Is there such a thing as forgetting how to write?
I’ve never, ever thought so.
Because from the time I was a schoolgirl, being dragged outside for gym, I wrote in my head. I wrote in my head because in the classroom, where I was learning, I didn’t need to write. I was learning, for Pete’s sake! I knew I would—and could—write about what I was learning, but first I had to learn it. I was one of those weird children: I liked to pay attention. I believed the teachers had something there for me. Honestly, they mostly did. So I learned.
I learned because then I could score well on tests. And I could write about what I learned. That’s the kind of kid I was—one who liked to learn. And why? Because learning was the brain’s version of eating. And I liked to eat. Who didn’t?
So why wouldn’t the brain want to eat, as well? The Krebs cycle was a cupcake for the frontal lobe. The geological epochs spoke to the medulla: the earth breathes and we breathe. Something about the earth beats and our hearts beat. I was always sure, as a sixth-grade biology student, that there was a correspondence between our physical needs and the needs of the brain. I mean, I guess, that I thought we needed to learn. That is, we needed to learn if we wanted to fully live.
That’s how I felt about being in the classroom, anyway. I mean, of course it got boring. And as I grew past elementary and middle school I began to recognize mediocrity in teachers (and I vowed that, if I ever became a teacher I would damn well not be mediocre about it) as well as a certain brilliance, or at the very least, a facility that some teachers had.
This came to be even more true when I was in college, then graduate school and then seminary. The very best teachers made you want to learn, made you want to postpone that endless need and urge and compulsion to write, postpone it long enough, just long enough, that you could write for them--about what you’d learned, learning from them.
But back to elementary school: Every day that I was dragged outside for gym, there was just nothing that I wanted to learn. Nothing. It wasn’t that I had—or have ever had—an aversion to physical activity. In fact, I love it. I was a dancer till my early twenties, then became a serious yoga practitioner and still am, as well as a yoga teacher. I far more trust my body than I trust my brain—or, to quote the bumper sticker, ‘I try not to believe every thing I think.’
But elementary school gym class? With Mrs. Crochina? And Miss Pettigrew? And that dumb-ass Mr. Crochina who subbed when his wife was out on maternity leave? I never cared to learn their games. So I just wrote stories in my head while I was waiting to run around the stupid orange cones or waiting to be the next walloped on the head in “Duck, Duck, Goose” or waiting for my turn to stand at home plate swinging a plastic bat at a Whiffle ball. Sheesh, puhleeze!
Now I know—these decades hence—that Mr. and Mrs. Crochina and Miss Pettigrew and Miss Hill and Mrs. Maru were my very first writing teachers. They didn’t know it, but they were. Because Mr. and Mrs. Crochina (and I did like that long vertical groove on the outside of her thighs), Miss Pettigrew and Mrs. Maru bored me to tears. I didn’t care about gym and stupid games. I had ballet class where I had to learn French words in order to make my body move the right way.
But my gym teachers set my mind free so that it could wander and wander free. So much of gym class was about waiting: for the next girl to get out of the water so I could have a timed lap, for the next girl to run the hurdles so I could encounter my own, for the offensive team to be replaced by the defensive team (and vice versa) in flag football, in basketball and in softball.
These days, I just want to take a gym class. No, not a class at a gym. A gym class, one in which you must stand and wait and daydream and be impatient and let your mind wander because there is not one single thing interesting that is going on. And therefore, in the absence of other things to learn, you learn how to write.
Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten how do that, what with all the good stuff there is to learn in this world.
But then I remind myself of the dullness of Dodgeball and Mrs. Crochina’s interesting thighs. And I remember that I haven’t quite forgotten how to write.