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Rhody Radio episode transcription has been been made possible by the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.


Lifelong Learning 🤔

Tayla: [00:00:00] You're listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.


I'm Tayla, branch librarian of the Oaklawn Branch of the Cranston Public Library and host of our weekly podcast Down Time with Cranston Public Library. My pronouns are she/her. This week we're sharing an excerpt from our recent episode in which we talked with author Wendy Z Lewis and Beth Leconte, the director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at URI. They discuss their experience with lifelong learning and how you can keep learning no matter how old you are.

You'll also hear our regular segment, The Last Chapter, where we discuss a library of bookish-related questions. This week we answer the question if you were on a date with someone and you asked them their favorite book, what books could they say that would be a red flag? Enjoy.

Beth Laconte: Hi there. I'm Beth Laconte. I'm the director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at URI based at the Kingston Campus referred to as Ollie. I'm happy to be here and my pronoun is she.

Wendy Lewis: I'm Wendy Z Lewis. My pronouns are she/her and I'm passionate about health, wellness, and living your best life. I share my passions through my work as a writer, blogger, and reflexologist and I just recently did a talk at Cranston Public Library.

Tayla: I thought I'd start off if you both wanted to talk a little bit about what your experience is with lifelong learning. Basically, once you were done with school in your formal education what has your experience been learning new things and how have you gone about that? I know that's a very broad question.

Beth: When you step away from your formal learning, as much as I did love school and so forth and so on, you had the structure and you may have to take X, Y, Z courses and so [00:02:00] forth, I think as you leave that your slate is wide open. It gives you the opportunity of whatever you're curious about or things you may have never tried before to dive right in and go experience it. There's no judgment there. You don't have to worry about a grade, and you can pursue things that are probably outside of your realm. I would say that for me, that's an exciting part no matter when your formal education does end.

For myself I liked being in the classroom, Wendy don't laugh at me, I went back 10 years later, I got one master's, and then I went back and got another master's while I was working full time because I love that learning. I think the sky's the limit and what's out there. As an adult, you get to make those choices and you might try something you've never done before and take that risk. I'll stop right now but one thing that really got me on that track is I had the experience of going on an Outward Bound eight-day adventure, all female, which is what I chose to do. I had just turned 40.

I was executive director of a YMCA at that time, and this young teenager came in and said, "They have this for adults too, Beth." I said, "Yes, I know." He brought the application in, and I went, I loved the outdoors. I didn't know anybody. It was in North Carolina. There's the adventurer in me that maybe had been held back for a little bit. It was high ropes course and canoeing and what else did we do? Hiking and the hurricane was coming in. We ended up sleeping in a canoe in these tarps one night and doing whitewater rafting and the cooking and so forth. That's to your element, so it really pushes you beyond your comfort zone. You're tired, you stink to high heaven, you don't care. You just get back into who you are as a person. I [00:04:00] think for me, that just opened it up, okay, what else am I going to do next? It's the adventure or the curiosity part.

Wendy: That's wonderful. I can relate to so much of what you're saying, Beth, because when you get out of formal education, the sky is the limit. You're not limited by necessarily your parents' budget. If you are a grown-up with a job, you can pay for things yourself for the first time. Like, whoa. That's how I felt when I started doing martial arts. For a long, long while I was doing as many trainings as I pretty much could at Kripalu Yoga Center in Massachusetts. One of the best things I did was I got certified as a yoga dance instructor, and I used to teach, and I was just with this wonderful group of people and so many of us 20 years later are still in touch.

It's wonderful, just quality people. That's been my passion and what I live for in a lot of ways ever since I've left home is what can I learn now? What can I do now? Seeing every challenge as a learning experience. Probably the most recent thing I can draw on is I did a triathlon last year. When we were in COVID lockdown, I just happened to be surfing on my phone looking at stuff related to fitness and it had always been a goal of mine to do a triathlon, but the only one I knew of was the Ironman. That was so difficult, I couldn't possibly do it. Then I found this webpage with types of triathlons and there was one that's a little shorter, a sprint distance. I said, "Oh, that's something I can actually do, that's within my goal. I can achieve that."

That in itself was a learning experience and just committing to training and doing certain things every [00:06:00] week. I did it, and it was surprisingly difficult, and that in itself was a learning experience. Like, "Okay, there are still so many things to learn and when I did the race, there were so many people my age and older that were so much better than me, and their times were so much faster. Rather than feeling defeated by that, as I thought I might, I was really inspired by that because actually, the woman that came in first overall was only a year younger than I at the time. I was like, "You go, girl." I can look up to these people like, "I can be like them when I grow up." It's a fun adventure that just never ends. It's great.

Beth: If I can jump in here, Wendy, we do have to get to meet each other. It's interesting because Wendy and I are talking about, I think action and movement in lifelong learning and I think sometimes we can as a community of people, but there's other areas where you can stretch your mind. If you wanted to take a foreign language that you never did or an immersion type thing or travel for that or if you want to dabble into cooking or whatever it might be it doesn't have to be the active part, but the two of us seem to go that route. I think the spirit of what we're trying to show is that just follow your heart and go seek what you'd like to do.

Wendy: Absolutely. If there's anything that always seeps into your mind like a little fantasy of yours, like, "Oh, I want to paint," or "Oh, I would like to sing," or "I would love to speak a language." To me, I always think that that's a little message to you that you really need to listen to that. You need to just get that out of your brain up, as this little daydream fantasy, something that your soul needs to do. I agree with you totally.

Beth: Yes, and don't put it off.

Wendy: No, just do it. Just jump in. [crosstalk]

Tayla: On the idea of you saying about don't put it off, there's a lot [00:08:00] of freedom to being an adult and not being in school where there are these confines, but there's also a lot of other things that people have going on in their life when you're an adult. Pursuing your passion sometimes goes on the back burner. Do either of you have any advice on how people can make time to pursue these little things in their brain of I always wanted to do that?

Beth: The first thing that comes to my mind is, we always strive to find some balance in our life. We go through this life once. Live now. Put fun in your life every day, or some learning every day, even if it's a little [unintelligible 00:08:48] and I know I'm guilty of not doing that. I always have to keep reminding myself. If you find that balance or you put it in-- I'm sure Wendy, when you were training for the triathlon, you had to make sure that you were training a little bit. If you had one that you had your calendar, your appointments, and what you were going to do, that you can build it right in there.

If you wanted to take a trip to the Grand Canyon, let's say, that you plan that, it's like if you do financial planning, you should do your vacation planning and put it out there and put it in your calendar, or even do a vision board that you want to get there. It's just taking that step and finding the time and remind yourself, there's a place for family, for work, for love, for adventure, and for play. Definitely play.

Wendy: Definitely. I can relate to so much of what you're saying. For me, I know there's always this challenge. I tend to take appointments with other people more seriously than my own, and I had to unlearn that. Like if you have to pick up your kids from school, you're not going to miss that. [00:10:00] If you have a doctor's appointment, and you will have to pay for the visit anyway whether or not you go, of course, you make sure you go. My challenge was always, if I make promises to myself, I'm going to do something, I would be the first one to not do that thing because no one else was relying on me.

I had to realize that you have to make appointments with yourself, and you have to take them just as seriously as an appointment with anybody else, for example, training for the triathlon. Believe me, there were so many mornings I did not want to go to the YMCA and swim. I said, you know what, "If I let this one go, I'm going to let the next appointment go and soon the triathlon day is going to be here, and I'm not going to be ready, and that won't be pretty." I really had to learn to keep these dates and be very serious about it.

A similar thing happened the year I turned 50. I made this commitment to myself that I was going to write a blog post every week. "Okay, I can take a couple of hours every week and write something." Because I was so frustrated, I wasn't writing the kinds of things I wanted to write, and I managed to keep it up. Once I learned to take that seriously, I have to say that year was, talking about learning, one of the things I learned was those tiny little steps, tiny little increments, when you look at the end of a long period of time, they add up and it doesn't feel like maybe you're making any progress, but all of a sudden, you'll look behind you and go, "Oh my goodness, I've come so far."

For me, all those little blog posts I wrote every week became a book that I published. If I sat down and said, "I'm going to write a book," it might not have happened, but I was able to wrap my head around I'm going to write a little bit every week. I think definitely when you have so much going on, [00:12:00] work and family commitments and all of that, you really have to take taking care of yourself as seriously as we take care of everybody else around us. At the end of our life, if we haven't done a few things we want to do, then what was the point? We're here to do more than pay bills.

Beth: Yes. It’s a real discipline but I think that when you sit back after you've done that, like your blog, Wendy, it's like, "Wasn't this rewarding? I did it." Congratulate yourself.

Wendy: Oh, thank you.

Beth: I hear you as far as getting for your triathlon. I'm a swimmer and getting in that pool at five o'clock in the morning.

Wendy: Oh yes. The pool water.

Beth: One of my goals years ago is to swim Save the Bay, and you had to make sure we were ready to do that.

Wendy: Wonderful.

Beth: It's just coming together with what you-- sometimes, what your passion is, which really makes you spark, I think, go for it. We have to put ourselves first and then, then we can give more to others, so finding that space.

Wendy: That's true. Sometimes the hardest part is just pushing yourself out of the house, but then once you do, you look back and you go, "I'm so glad I did that."

Beth: Yes. [laughs]

Tayla: Wendy, I think also something that you touched on that I think I'd like to fully flesh out, as you said, if I sat down and said, "I'm going to write a book," that might not have happened because that seems very overwhelming, but you had chosen the goal of, "I'm going to write a blog post every week." I think it's also important if you have a big goal that seems a lot, to start out with setting attainable goals that will get you there. Something that seems very achievable, because I think once you achieve that one thing, then the next little bit bigger thing will seem achievable, and so on and so forth.

Wendy: Absolutely. What's funny too is I did not set out to write a book. I think just through the practice of doing things we love, we might not have a particular plan in mind, although we might, [00:14:00] and that's fine, I think the path where it takes us is part of this wonderful cosmic discovery that other paths show themselves to us that we might not have set out on or been aware of. I actually did not set out to write a book, but that's what happened. Yes, it was such a wonderful thing.

Tayla: All right, we've talked about how we do it or at least how we figure out what we want to do and how we commit, or try to commit to lifelong learning. Beth, do you want to talk a little bit about Ollie, and how that can help people as a tool for their lifelong learning?

Beth: Yes. I'll be happy to do that, just a little bit of background about Ollie. There are Ollies all over the country, so our listeners are here wherever you live. They are affiliated with a college or a university and funded initially by the Bernard Osher Foundation. We are based here right at the Kingston campus. I think it's for age 50 and older. It's a membership institute within a university and it brings people together. If I had to say anything, it's community. We're welcoming people that may still be working, people that are recently retired and now what, people that may have relocated here to be closer to their grandkids or come back.

People that may have lost a spouse, or people that are an active all the time, but learning is important for them. It's a hub. We offer classes on a year-round basis over four semesters. It's all for the joy of learning. There's no homework. Sometimes you'll have reading. No grades. For the most part, they are in person. We do have some semesters about 10 or 12 Zoom classes. The range of what you're learning could be a language. It could [00:16:00] be creativity in play. It could be some history, some high-level physics, perhaps you never took that in high school, now you can come and it's like, "Oh, okay, this is interesting." It's stretching your learning. It's really about curiosity.

I think the one thing about our program is, people come from all walks of life and backgrounds. You do not have to have a college education. When you sit in the class, it could be a college professor that might be teaching, it could be a retired school teacher, or it could be someone like myself that knows how to facilitate a group and I have a passion that I want to share with others. There's a lot of dialogue there because of what comes in, so most classes are an hour and a half long, but I think people find their way because they want to be enriched and they want to grow and stretch a little bit. We also have special interest programs.

If people are looking to join our walking club or book group or have a foreign policy discussion group, it just goes, it's real member-centered and member-driven. That's how our programs come about. We're here on a year-round basis for full semesters, and we service the entire state. We have over 1,100 members right now, very active and inspiring. It's just a good, healthy, fun place to be. I find that people take more than one course a semester because they're spread out. We may, for example, this past semester, it started in September, it ends right before Christmas. We still have a handful of classes that haven't even started yet because there'll be one week, three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, et cetera.

It's very lively and it's fun just to be on a college campus. We do some intergenerational programming, so we're bridging that gap. Really it is building community [00:18:00] and it just keeps your curiosity going, I would say that's the theme of it. People seem to be very, very satisfied. New friends, new relationships are happening. We do a travel program, so people that may look for someone to travel what they find somebody.

Tayla: That's fantastic.

Beth: That is who we are.

Wendy: I'm going to check this out myself. Woohoo.

Beth: I've already got you pegged to come teach for us, Wendy. Watch out.

Wendy: Oh my goodness. Okay.


Tayla: Wendy, like I said, you already mentioned that your blog posts have turned into a book. Do you want to talk a little bit about your book?

Wendy: Sure, sure. Yes, I published a book earlier this year called Jump in the Holes: and Other Small Ways to Live Your Biggest Life. It was an outgrowth of-- oh my goodness. Well, several years ago, my life completely turned upside down. I was a corporate copywriter and I worked for two of the biggest employers here in Rhode Island, the Lifespan Hospitals and CVS Pharmacy. I loved my work, I loved what I did there, but at the same time, there was this growing sense of, since I've always been very passionate about learning and health wellness, living your best life, all of that, it was like, well, writing about toilet paper and mascara, gets a little old after a while. [laughs]

I was like, "I want to write stuff that really means something to somebody." I had written a freelance piece that ended up in the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine. I got such amazing feedback from that because it was a very uplifting story. I said, "Oh that was wonderful. I want to write more like that." What happened was in rapid succession, boom, boom, boom, three things were happening. I was turning 50, which to many people might be the worst of all these things, but I was also [00:20:00] Going through a divorce and I got laid off from my corporate job.

While all of these things were happening at once, and pretty much I said, "Well, if I don't do something positive for myself and commit to it, I am going to lose my mind." I've been a lifelong writer too so it was very therapeutic for me. I also felt like there's a transition when you turn 50. To me, I felt like I was old enough to have learned a lot of things that I've been through but still young enough to apply the wisdom and make the second half of my life even so much better than the first from what I have learned. For me, it was this wonderful balance and I thought what better year to commit to writing a blog post every week than my 50th year?

There were all these little stories that I had the way I thought of it was if I had kids, I would want to teach my kids if they would listen to me, but of course, your kids never listen to you. [laughs] Stories I would want to share with friends or things I would want to say, you got to do this. I wrote a story every week and eventually, it quite unexpectedly became a book, and it was interesting too. If I may wax poetic a little bit about my love of books and libraries, I had published all of these pieces over the course of a year as blog posts digitally, and I thought no one would want to read them because they were out there.

I told my friends a little bit and the overwhelming response I got was, "You have to put them in a book, put them in a book." It just really renewed my hope in people and that people still want to read a physical book. They want to have a book they put their hands on and turn the pages of and read and have that tactile experience. It was so rewarding for me in that sense [00:22:00] too. It's a collection of stories of things I've learned and still will learn and advice I would give, and feedback has been that's it's really touching and gritty but also really funny which is my voice so I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Tayla: Fantastic.

Wendy: Thank you.

Tayla: We wrap up the show with a segment I call The Last Chapter where we talk about a library or bookish-related question. I thought I would ask you both today, I don't know what your current relationship status is but we're in a fictitious world where we're still dating. If someone said to you, "Blank is my favorite book," what book would they have to say that it would be a red flag that you'd be like, no?

Wendy: No, this isn't going to work. [laughs]

Tayla: Yes.

Beth: I'm at a loss.

Tayla: I'm very proud of myself for this question. This was a shower thought question that literally when I got out of the shower was like, "I have to write this down or I'm not going to remember."

Wendy: What was it?

Tayla: If you want I could start with mine.

Wendy: Sure.

Tayla: Well, there was this question.

Wendy: I’m dying to know.

Tayla: Actually I was thinking about it because, and this is not based on the book at all, I've never read the book, and I don't know if I ever will but this is purely based on my life experience that I felt like maybe it should have been a sign when this man told me that his favorite book was Catcher in the Rye that that might have been a sign that our relationship was not destined for longevity and that was correct.

Wendy: It's funny. This is a great question because something I used to ask potential partners was what do you think is the best movie of all time? If it was something along the lines of a classic like Casablanca there was hope, or if it was something along the lines of Jurassic Park or Battleship we're not going to have too much to talk about. If it was a book I would say probably the book version of [00:24:00] oh, what's that? Those little cars and things that, oh, The Transformers. If it was the book version of The Transformers I'd say, no, this isn’t going to work.

Tayla: The book version of a Michael Bay movie.


Wendy: As much as I like action and martial arts, it's got to be intelligent. No.

Beth: I'm sorry, I am not thinking of something, Tayla, so you're going to see me silent right now which is I'll call you tomorrow and let you know.

Tayla: I was just going to say I’m sure you'll be thinking about it when you’re going to bed tonight you’ll be like, "This is the book. I hate this book, and this would be a sign."

Beth: Yes, I will be, could be.

Wendy: Transformers: The New Beginning. It’s the same book you don't want to read.

Tayla: What was funny, Wendy, though that you said about Jurassic Park because Jurassic Park is based on books by-- [crosstalk]

Wendy: Oh, I didn't know that. I didn’t even know that.

Tayla: Yes, they were books based by Michael-

Wendy: Crichton?

Beth: Yes.

Tayla: Crichton, there we go.

Wendy: The books were good, but the movies were probably thumbs down.

Tayla: I haven't read the book but from what I understand the books were a little bit deeper and there's a lot of stuff because there were sequels too but I don't think any of the sequel movies were based on the sequels of the books but there was a lot more there and there was a little meteor then let's keep making the same mistake over and over again. The mistake being making dinosaurs and putting them in an amusement park.


Wendy: That’s funny.

Tayla: Well, before we sign off, Wendy, where can people find out about your book, you, your upcoming projects, all of the above?

Wendy: Oh yes, I would love to see people on my website. My website is I write an inspiring new story every week similar to the stories that are in my book so you can get that for free every week if you sign up for my emails. My stories every week are [00:26:00] called WendyZWednesdays and obviously, they come out on Wednesdays. You can sign up for that and have those inspiring stories in your inbox every Wednesday and also, I'm working on a possible new year's challenge. If you're interested in that, you can come on over to my website and check that out and get the latest.

Tayla: All right, we will link your website in the show notes along with information about Ollie and how people can sign up for the classes at URI.


Thanks for listening. For the full episode including our book and movie suggestions, search for Down Time with Cranston Public Library in your podcast player and learn more about our show at Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book and is brought to you by libraries and community members all across the ocean state. You can find more from Rhody Radio on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and if you enjoyed today's episode, subscribe to Rhody Radio and give us a review on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to help us reach more Rhode Islanders. Thanks again for listening.

[00:27:25] [END OF AUDIO]


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