My mother often (very often) said to me, “You can learn anything you put your mind to, Madelyn.” And so I put my mind to things.
As a teenager, I put my mind on seeds. I collected seeds from all sorts of plants. I learned how to gather them – there really is a science about when it is the right time to gather seeds. Cleome flowers (sometimes called spider flowers) develop long pods of seeds that at just the right moment, spring open and spray the seeds out, leaving nothing in the pod. You have to be fast to catch them just before that moment. I learned how to extract seeds from inside a fruit. I don’t mean opening up the core of an apple and extracting the seed, I mean the more challenging form of extracting the seed from the spinning ‘helicopters’ of a maple tree. I learned which seeds needed to be dried before they were stored and which came ready for immediate display.
To this very day, I can recognize a seed right out of the seed envelop – yes, without reading the cover. Holding it in my hand, I can almost see the plant bursting to come forth once it is planted and allowed to grow. I put my mind to learning about seeds, and I did. I still have an enormous respect for the magic of seeds.
On the other hand, I never put my mind to spelling when I was in school. I got A’s in math and the only D I ever got, in spelling. I limped along for years until one day, I realized that ignoring this topic was holding me back – it even embarrassed me not to be able to spell. So, I put my mind to it. For a whole year, I looked up every word that was even in the least questionable to me. (And that was a lot of words!) By the end of the year, a funny thing happened. I was spelling words that would have been impossible for me to even consider looking up without at least the first letter, and I was spelling words that I didn’t even know before that year began. Putting my mind to it did more for me than I anticipated. I thought it would allow me to spell the words I knew. What I discovered through this year was that I had developed a vocabulary well beyond what I began with. (You have to read the words around the word you are looking for in the dictionary. Sometimes you even begin to read about them. Yes, reading the dictionary in small spurts is possible – and can be enjoyable.)
At the end of that year, I happened coincidentally to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). I knew I would do well in the mathematics section, but I didn’t anticipate that I would ace the word comprehension section. If I hadn’t before, I now totally respected the power of spelling and the door it opens to other things.
As I write this, I am beginning to think I should ‘put my mind to learn’ about something. I’m not one for resolutions. I’m an action-oriented person out of the starting gate. But, the idea of focusing on something to learn is totally intriguing. And as it was with seeds and spelling, part of the fun is not anticipating the unexpected benefits. How great is that?
What are you going to put your mind to learn this year?
Photo by CameliaTWU