I took my first University of Memphis Continuing Education class more than 10 years ago. It was a yoga class held at the Memphis Jewish Community Center. Chief among my memories is straddling an older woman to help her with a particularly difficult pose. I remember that she was tiny and that she wore her hair in a tidal-wave bouffant like the one favored by Ann Landers. And then, tit for tat, she straddled me. Given this sensitive situation, along with the instructor having advised us to "evacuate" our bowels before class, it was all I could do to keep my composure. So I didn't.
The instructor, very rightly, called me out. He said I could be very good at yoga if I just applied myself. So I didn't. But I did take more Continuing Ed classes. Off the top of my head: acrylic painting, "Joy for Soy" cooking, sculpting, pottery, woodworking, and sewing.
I am a serial Continuing Ed class-taker. Make that was, since the U of M decided recently to discontinue all the "leisure" classes in the program, citing a running debt. I don't know about that, but I do know that reducing Continuing Ed is very inconsiderate of the U of M. Now that Continuing Ed is dead, what the hell am I going to do with my free time?
There are two things I've gotten out of these classes: 1) the knowledge that I'm bad at a lot of things; and 2) a bunch of crap. This is important and not at all a slight to my teachers. In my woodworking class, for example, our instructor told us about a woman in one of his classes who had built a boat. A boat! If she built a boat, I thought, then what can stop me from building a house? I now know that what stops me are skills and patience. This class was three hours on Friday night and three hours on Sunday afternoon, with the first hour and half of each class devoted to lectures on topics such as, no joke, "What is a tree?"
I made a hook tool that works kind of like a clamp, and I made a little shelf. I didn't finish the third project, because I broke the blade on the bandsaw. Talk about evacuating your bowels! The sound a bandsaw blade makes when it breaks is like a gunshot. I cowered for the rest of the class. Anyway, that last project -- a tool that I think is used to push wood through other tools and may be called a "push tool" -- is now in the trunk of my car. It's been there for more than two years, along with all my other woodworking materials. Woodworking was one of my favorite classes. I haven't touched a tool since.
Here's another thing about Continuing Ed classes: They fill in educational gaps. Do high schools teach shop anymore? What about home economics? In woodworking, I used a saw for the very first time, and I learned that a lot of ills can be cured with a healthy amount of wood glue. If not for the soy cooking class, how on earth would I know about TVP (texturized vegetable protein)? My mother? Please.
And, yes, I know there are places around town that offer some of the same classes, and I'll probably pursue those. But this points to another now-gone gift of the Continuing Ed program: the handy-dandy catalog, filled with promise, just perfect for a person like me who wants to do everything with absolutely no effort. I do know that the Jewish Community Center offers a calligraphy class. Maybe I'll go there and reunite with that tiny, older woman I met in yoga class so many years ago.