THE ELDERLY WRITER
by Paul Ponce Antoine Robert
I was going over and over in my head on just how to tweak the memoir /creative writing exercises that I coordinate at The Bridge. The first several weeks, I placed a wide variety of images that I had cut out from magazines on a table and invited the participating seniors to select one that they were drawn to and all did within a matter of minutes.
Too, I filled several trays with words, sentences and phrases that I had also cut out from magazines. Again, most picked several of these within a few minutes and began putting them together to construct short prose pieces.
However, the next time I repeated this process, the seniors were hesitant in selecting a photograph and some didn't. Too, they looked through the dozens of words and such and expressed even more of a lack of interest in these choices. After I gently encouraged each of the participants to pick at least 5, they did. One of the seniors, who is Tlingit, said that she wanted words and pictures of Alaska. When I pointed at some images of Alaska, she grew impatient with me and said, "Those are from far up North. I never lived there!" Then other seniors began describing images and words that they wanted to work from instead of those that I had chosen.
I had spent hours cutting the pictures and words/phrases. I had thought that I was cutting materials that responded to their individual histories. They told me otherwise and I was so grateful. They were carving out their writing style. They were editing and doing re-writes. They were claiming the writing activity as theirs and the authorship, too. They did want to write. I simply had to listen to what they were asking for and provide those materials.
The first thing I decided to do was to reduce the amount of time I was spending cutting words, sentences and phrases from magazines. However, as I like the variety of fonts, sizes and colors found in magazines, I did want to continue using them, just less. Next, I typed lists of words that I culled from the personal history of each of the seniors. I printed out several copies of these. I also Googled Montessori language materials and downloaded lists of nouns, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, etc., and printed those.
I used the paper cutter at work to cut the lists into individual words.
For the images, I went to the local Friends of the Library bookstore and purchased a small, stack of recycled Alaska Magazines. I cut one picture after another from these and compiled them into a short stack. I felt I was ready to invite the seniors for another memoir/creative writing activity, so I did.
First though, as there had been some confusion over the use of cookie trays for the creative writing activity, I covered each of them with black paper.
I passed around trays of pre-cut, printed words and, too, of words/phrases cut from magazines. The printed words included specific nouns such as farm, rooster, Iowa, Alaska, fishing boat. The seniors looked at them and even read a few of them out loud, but they lacked the fancy fonts and colors found in magazines, so they did not initially chose them for their prose pieces. I think next time I will change the fonts and colors of the printed words so that they have more of a visual appeal.
After a few minutes of searching, one of the seniors noticed a picture of a cat and reached for it. She then saw the names of her cats, Panda and Mama, that I had printed out, and reached for those also. Another senior saw a picture of hummingbirds and picked it. Hummingbirds frequent the feeder here at The Bridge in the summer.
Prose pieces were starting to be constructed.
I walked around the table assisting everyone as needed. I came to a standstill behind the Tlingit senior who had been frustrated the week before. She was gluing words down on her paper and smiling. Yes, let me write that again. She was smiling. She had selected several words that I had cut out from the Alaska magazines and that were specific to her own history. She glued down two final words, folded her paper, then looked at me and said, "I'm done." I walked over to her and asked permission to read her piece out loud. See below:
Seeing the Light
Homes with history
Miracles lighten the spirit
Dancing in the
others composed the prose pieces below:
The adventure begins
The sky is falling
Saluting the sun
Beaches found at sea
How will you come
back from vacation?
Another new year
This is God's Country
Made by Nature