak later in life, some even later than they used to:

Perhaps most encouraging: Vocabulary skills may not decline until well into our 60s. But researchers discovered something that intrigued them even more. Their data showed that vocabulary skills are peaking later in life now than they did decades ago.

Aging does not make you stupid.

Okay, here’s why you’re reading this: QUIZZES!

 Researchers’ websites and feature free tests that can be done in less than 25 minutes. Over the past several years, the websites have accumulated data from nearly 3 million people, according to the researchers.

Under 25 minutes cracks me up. Don’t they know we’re accustomed to discovering what high-end GOOP product we are in under two minutes?

So what would you guys like to learn? I want to draw (I have a beginner’s kit, unopened) and speak Welsh.

About taoreader

Writer and Editor. Pianist and singer. Feminist and proponent of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. I don't get it either. I wish I could have dinner with Marie Curie.
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25 Responses to Aging Doesn’t Make Us Stupid.

  1. There’s all sorts of stuff I’d love to learn how to do, and I know it’s not aging that will stop me–it’s laziness. And the internet.

  2. gnidrah says:

    I’m learning (trying to, anyway!) learn Portuguese right now! And I want to properly learn Greek, not the rag-bag of vocab etc I have now.

    I think the only reason it’s harder for me now than say, 15 years ago, is that there are far more demands on my time (think: work) than there were then. Plus laziness and the internet, yeah, Theresa is 100% spot on there.

    I’d also like to learn to do some form of ballroom dancing, not a slow one but an uptempo number like the charleston or something like that. And I’d like to learn to play tennis, properly, rather than what we used to do as kids.

    • Dancing would be fun! I went salsa dancing once and was terrible, but at the end of the night I danced with a guy who was a really good teacher and I almost got it.

      • gnidrah says:

        I used to dance properly as a teenager, and now I see those dance shows and I just feel so jealous! One day those shoes will come out again…

  3. catweazle says:

    I was trying to convince my aunt to take piano lessons recently and she pulled out the “too old” card and I told her that was bogus. I was thinking it was kind of an “easy for me to say since I learned how to play when I was a kid” thing but now I know that I’m just super good at science!

  4. FRQ says:

    In addition to laziness and the Internet, I’d also say that certain hobbies can be difficult to keep up without having some sort of purpose or goal to achieve. For example, it’d be great to pick up another language, but if you don’t have someone you can speak to regularly, or a country you’re planning to visit, it’s tough to keep up. If you can learn just for the sake of learning, that’s terrific, but I think most people don’t fall under that category.

  5. facetaco says:

    I wish I could learn to write fiction. I really enjoy writing, and I think that I can write English real good, for the most part. I mean, I used to get paid for writing game reviews, and I have a 3-year plan for getting to Italy that involves writing papers for students who have more money than motivation (i.e. cheating).

    But I can’t do fiction. I’ve tried so, SO many times. But I can’t describe people. And I can’t write dialogue. And maybe other flaws that I haven’t found yet, because you can’t get terribly far in fiction without describing people or writing dialogue.

  6. artdorkgirl says:

    I do wish I had more technical, hands-on knowledge about printmaking. I had a friend in Tulsa with access to a lithography studio, and if I knew then how much I would be writing about them, I would have let her teach me how to make prints.

    Also, I wish I could sew. I mean, I can repair a hem or attach a button, but I’d love to make a quilt or a skirt or something.

  7. catweazle says:

    There are many things I wish I could do that I know I’m just not cut out for, like dancing and drawing and sewing. Other things that I am theoretically capable of, like getting better at guitar or even learning another instrument or a foreign language I think I am just too lazy to do.

  8. welcometocostcoiloveyou says:

    Piano and violin are the two instruments I would like to learn.

    I was working on learning Spanish – highly recommend Duolingo app on your phone – but I haven’t practiced for a while, and I haven’t been watching daily telenovelas, so I have some catching up to do.

    I have been looking into taking a screenwriting class. I have no writing experience, and honestly don’t even have ideas for a story, but it’s just something I’m interested in trying. A lot of you are writers – any advice?

    I feel like there is always something new to learn as a graphic designer. I’ve sort of settled into knowing what I need to know, and I think it would be good for me to learn some new techniques within the software I use – InDesign, Photoshop, etc. I’m currently learning WordPress, and will hopefully have a portfolio site up in the near future.

    • gnidrah says:

      I have duolingo! It is good, but I find it frustrating, as having got my degree in languages, I want to run faster than I can walk! I only write scripts so I can’t help much but unfortunately, I found practice makes perfect… 😦

      • gnidrah says:

        Should’ve pointed out my scripts are for news, that would have been helpful of me.

    • I took a screenwriting class right when I moved to LA and it was really good. It’s a great way to get an understanding of some of the fundamental rules about writing scripts. There are also some really good books and websites that can give you tons of tips about writing, but it can be really helpful to get feedback from the other students. Do you live in an area with any sort of film industry? One of the most important things is to make sure you’re taking a class being taught by someone with actual industry experience, not just an English teacher who knows how to use Final Draft because there’s a ton of stuff you can’t learn without some sort of first-hand experience.

      • welcometocostcoiloveyou says:

        I live close enough to Chicago to take a class there. I have been putting it off for the last few months since our weather has either been -10 degrees or snowing.

    • hotspur says:

      I agree with cassmasterflash. I took the Writers Boot Camp classes when I first got to LA — they have it in NYC too and I think now you can arrange to do it online, maybe? It outlines an approach to structure that is very writer-friendly. However, it is also pricey, to such an extent that they don’t even put the prices on their website afaik. It might be like $900 for a 10-week course, now? I only remember that I couldn’t sensibly afford it. At the end, however, you will have written a whole screenplay. Maybe worth noting: On day one of the class, everyone showed up with an idea for a movie. You’d probably get more out of the class if go in with an idea. (Maybe take a cheaper class. Then if you buy me a drink I will give you the 10-minute version of what that class spends 10 weeks on and it will only cost you $4 potentially.)

      If you want to feel serious about the business, I recommend the entertaining book “Writing Movies For Fun & Profit” by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant. It would have helped me a lot had I read it early on. I can sum up its main lesson in one line, which is “Don’t stick to your guns for art’s sake if someone offering you money wants you to change stuff, even if the changes are lunacy.” (Haha, stupid young me thought “People always admire the guy who sticks to his guns!”) (Which is an idea I got from movies. O, irony.)

  9. I’ve always wanted to learn another language but after several years of language classes, it’s very apparent that I do not have a knack for it. Damn you French, you will forever elude me. Lately though I’ve been thinking about learning sign language, just because I think it would super cool.

  10. Kate says:

    I’d love to be able to code. Girls who code! Yeah Packy does not have the herculean amount of patience it would require to teach me. Plus he’s on the other side of the country.

  11. martinmegz says:

    That retreat looks incredible! Do you have to want to write something to go there? I’d go just to hang out. Then maybe if someone asked me what I’m working on I’d say a spec script for Die Hard 6. That should work, right?

    • hotspur says:

      “Die Hard 6 — it’s like Die Hard, set at a writer’s retreat.” (Martinmegz pitching this to the studio.)

      Yeah, that retreat looks cool. It also is near-ish my parents. I could visit them, then drive off to write a book in two weeks, then drive back and visit them again. Huh. It is even basically affordable. I mean, just a motel next to a highway would cost more. Huh. I feel pretty glad to learn this option is out there… maybe some day…

    • taoreader says:

      It’s a wonderful place I’ve been to many times. The owner, Trudy, is very friendly. It is meant specifically for writers, and if it’s your first time there, she likes to see a little of what you’re working on. It doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t have to be great, but you do have to have the intent to write.

  12. summerestherson says:

    I actually kinded of needed to hear this!
    I’d like to: re-learn how to play piano (took lessons as a kid, but it’s all gone now,) learn a language, learn Photoshop/more graphic design stuff, learn how to arrange flowers, and take some cooking classes, just to name a few!

  13. Simon Spidermonk says:

    I’d like to learn how to love again.

    Just kidding. Japanese.

  14. mordonez says:

    My usual answer to this would be another instrument, but that belies the fact that I am sort of a musical dilettante–aside from piano and bass, which I actually play well, I’m an ok guitar player, and a worse banjo and mandolin player, and still I find myself wanting to learn drums and saxophone, when in reality I should be devoting more time to practicing the instruments I already play.

    I frequently recall something that a band teacher told a group of assembled parents and kids back in elementary school, on some sort of “so you want to be in band” night. Someone asked him what the hardest instrument to play is, and he said “the first one”. Very true, as you no longer have to concentrate on the whole “learning what music is” thing. Also very false, because french horn is apparently a giant pain in the ass.

    Also I want a Babel fish, but don’t realistically see myself pursuing languages. I just basically want to quit one of my jobs so I can have more time for music, which then leads one into the whole depressing thought that we work for 50 years in order to retire and pursue what makes us happy.

    I’ve said this before, maybe I need some coffee.

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