A year ago, I began volunteering at a retirement community teaching a memoir writing class to a handful of dedicated writers. I refer to these writers collectively as “my ladies,” because except for the occasional man who pops in now and then, the regulars are all women (above).
Most of them — perhaps all— have never undertaken a creative writing class before. But they show up each week, notebook in hand, and after I give them the writing prompt I’ve prepared, they turn to their notebooks uninhibited by the constraints of craft, and write away. I’ve yet to witness any signs of writer’s block. In the 30 minutes or so they have to write before we share, most of them fill several pages.
Their stories are mostly vignettes that provide a glimpse at a moment of their life lived years ago, even decades ago. Their stories are all so amazing. One woman of Jewish decent, wrote of time when she was a teenager attending an orchestra show in Germany. Before the concert began, the entire hall stood and clapped to honor the man sitting directly in front of her: Adolf Hitler. Another woman wrote about her first acting job with Paul Newman as director. Another woman wrote about a trip to Venice and looking out her window one morning to see dozens of gondolas floating by heaped with flowers.
In the last blog I wrote, I asked you where you got your inspiration. For me it comes from many different places, including my own past as well as experiencing other art. But I’m also inspired by these women, whose words flow from their pens without hesitation. Here are a few short examples from recent prompts:
Prompt: Describe the sun without using the words “sun,” “yellow,” “warm,” “hot,” “sunny,” or “sunlight.”
A golden orb that seeps into your soul and surrounds you like the arms of your beloved. — Katherine Ham
Prompt: Describe snow without using the words “snowy,” “white,” “cold,” or “icy.”
Elegant, pure, dreamlike designs falling on your windshield and melting away forever like thoughts. — Katherine Ham
Prompt: Write an instruction manual for something in your life that you did. You will give your piece a title that begins “How to ________________________.” Imagine that you are giving your younger self advice about how to deal with some adversity looming.
How to Conquer Cancer
by Katherine Swanner
You cry and cry and scream and pull your hair out — you know you’re going to lose it when you go through chemo. Better yet, shampoo it with a rich shampoo, blow it dry and then brush it over your shoulder like a model and turn and look in that mirror over the sink that you use every day.
When you call the hospital where your surgery is scheduled, they will give you a buddy who will be available to answer questions, be by your side and cheer you up or take you outdoors to smell the roses when you’re ready. Do everything they tell you to do, including exercises, eating well and don’t cry alone. Call a friend. Get outside. Go out to dinner with a whole group of friends. Think about what you want to do, where you want to go.
Has your life changed and expanded since you survived? What took down your mother and your grandmother, but not you? They have passed into the past, but you’re here and can conquer the world. Go, go, go for it!
There are many other examples, too. For me the lesson is that if you can find a way to share your love of writing with others, you’ll not only help people tell their stories, but you’ll find inspiration. Spread the love.
Tracy Staedter is the founder of Fresh Pond Writers, workshops for experienced writers.