Caught in Between

I am on year six of retirement – which I started by calling it “refirement”! I saw this time as a chance to start new, to begin again. This is a time to learn, develop and create. I have been doing that over the last few years.

pinellmsm2.jpgI have been learning to draw, like Linda M. Lifkin, using botanical art (image to the left), working on writing and developing my gardens. All of this is great fun but behind it is the ever frustrating feeling of a beginner. The feeling of not knowing enough, not being “good” enough. I grew up in a world of right and wrong – not a world of developing or growing. You either knew things or you did not. You were good at something or you were not. Somehow the idea of developing – the getting to know a new skill was never discuss or shown or praised or even just acknowledged.

So here I am an old lady sitting in between – the in between of developing skills. I am in the place of knowing a little, being able to do a little but not good or very skilled at any of it.

It is an odd place to be – I seem to write about it often. (Sorry to those of you who keep reading my posts. This seems to be the place I think these things through and repeat myself often.)

This is where I have to face the fact that I am not very persistent when learning something new. At least when learning something new just for myself.

I was great at pushing through and learning new things when teaching, the learning I did them was for my students. I was great at getting my children and students to acquire new skills – helping than to develop the skills of practicing a new bit of learning.

Now as I am learning things just because they would be fun I find it hard to stay with it. An example is that it is hard to make time in the day to just sit and draw. I am haunted with the feeling that I should be up doing something productive. I struggle with the idea that learning a new artist skill or craft is not productive.

Productive is when you are doing an activity like making tomato sauce from the hundreds of  tomatoes in the garden. I will quickly learn how to do that and complete that task. It is a learning that benefits other people. I am doing something for others – storing food to feed the family come winter.

My drawing is just for me. I don’t plan to be an artist that sells paintings or drawing. I don’t even think my drawing will come out of my sketch books. In my mind it then means I am not doing something productive and should stop learning this new skill even if inside myself I would really like to learn how to draw.

I have gathered the resources – drawing pencils, colored pencils, paper, sketch books download.jpgand books about drawing. I watch videos about drawing. Then I go to draw and I put it away. “Not now” I say “I need to go wash the windows or do laundry or weed the garden.” There is always something to do that blocks that time to practice the new skill. The skill that is hard for me but fascinates me and pulls at my soul.

I drawing when I take classes that cost lots of money – I don’t want to waste the money spent and so I draw for the six weeks of class. The problem is like any new skill six weeks is just a beginning. If I really want to gain any real skill I need to keep at it.  One needs to draw daily – making the pencils feel at home in your hand, training your eye to see and your brain to move a 3 d shape from the world into a flat drawing with looks like it has depth. It is hard I have found out.


It is all so amazing and I want the skill. I can imagine the joy of watching an image appear as your pencil moves across the page. The wonder at stepping back and being able to say – hey that looks like true Echinacea.

I realize this being caught in between is really like having that internal editor when you are writing. The little guy or gal on your shoulder shaking their head going – nope not good enough, nope that sentence sounds stupid, nope you will never be a writer.

So now I have that same like guy in much more colorful clothes whispering in my ear – “No stupid idea to draw, you should be off doing something for others. Go now and get busy. You need to put that pencil away.”

It is now September 2nd and I am determined to go face to face with this artistic IMG_8671.JPGdemon. I plan to find a way passed this guy and take the pencil in my hand and begin to draw again. Darn, it is amazing how hard learning something new can be!

Are you learning something new that you tests your patience or makes you think about your endurance to stay with a new task?  What helps you stay with a task that is hard and new for you?

Boy – it makes me think of my students who were learning factions, or geometry or reading or science concepts – all this new stuff is hard to get into our brains. Especially hard if we don’t see a use for it. Why and how will I use this new learning?   It seems to matter.  Having a purpose to learning it important I think.

Hmmm  what is my purpose for drawing?  What makes me want to learn to draw?

Good questions to ask our selves and our students as the school year begins!



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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8 Responses to Caught in Between

  1. arjeha says:

    I like your term “refirement”. That does aptly describe what retirement is all about. It is funny how we quickly learn new things that can benefit others but when it comes to doing something we want to do for ourselves we lag. Maybe the reason we need to give ourselves for learning something new is just because it makes us feel good.

  2. That stage of being in between can be so frustrating! I feel that way about a few new things I’m learning – I know just enough to know how much I still don’t know! Have you ever seen this clip from Ira Glass about being a perfectionist and being a beginner? Your post made me think of it! I’m glad you reminded me of it – I needed to relisten to it!

  3. Ramona says:

    I’m so proud of you for trying to do something that is challenging just for you. Keep shouting down that little man in colorful clothes and keep doing this just for the fun of it. Hard for it to feel fun when it’s so hard, huh? I have some things that are similar and I understand exactly what you’re saying.

  4. Rita K. says:

    Wow! I could so relate to this post, JoAnn. This is my third year of retirement and, like you, I’m trying to think of it as refirement. I’ve joined a singing group (and I’m not very good), I just started to take piano lessons again (and I’m not very good) and much like your drawing, I go back and forth with writing. Today, I wrote for several hours because I am determined to stick with it this time. Like you, I miss the feeling of expertise. I was good at teaching and I never stopped learning how to hone that skill. Yes, doing things for someone else someone gives one permission to go full throttle. NIce to know there’s someone else out there like me. All that said, I am enjoying my little challenges.

  5. I really understand your feelings. I’ve been retired 2 1/2 years. I love learning new things but find it really hard to stick with each thing I’ve tried: writing Pb books, painting, drawing, I could not name why, but I think you uncovered the reason – if I’m doing it for someone else, I can accomplishe the goal. Working gave me the reason to learn because I was teaching! Thanks!

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