The Joy and the Power
This week marks the halfway point in a six week memoirs class I’m teaching at a local retirement facility. I’ve been teaching these classes for over seven years now, and there’s no lack of interest among the older folks here in Bucks County, PA.
I don’t know who gets more out of my classes, me or the students. Depending on the venue, they are frail, working class, or highly educated and well-to-do. They come to class on scooters, pushing walkers, leaning on canes, or bouncing along in sneakers. My inspiration is a 93 year old tiny birdlike woman who stopped to apologize for not taking my class a second time. “I saw you on the schedule,” she said, “but I’m just too busy.” She went on her way, on her own two feet, no walker, no cane.
Most of these people come to class because they want to record their life stories for their children and grandchildren. They soon discover that writing can be fun, and that their creativity is alive and well. We do two writing exercises in each two hour class session, followed by feedback from other students. It’s always a tough job for me to get them back after they’ve started talking to each other about their stories.
When I discovered James Pennebaker’s research on the physical benefits of writing, I shared it with my students. Clinical studies show an increased level of immune fighting T-cells in the blood, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and increased breathing capacity when people wrote about emotional subjects. Now I’m beginning to wonder if some of these benefits come to the instructor, as well. I know I sure feel better after a couple of hours helping senior citizens “open up.”
Here are a few highlights from my class. A woman born in India wrote about Gandhi’s assassination in language that reminded me of news reports when President Kennedy was shot. A World War II vet who wrote dry, general pages about his service until the day he was able to hone in on a specific day and one Pacific island, nailing the description so well I felt I was there.
On February 6th, I’ll be presenting a workshop on Writing Our Cultural Traditions and serving on a panel about Getting Published at Stories from the Heart in Austin, TX. Writing about my life in short essays, making them longer, then linking them together into my book, Off Kilter, was a learning exercise that changed my life, enabling me to see the patterns I was living and to course correct before it was too late. Teaching others to do the same with the stories of their lives continues to energize me in ways I never imagined at the start. That’s the joy and the power of memoir!
Thank you Linda!
Linda C.Wisniewski lives in Bucks County, PA. Her credits include the Christian Science Monitor, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Massage, The Quilter, The Rose and Thorn, two Cup of Comfort anthologies and literary magazines both print and online. If you’re attending the Story Circle Network Conference in Austin the weekend of February 5th and 6th, be sure to find her and tell her hello.