Friday, November 25, 2011

N is for “New Friendships,” By Nora Scechy

Nora joined our class several years ago and we all were blessed by her presence. Although she calls herself a "rookie," she is an established writer, having completed and published her life story, a memorable and delightfully readable book which you can see here:   Nora's Website

Nora is not currently attending class, but we still consider her very much a part of our group.

“He alone has lost the art to live who cannot win new friends.”
S. Weir Mitchell

When I signed up for a memoir writing class, I had no idea this was an ongoing class which had begun several years ago. I had some weird misconception that I would be joining a bunch of rookies like myself. This said, I soon realized that I was in the company of a friendly and intelligent group of writers under the guidance of a dedicated and encouraging instructor, Ms. Bonnie Mansell. Looking around the room, I was happy to recognize two familiar faces: Margaret Takacs, a dear Hungarian lady I have known for many years, and Shirley Mark, who volunteers with me at Downey City Library.

I liked the arrangement of the long tables, which gave plenty of room to spread out books and papers; and I liked the fact that the students had in front of them their names printed in large letters on cardboard plaques. I was barely seated when Judy came over to me, introduced herself, and supplied me with helpful handouts and notes from previous classes. At break time, Ray showed me where to get coffee, tea, or a cold drink (supplied free of charge), and he showed me where the restrooms were. Kacie invited me to play a board game with her. Everyone in this group showed me unexpected kindness.

We were given a class assignment to write “A Movie of My Life.” As each story was read, the class listened attentively. They clapped at the end, asked questions and made encouraging and sometimes humorous comments. When it came to my turn, I was nervous about reading aloud for the first time. I was soon put at ease when, at the end of my story, the class smiled and clapped, and Ms. Mansell commented that she thought I would be an asset to the group.

After only a few weeks, I feel quite at home and accepted by these talented and kindly seniors. I have made new friends and realize that I have not lost “the art to live.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

E is for “Enlighten,” By Janet Utermohlen

I know that “E” is out of our alphabetical order, but I have reason to post this particular story by Janet. Janet was part of a memoir-writing group that I facilitated for about six years in La Mirada. Sadly, that class was cut several years ago when the California budget crunch forced Cerritos to cut a number of classes (a situation Janet dreaded). I learned yesterday that Janet had passed away last month. I was, of course, saddened to hear that news.
            There was, however, some encouragement tucked into the delivery of that sad news. It turns out that Janet spent her last days in the care of a Korean woman – a woman with many stories to tell. During their days together the caregiver shared her stories with Janet, telling her about triumphs and tragedies in her own life. She knew that her stories were important, but never thought about writing them down. Janet persuaded her to take time to put her stories on paper. She has now begun that project, “enlightened” by Janet’s example.  ~ Bonnie
        I am 85 years old and in good health. By living this long, I have many stories to tell, but I really did not know how to get them down on paper. By attending this class, “Memoir Writing for Older Adults,” I have learned simple ideas to enlighten my memories, and I have written four essays brought about by what I have learned. This has given me great pleasure.

        By coming to class and fulfilling the assignments, I have become centered, and I can start and continue writing my memories. I have felt very enlightened by this class, and have enjoyed listening and learning from all the members who attend.

        I would be devastated if it were to be discontinued.

        The letter I was assigned is the letter “E.” The word I picked to use in this essay is “enlightened,” so I feel this class has enlightened my mind and gives me, Janet Utermohlen, a purpose in life, which I have been unable to perform until now.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

M is for our “Memoir Group,” By Yolanda Adele

When I walk into our memoir group on Thursday afternoons I often feel as if I have “come home.” This sense of belonging together, regardless of our differences, is part of what frees us to create our best work. Thank you, Yolanda, for expressing our hearts in your words. ~ Bonnie
Our memoir group is a treasure. I once read that there are families that we are born into, and there are families that are formed in the heart. The latter is what many find in our memoir group. Through sharing our stories, we have formed friendships that are based on trust and acceptance. There are few places in this fast-paced millennium where people can come together to be listened to with willing minds and hearts. We are able to do this because in the process of writing about our life experiences, we have learned to understand ourselves and others in the group. That understanding shows us how we are all connected by our humanness, regardless of our background, economic status, or religious affiliation.

Our group’s leader, Bonnie Mansell, is a profoundly caring, insightful teacher. Bonnie teaches her students that they can have a trove of personal, historical legacy to share what may be otherwise lost.

Our memoir group is a treasure for those who know the true wealth stored up in life stories.