Friday, October 25, 2013

Creativity and Group Dynamics

The writing class this morning was the 7th of a 12-week course.  A certain dynamic takes over after four or five weeks when people have begun to feel at ease in the group -- some of the class are returnees but many are not -- we've reached that stage now so that the classes become fun for everyone.   The class is a nice mix of men and women; everyone is over 50 -- I think it's safe to say over 55.  There are 17 members but usual one or two will be absent.  Most did not know each other before joining the class and, at present, we have one husband and wife pair. 

These are people who want to write -- some always wanted to write but put that idea aside to live a busy life in some mostly non-writing field.  A couple in the class regularly publish pieces in local newspapers.  Some are rather shy and quiet, and most have some of the perhaps cliched but very real (a cliche is a cliche because it's so very true) New England reserve.  I give specific assignments but nearly always leave the topic about which they write open. An assignment may be "describe a place you live or have lived".  Today's assignment was to choose an object which you will describe objectively in just a couple of sentences and then write subjectively about that object.  Subjects ranged from a piece of stone (it has a scientific name) from Mt. Vesuvius to a sign that  read "I Don't Know" to the country of Austria ... you see people take considerable poetic license when they choose their subjects.

The dynamic that has kicked in at this point is that a few are natural risk takers and have written very opinionated or risky pieces in earlier classes. Many had played it safe in choice of subject  (and probably always will). Because they have enjoyed more openly honest writing from their classmates than they have been likely to read in any publications, they now have realized they have permission (i.e. the freedom) to write openly and honestly about whatever they chose. Watching very guarded people learning to open up and write forthrightly about a difficult daughter-in-law (for instance)  or how a father ought to face down a lout who has been stalking his daughter, is enormous pleasure for everyone.  From this point on the classes become energized. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of understanding, and sympathy or commiseration when the subject is loss or sadness. 

This is not a therapy session; it is a skills class. Today I listened as one person used learnings from a dialog assignment to add an extra dimension to an essay about her grandchildren.  Not only are people freer to express their ideas and feelings, they are reaching, creatively, for descriptive metaphor and similies -- one person wrote about literally and figuratively watching his mother lose her sense of balance after her husband died.  The dynamic is group wide, I do relatively little but talk about what works and offer them ways to deal with their ideas and the events of their lives that they really want to put into words.  I am as much energized as they are.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Opposites - two documentaries

Lili, who coordinates the Documentary Film class to which I'm addicted -- every Friday afternoon, 1:00 to 4:00 -- never tells us what she's going to show next but she tries for balance.  The last two weeks have been bio-docs and the two rather handsome men couldn't be more different. 

A week ago the documentary was called "Client Nine" about the downfall of NY Governor Eliot Spitzer who seemed to think that he could frequent high cost call girls and not get caught. That kind of hubris has brought down many American politicians while others, before our media age which thrives on sexual scandal, had their quieter asides but remained in office.  For me the docmentary was valuable because director Gibney strongly implicated a couple of Wall Street "Masters of the Universe" in planning and promoting the discovery ... since Spitzer had already tackled the undercover manipulations of money between big business and big banking and investing.  Hank Greenberg's AIG fell because of Spitzer and others were in serious trouble.

After all that political angst in our long, long discussion last week, this week's documentary was about as opposite as possible, I forget the exact title but it was about (Mr.) Fred Rogers  and his "Neighborhood" -- basically about what a truly authentically good and out front man he was.  I missed, or I should say, my daughters seem to have missed him. I think they were born a few years too soon for his show because they were, briefly, watchers of Mr Green Jeans and Capt. Kangaroo who were predecessors.  So, in a way, this was almost as educational as was the Spitzer film. Surprisingly it occasioned a great deal of group discussion.  Whereas last week's discussion showed some political schism in the group. We are mostly New England style Democrats but there are a few conservative Republicans in the group of about 30. The room was full of political angst;  this week's discussion was tales of positive experiences. 

The films are what we go to the class to see, of course, but the discussions are a kind canape with no cocktails with which we sort of say TGIF.  Like myself many class members are regulars, but every year there are new people who join in. The variety of commentary is always lively and continues as we walk to our cars when we've finally left the room. And I must say, Lili is truly an excellent facilitator of the discussions, including people fairly and leaving no one out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Enjoying -- oh, yes, enjoying ...

We are having such a beautiful autumn, the light is sometimes magical -- a few minutes ago I sat down here at my computer to write. The pale blue sky was streaked with pink -- that is an eastern sky at sunset, not sunrise. In ten minutes it has disappeared and evening has curtained the sky.  I am SO very much enjoying my early morning walks beside the ocean and beside this stream where it stretches for nearly a mile before it joins the curving ocean shallows.  The sun has mostly been out, it is not yet too cold to walk barefoot on the sand at the tide line although soon it will be. 

The great influx of horseshoe crab shells is finished and it's the season when a harvest of seaweed washes ashore in piles.  A few ducks are around every day; they are having a rest as they migrate somewhere south.  The tourists who come are only looking at trees and trinket shops and maybe some historic sites but they, or their guides, do not think the ocean side is interesting.  Good for me.  I hardly ever meet more than a half dozen people and maybe 3 or 4 dogs when I walk by the sea.
These days are a treat -- a  little like my habit of eating the cake first and saving the icing unti last -- these days are the icing of this past summer. 

We have had few storms but the farthest end of Long Beach has greatly eroded this summer.  I predicted two years ago after we had the tail end of some hurricane that that far end would eventually become an island.  Without a hurricane so far this year, it, nevertheless, seems to be continuing that trend.   Trees standing with some earth beneath them last fall are grasping for foothold and it is being washed away.  They are dead -- as they were not five years ago.  This is an old, old story of seashores, of course.  I've never had the opportunity to watch it unfolding.  Only partly in jest, I say sometimes that we are the last full generation who will know Cape Cod; that in 75 years or so most of it will be under water.  That depends on the pace of climate change and deepening of the oceans. It is not unreasonable. ... But for now.... for now, it's beautiful and I am enjoying each and every sunny day.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Great American Shoot-em Ups

The iconic gun fight, whether at High Noon or in the OK Corral -- a great American tradition for (we were told and apparently believe still) maintaining law and order.  These days what I read in the paper is usually not about a duel, more often about an unarmed person is riddled with bullets from policeman's guns.

I don't know what was going on with that young woman from Brooklyn yesterday in Washington but I am once again sickened that an unarmed person ended up riddled with bullets from policemen's guns.  Usually, of course, it's a non-white young man with the cop's excuse "I thought I saw him reach for a gun."  What fear, what love of shooting, what misdirected sense of duty, makes these cops so ready to shoot people? 

There was a child in that car.  It's miraculous that the child wasn't hurt in the rain of bullets. The incident, and so many others I've read with great frequency, makes me sick at my stomach and ashamed of this country's trigger happiness. It's our tradition.  It includes sending jillions of arms and thousands of men into foreign countries ready to shoot on a moment's notice.  Sunday's NYTimes had a major article on children killing other children with guns found loaded in their homes.  Isn't anyone else horrified?