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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writing the Journey

I am embarking this week on a new adventure: teaching a writing class at the local senior center. I taught college writing classes for ten years many years ago now, and I have taught seniors more recently (genealogy and genealogical software). We shall see if I can successfully combine the old subject and the new audience. I am not teaching alone; my brother will team teach with me. I told him my main aim is to have fun, but it really is to help at least one person write something he or she is proud of producing.

The director of the senior center told us that they had started a writing class with a teacher whose subject was writing memoirs; then the teacher died suddenly, but the class has kept meeting, encouraging each other to write and share what they are writing. It has morphed into a creative writing group. My brother and I wanted to revive the memoir class. The director wanted us to teach creative writing. We decided to split our eight weeks in half, doing personal essays for the first half and short fiction the second half. We think we may get some interesting results.

For almost thirty years I judged a high school writing contest (I got roped into judging because my friend-who-became-my-sister-in-law was in charge and needed reliable “volunteers” to be judges.) I have read hundreds of personal essays and short fiction from teenagers. I think I know most of the potential pitfalls of the genres, especially the pitfalls presented by being so young that you don’t know that your heartfelt ideas are all cliches.

I wonder if the seniors will write in cliches. No matter what the age of the writer of a piece I am reading, I almost always find what people choose to reveal about their lives to be intensely interesting. Other people’s perspectives surely enrich my own journey.

My son had to create the seeds of a hero’s journey journal for a writing class he took in high school. We went through things he had written for other classes to get ideas, and he ended up creating a megalomaniac twenty-pound rat as the foil for his hero, a dog. It made me think about Agatha Christie, who wrote a lot of stories featuring megalomaniacal villains whose ambition is to rule the world. I love stories like these. What a hero really needs is a truly crazy villain to fight. No ambiguity. No second-guessing whether the villain deserves an ignominious ending. Didn’t we all cheer when Harry Potter’s sacrifice vanquished Voldemort for good? I wonder if I can suggest a good vs. evil theme for the seniors’ creative projects. I would love to see what kinds of villains they would create, what kinds of heroes, what kinds of conflicts. How enriching their wise perspectives would be!

My sister-in-law brought us a book on writing personal histories, written by Don Norton, a retired BYU professor, who is probably the most expert in the subject of anyone I know of. I loved his book! I want simply to start on page one and teach the whole thing, so sure am I that anyone and everyone could benefit from it. However, we already advertised the content of our class, and we do have only eight short weeks, and I am obviously not Don Norton (!). On the other hand, I am going to use some of his ideas for teaching the personal essay part of our class, connecting our first assignment firmly to the idea of using personal essays as a way to tackle the longer project of writing a personal history in manageable chunks.

I love hearing and reading people’s life stories. No life is uninteresting to me. If I can help one person to discover how to reveal the journey he or she has taken in fascinating detail, whether through personal experience or through fiction, I will count it a success.

Friday, September 9, 2011


It's a quarter to five in the morning and I have not been able to get to sleep yet. I never thought I would have insomnia, but here it is, obviously. When I am waiting for sleepiness to hit, lots of things start to worry me. What if one of my family members gets hit by a car today? What if one of them gets food poisoning from something I cook? What if a fire breaks out down in the basement tonight for some inexplicable reason? What if we have a home invasion? What if the dog develops cancer?

How am I going to teach my genealogy class with no sleep? How am I going to hide the circles under my eyes?

My brother and I decided to team-teach a writing class at the local senior center. We start next Thursday. Now I am thinking, What was I thinking? What if they don't like me? What if nobody does any of the assignments we've come up with? What if they don't laugh at our jokes? What if their hearing aids all stop working at once?

Sleeplessness seems to have given my entire body the fidgits--this is my word for Restless Legs Syndrome, only I get that crawly, itchy, jumpy feeling under my skin everywhere, not just in my legs. It starts in my calves and moves out. I feel like running around the block to see if it will go away. I keep doing exercises, tightening all my muscles to hold the itch, to fight the jumpiness.

I cannot think of anything that is bothering me particularly. Besides the unreasonable fears that come with tiredness and unreasonably early morning hours. Here we go again.

What if a horde of spiders attack my bed? What if . . .

>yawn< Hey! I think I will try my pillow again.