Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier

Teach Old Dogs

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learnHow many times have you heard of this phrase “teach old dog new tricks” as a deterrent to learning something new? My husband uses this as an excuse each time I ask him to join me in ballroom dancing. Many writers in my club refuse to look at blogging and OMG, micro-blogging, as serious writing. Time spent composing Facebook or Twitter posts is time wasted. PERIOD! And blogging? You’ve got to be kidding. Who has the time to doodle aimless thoughts? “I can hardly manage to turn on my computer,” some say. “Why would I want more complications? Facebook? Twitter? Blogging? Thank you very much!”

Yet in my life, I’ve seen that given the circumstance, when forced to learn—to re-adapt to a new life, to advance a career or transition to a new job, to cope with technology changes, to live in a new country, to communicate with the younger generations, so on and so forth—people (old dogs too) can always acquire new knowledge. Some learn faster than others. But no one fails to pick up enough new tricks to keep life going in the right direction.

Immigrants do it all the time. When I first arrived in the U.S., I possessed merely fifty English words. I just smiled a lot to people, and that seemed to do the trick for a while. My first American contact was our landlord, a Chinese American divorcee who spent his time plotting against his ex-wife. My verbal exchanges with him consisted of “thank you” and “good morning” or “good night.” I took care to not let his heavily-accented English contaminate my new language in its vulnerable and impressionable stage.

Then we found a job almost instantly, one that did not require much talking, only doing. This time our language teacher was a black lady with a largest butts endowment I had ever seen up until then, and now I have a name and quick description for: Kardashian. Me and my younger brother showed up at her home as instructed (and translated by my English fluent dad) and were shown two bathrooms and given a bottle of Ajax each. She pointed at the bathtubs, sinks, and toilets. We understood perfectly. But except for a set of rags and sponges, she did not give us any tools to work with. I managed to say, “How,” pointing at the urine-ringed bowls. She smiled. Big, white teeth. And showed me my hands. Then made quick, vigorous scrubbing motions with hers, saying “Scrub hard. Make it clean.”

I nodded. Understood.

Learning demands good attitude. And hope. You learn with the desire to be better, to get over the hump, to be in a better position with time.

PS: Thanks to Rubin Johnsons, I recently learned to type an m-dash by pressing simultaneously Alt 0151.

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Author: Hong-My Basrai

Memoirist and author of Behind the Red Curtain, blogger, engineer, manager, mother of three and wife of one, etc. I am a bit of everything.

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