Educator Kohl (She Would Not Be Moved, 2005, etc.) returns to the classroom, this time as a student of Chinese landscape painting.
Approaching his seventh decade, the author realized that the impression he had of himself as a “middle-aged guy” was at odds with society’s perception of him as old. He was feeling tired and vulnerable, worn down by his battles with the University of San Francisco administration over his social-justice program. As he wandered Clement Street in a predominantly Asian area of the city, Kohl noticed a storefront art school and decided to enroll. He hoped to learn more about landscape painting, which he had long admired; he also anticipated finding a fellow student who could teach him Chinese chess. When Kohl arrived for his first lesson, however, he discovered that all the other students were children, ages four to seven. Over the course of three years, the author learned the rituals and techniques of brush painting, moving from sketching monkeys and pandas to rendering graceful forests of bamboo. “I soon discovered that it was very difficult to breathe life into a bamboo,” he writes, “to have it move with wind, to have it serene on a quiet day, to have it bursting with leaves or barren or budding.” As the author relinquished his need to teach and learned to relish his role as student (albeit one who stuck out), the class served as a template for aging with enthusiasm and grace. The conclusion shows Kohl leaving the university to rebuild his professional life, re-energized by his experience and eager to embrace whatever time is left to him.
Moving and perceptive—a delightful, engaging memoir on aging.