Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Joy and the Power

Today, author Linda C. Wisniewski is visiting with us. Linda writes for the Bucks County Herald and teaches memoir classes for Bucks County Community College. She’s a regional representative of the International Womens Writing Guild and a board member of the Story Circle Network. She is also the author of Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace With Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage.

Welcome, Linda.

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.


  1. I bet the stories you hear in the retirement community are fascinating!

    I didn't realize the medical benefits of writing, but it certainly makes sense.

    Thanks for coming by today! I enjoyed reading about you and your work.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  2. You probably learn so much from your students!

  3. Your class sounds wonderful. It should be something that is offered in all retirement communities. The older generation does have so much to tell us, if we just stop long enough to listen. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. It's great that you're able to help them write their life stories, not only for themselves but their families for generations to come.


  5. I agree. I'm glad I did some taped interviews with my grandfather before he died.

  6. Whart a fun job she has. TEaching memoir writing to seniors!

  7. What a wonderful thing you are doing. I'm always frightened about how much history is lost when the old people die, all of those important memories.

  8. Linda, love your topic: Writing Our Cultural Traditions. Looking forward to meeting you that SCN conference and learning more about your work.

    The link between writing and physical well-being is marvelous. May we each continue to reap these benefits.

    Janet Riehl

  9. I love that you are teaching a memoir course in a retirement home! I worked in one for two years and the stories those people shared are amazing! I keep them close. Many times I relate them to others and i feel as if I'm there again with them, my personal troup of grandparents. I miss them.

    Happy Tuesday,

  10. Fascinating. What a treat for both teacher and students.

  11. It would be wonderful is somehow everyone you taught had their memoir published so they could be shared with the world.

  12. What an enriching experience Linda is living, encouraging the art of writing from her students. I'm sure she must take such satisfaction from the stories that their words bring to life!

  13. I love this post. I learned so much, thanks.

  14. I think it's easy to forget that teaching others enriches your own life. Thanks, Joanne.

    Straight From Hel

  15. I volunteer one day a week at a senior center, and one of their activities is a memoir writing program--taught by a senior, for seniors, and well regarded and attended. Linda, thank you for your insight.

  16. What a wonderful service you're providing for the seniors. Now that I'm getting up there myself, I'm finding more and more avenues of interest. Wish I could explore them all, but there are only so many hours in the day.

    Morgan Mandel

  17. I agree, Morgan, I think it's a wonderful service.

  18. It sounds like the seniors taking your classes on writing memoirs are enjoying it.
    As you said, you learn a lot too, from them. I am a volunteer visitor to a gal in her 80s and enjoy hearing her stories, including how she raised goats and still does folk art.

  19. Medical benefit; yes, sure, think that makes sense. Writing feels like taking out the madness in a controlled way, without harming anyone, but not sure I will have the courage to publish all of it in my blog, though.

  20. Really fascinating stuff! I imagine those people are chock-full of stories :)

  21. I've heard memoir writers saying how cathartic it is to write down their stories.

  22. I can only imagine how your students feel to have someone so interested in their stories. They have so much to tell. And as a teacher I know sometimes the benefits to yourself seems to outweigh what you've given to your students.

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  25. Thanks for the introduction to another interesting writer. I wish I could go to the story circle conference and meet her in person.

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