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.
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