Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Well, one more semester under my belt. Spring 2022 is done. Yes, I’m anxiously awaiting my grades (I did get one A already. Only two more to go). But I must tell you, I realize more each semester that passes that I’ve been missing the whole point of why I’m going to college. Sure I want my degree, and of course, I would like some validation for my hard work. However, that’s not the point. Learning is.

I started my college journey in 2016 at the age of sixty-seven. That came after working a long line of jobs and careers since I was fifteen years old, from New York to Washington, D.C. to Hartford, Connecticut, back to Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles to Long Beach, California. I once counted thirty-six jobs during that time, from selling magazine subscriptions to television executive producer to mentoring young people. I couldn’t begin to quantify everything I’ve learned about people, life, and subjects, from spotting stains on clothing to how to produce a live television event with more than twenty-four cameras plus the Goodyear Blimp.

Yet, just when I thought I had learned it all, I discovered that there is no such thing. Learning is living every day you are alive. If you open your senses, then you are learning something new. Even when you are doing the same thing from one day to the next, you can learn something new if you are open to it.

Lifelong Learning
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Beginning at Long Beach City College and now at California State University, Long Beach, I have tackled everything from Political Philosophy to Statistics to Mythology to Writing Creative Nonfiction. Along the way, I’ve learned that I am capable of opening my mind to new ideas and how to challenge opinions that I thought were anchored in concrete and immovable. I see these things because I refuse to stop learning.

This past semester, I took three classes, English 404 (Creative Nonfiction), English 470 (American Ethnic Literature), and English 385 (The Short Story). Each class challenged me with reading and writing assignments. Every day, I read a short story, a novel, a poem, and a nonfiction essay. I wrote critiques and essays. I engaged with my classmates in often stimulating discussions about what we had read and written. I loved every second of it. There were new ideas, perspectives, and directions to learn and think.

For example, English 385, “Music is Freedom and Redemption in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.”

In 2020, New York City celebrated the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance. The Renaissance was a revival of Black culture and thought in music, literature, theater, and politics during the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century. On the centennial occasion, Baruch College of the City University of New York celebrated the roots of jazz and the blues in Harlem. Mo Beasley, a Harlem, New York-based poet and educator, observed, “If there were no music in Harlem, there would be no black folks in Harlem” (Bacchus and Banks). James Baldwin writes of this legacy of music and Harlem in his 1957 short story, “Sonny’s Blues.” Blues, jazz, and gospel are the soundtrack for the estranged lives of Sonny and his much older brother, the story’s unnamed narrator. The music is a metaphor for the lives of Harlem, where there is pain one moment and hopes the next. One can find the pain in a juke joint along 125th Street, where the music is “something black and bouncy" (Baldwin 40). Spiritual uplift can come from an old-fashioned revival of jangling tambourines, testifying, and gospel music, bringing hope to Harlem’s people. The alternating emotions of vivid jazz and wailing blues pounded out by a musician’s instrument fill the air. The music in their lives is crucial to unlocking Sonny and his brother’s anguished and conflicted souls so they can break free and find redemption, even if momentarily.
Lifelong Learning
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

English 404 “1968 A Year of Living Violently”

In 1968, I was nineteen, living in the Bronx. I couldn't feel how deep was the water around me or know I would almost drown in it. My mind and life were mired in an ocean of depression and anxiety. The turmoil was lurking on the horizon. Youth were challenging the world order. War was everywhere, in faraway lands, on American streets, in our souls. The war in Vietnam continued to eat the young even as we protested across this country. The champions of a peaceful revolution were assassinated. Racist forces held their ground against the forward movement of American history. The old voices told us to believe that America was exceptional. Racism, sexism, income disparities, and class warfare were only aberrations. They called us communists, rabble-rousers, and traitors. According to them, we were the real danger to America. They sicced police violence down on us. Bodies and blood flowed like a flash flood across America’s urban landscape. I battled for survival inside the cyclone, where my life would be defined by two lies: a “normal” life during the day and a dope fiend at night.

English 470 “In the Time of the Butterflies: Heroes, Dictators, and the People Who Love Them”

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is a fictionalized account of the Dominican Republic’s four Mirabal sisters known as Las Mariposas- the Butterflies. Three of the four sisters would eventually be surveilled, jailed, and assassinated for their protests against the tyrannical reign of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, known simply as Trujillo (Alvarez). Alvarez's narrative strategy is to tell their story from many “different perspectives and narrated by a myriad of characters” (Puleo). Alvarez based the novel on actual people and events. Lurking in the background of the Mirabal story are the circumstances that propagated the long dictatorships like that of the man nicknamed El Jefe. Trujillo’s formula for survival included the use of the secret police who carried out his orders, a Catholic Church that looked the other way until it could not, and the upper classes of Dominicans who benefitted from the regime. Then, there was the conspiracy of everyday Dominicans who spied and informed on others, actively supporting the brutal dictatorship or falling silent at the disorder around them. Those critical elements in Alvarez's novel provide a roadmap to understanding both the brutality and the longevity of the real-world Trujillo regime. The story also serves as a warning for supporters of democratic institutions that they must be vigilant to prevent future dictatorships. 

These essays resulted from deep thinking, extensive research, multiple drafts, and allowing my mind’s imagination to soar to places it’s never been before. No matter the grade I eventually get, I feel more confident at the end of every semester that I’ve given my best at that time. The point is that I learned something new so that next semester, I will hopefully give something new and the best of that new. Damn, I love learning.

Lifelong Learning
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Postscript: I expect to graduate with a BA in Creative Writing in May 2024. I will be seventy-five years old. Next year, I will be applying to an MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. I expect to be seventy-seven or seventy-eight when I complete my studies. Now, that’s lifelong learning.


The following was an assignment in English 404, Creative Nonfiction, to write an essay of only 100 words.

Image by Lucia Grzeskiewicz from Pixabay
100 English words. That’s how many I probably knew in the first grade. My Puerto Rican father, Dominican mother sent me to Catholic School at five years old to become an American. The nun with the stern scowl, black and white hooded costume, a long chain of rosary beads hanging from her hip told my parents, “This is America. In America, we speak English.” The nun didn’t have to say only at the end. My parents knew what she meant. 
Biljana Jovanovic from Pixabay
My mother’s English was terrible, so television became my teacher. By the eighth grade, I couldn’t remember 100 Spanish words. 

i want to dance…

This poem first appeared on

Image by Loryn from Pixabay
i want to dance through today tomorrow forever
stepping through music doors across moving floors
upside down right side up spinning like a wild wind
that you will never catch.
i want to dance
move effortlessly as if floating standing still
but moving forward upside-down right-side up never backwards
no eyes closed ears sucking in the music mouth open
shouting out the lyrics the harmonies the rhythm the beat
one more time.
i want to dance
like today is forever and tomorrow never comes.

long walks on

This poem was originally posted on In the coming weeks, I will be transferring and reposting all my writing over to

Image by Damián Fernando Tello Ceballos from Pixabay
the feet are tired
shuffling along rough roads
streets that have not been repaved
in a long time.

the body carrying the memories
of a childhood too long ago
of teen years that are hidden in history books
of sex drugs and rock and roll twenties
of adult foolishness
that you can't pick out of a police line-up.

music ripples through the memory neurons
of whatever is left
and small patches of sunlight 
are visible
and you realize 
your life has not been 
all darkness and shadows and holes
in the ground. 

the kind that gets your shoulders moving
your toes snapping
your head tossing back
your arms clearing room around you
cause it's in your blood
and soul
and deep down somewhere
you realize 
your life has not been 
all darkness and shadows and holes
in the ground. 

visiting the gallery of your life
images on the wall
that speak to you
every second of your life
every person you ever met
every action you've ever taken
every decision you've ever made
every thought you've ever had.

now you are here
it's all that matters
as you put your hands 
in your pockets
and shuffle along rough roads
streets that have not been repaved
in a long time
and continue 
the long walks on
this time smiling. 

antonio pedro ruiz january 22, 2010


i remember little   a fogged memory
                south bronx
                coming from rican     dominican roots.
                the patterson projects   john adam houses
a child into a teenager
                dates	days  places   people  
                their names have faded away
	        like the clouds i would stare at 
                through my fifth floor       window
i was that kind of kid   daydreaming all the time   wondering
	        where are those clouds going	       i want to go there.
Daydreaming I by Antonio Ruiz
my mother cooking	
                  the sweet smell of arroz con habichuelas	
	          y bacalao	
                  that i could buy for a dollar across the street		
la bodega	
                   the salt rough over the single slab       of fish.

in between the spanish radio station in the morning
	         there was plenty of time for america 
                 jumping up and down out of 
                 the black and white television		
                               bozo the clown 	        dead end kids
                               forties movies		james cagney 	
                               abbott and costello	bela lugosi
                               sci fi      	                        horror movies.

watching spanish tv with my mother		novellas
                my only chance to hold on to my dream 
                where everyone spoke 	spanish around me 	
                to me	from me.
Daydreaming II by Antonio Ruiz
it’s all faded away
	      like the clouds i would stare at 
              through my fifth floor window.

i was that kind of kid   daydreaming all the time   wondering
	        where are those clouds going	       i want to go there.
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