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The Writing Workshop on Aging

 

I started a writing workshop on aging at my synagogue. I didn’t plan to do this. I just went to a meeting on aging because it looked interesting. I had the idea that this could lead to visiting people at the hospital, or reading to patients at nursing homes, and could count on my application for graduate school. My ideal would be to walk dogs at the animal shelter, but I don’t think they’d count that as social work. I could be wrong.

So I sat in the meeting and listened. Stories flooded the room: of women at sea after the death of a spouse of fifty years; women manipulated by insurance companies while signing papers at the hospital; women looking for help for their parents; women wondering how to help their friends. The meeting was very low on men.

I took notes and listened and felt the chaos roll over me.

The decision at the end of the first meeting was to have a second meeting, and a third, and a fourth if necessary, until some ideas could start to coalesce.

I went home, exhausted, and fell asleep, and then went on with my life, writing for the blog, going to class, writing my research paper, studying math for the GRE (because not only did I forget every bit of math learned in high school, but I have even lost my short term math memory and I forget it all over again each day.)

I don’t remember looking over my notes from the meeting. I just thought about one of my synagogue friends, recovering from back surgery, and I thought about my great aunt Ellen and the interviews I did with her a few years back to try and catch some of her magic on paper, and I thought about the short memoir my grandfather started before he died, giving us a glimpse into his childhood. Bits and pieces of the stories people had told me over the past few years of Friday nights at synagogue started to bubble up. I wrote a few notes to myself about people whose stories I’d want to read, but told myself it was just a passing idea, and I’d never have to follow through and actually talk to people.

I’ve learned so much from keeping a blog and writing memoir. It forces me to really deepen into my life, to settle into the crevices of it, and not just feel like I’m a character in my own imagination. I feel like I am taking good care of myself by writing about my life, instead of letting the moments disappear into the ether. I especially like that I have a chronicle of my dogs’ lives. I don’t worry that I will forget important things about them, the way I did with previous dogs. It felt so painful to forget things about Dina and Delilah, as if I was disrespecting them, and the value of their lives to me.

Delilah the Doberman

Delilah the Doberman

Dina, pensive.

Dina, pensive.

Butterfly and Cricket

Butterfly and Cricket

I found myself writing notes for an idea of a Friday night service where people read their own stories to the congregation. And I thought about how I could make that happen, or at least help people to write some of their own stories down.

I wrote a proposal, feeling very self-conscious and a bit like I was walking into a black hole from which I would never be able to return. I would be shunned from my synagogue. They’d hate me for thinking I was so special that I could teach anyone how to write; they’d resent me for thinking I had anything to offer. I could barely breathe.

I sent the proposal to the woman who runs the aging meetings, and she loved it! And then she sent it to the social worker helping the congregation, and she loved it too. And when I read it to the group in person at the next meeting, face turning purple, hands shaking, I got applause, and six people signed up to take a writing class with me on the spot.

I think I could be good at this, but I’m still terrified. Every step forward feels like jumping from one cliff to another. I’m thinking about how to help people who have trouble seeing, or trouble with arthritis so that writing or typing is difficult. I’m thinking about how to help people who are not natural writers, but would be great interviewees. I’m thinking so much that I have little pieces of paper floating around my room like confetti. Butterfly is loving that.

Butterfly even listens with her tongue!

Butterfly, full of joy!

 

 

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

165 responses »

  1. Now you’re cooking with gas, kiddo!!
    Enjoy what you’ll learn…and file it away in your Books-to-write-one-day File.

    Reply
  2. Mumsy's Little Chancy Man

    Oh, sweet Rachel this sounds wonderful and you will do great. Love the picture of sweet Butterfly with that precious big ole smile. Hugs for you and nose kisses for sweet Cricket and sweet Butterfly.

    Reply
  3. What a great proposal that is that you made! 🙂

    Reply
  4. Such a fabulous idea and good on you for working through all your concerns and setting the wheels in motion. At our Church, people get up every Sunday and share their story.Ironically, even though I write the blog and am writing books about my story, I still have got up and shared. I think I’ve been daunted by working out how to condense my story into a few moments. There is so much detail, complexity and contradiction. However, lately I had a huge breakthrough where I realised that my journey is about living with contradiction and this over-arching theme will probably bind the details together more simpy without having to go into depth.
    By the way, thank you for reading my blog so faithfully. I really appreciate it. You and Max the Dog keep coming back and it really does make my day!!
    Hope you are having a great day, or more than likely, you’re asleep.
    xx Rowena

    Reply
    • Thank you! I think I’d be terrified to just get up and tell my story to a crowd, off the cuff. Even writing it up and editing to death wouldn’t take the scary out of it. The real question is, which part of the story do you tell?

      Reply
      • I try and think about what the audience wants to hear and what will help them. I think for a lot of people, especially people who are committed enough to their faith to attend synagogue or church, they struggle to understand how a loving God could be associated with suffering. If God is in control of everything, then that includes the good and the bad which happens to us. For me, there has been some comfort in knowing that God is with us through our suffering. Also, that living with an ongoing problem in our lives is a matter of living with contradiction…we have good days and bad days and we also shouldn’t presume that because someone’s life looks bad from the outside that they’re not happy, especially people with disabilities. That’s a few ideas

  5. Great post! Go for it: I hope it flies!

    Reply
  6. Great initiative! I’ve tweeted this post and three others of yours 🙂

    Reply
  7. This sounds wonderful and rewarding–both for you and the participants. I know you’ll be awesome, and look forward to hearing more about it.

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  8. Great post and wonderful, loving idea for using writing to heal. Thanks for having the chutzpah to stick your neck out. Peace, John

    Reply
  9. More empathy for others . . . . great blog post. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Rachel, I think your idea is so full of opportunity for people to feel not alone as they face the challenges of aging. I recall my struggle decades ago to get my grandmother to share her personal history (for my genealogy work). She dismissed the idea — probably out of natural modesty and genuine caring — and told me she preferred to look forward, not backward. Then I got her sister in the room, and could barely keep up when they both started correcting one another about what happened when to whom because of why. It was great!

    Kudos to you.

    Reply
  11. Rachel, I think this is fabulous. Self-conscious or not, you have something to give and people appreciate that. People want to tell their stories. Let them be heard!

    Reply
  12. A mitzvot done with love, joy and enthusiasm, even with a little fear mixed in, will lift each person a step above the world and have an enormous impact on their lives! You’re a special one!

    Reply
  13. I hope that many more people visit your blog. I’ve just tweed this and two other of your great posts. 🙂

    Reply
  14. What a great Idea! Think of all the stories we miss out on that older folks have from their experiences! I’d love to read some of their entries. Maybe with their permission, you could post them here.

    Reply
  15. That is such a brilliant idea and good for you for having the courage to push ahead with it. I hope it is going well.

    Reply
  16. You are a great writer and will be able to help many to write. Great idea !

    Reply
  17. Great idea! I really liked what you had to say about remembering the lives of your dog via your writing. This

    Reply
  18. Apologies – my finger accidentally hit the ‘post comment’ button. Sigh…

    Anyway, I do indeed like the idea of remembering the lives of your dogs via your writing. And I like what you’re planning with the writing workshop on aging. Super idea. The best of luck to you!

    Reply
  19. What a wonderful idea. Blogging is great therapy, and also a wonderful way to remember (I use mine as a baby book at times for my daughter) – kudos to you for the idea! It reminds me of a Rumi quote – Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.

    Reply
  20. Good idea, Rachel. The best part is stepping just a bit out of your comfort zone to help others.

    Reply
  21. (Places paws on shoulders, licks entire face thoroughly) Woof! You are going to be GREAT at this! Woof! Woof!

    Reply
  22. What a joyful post. You are so wise to speak with your elders and discover their stories. Good. Luck with tour project.

    Reply
  23. Hey sis? Spell the word DOG backwards and see what you get?

    Nice post, you do a good job of it.

    DS

    Reply
  24. What a wonderful way to give back to your community, Rachel! Do keep us updated on how your class goes.

    Reply
  25. What a great idea Rachel, I’ve been giving talks at retirement homes in Australia and I’m always knocked sideways by how many stories the residents have to tell. Good luck with your project, every person you interview will love you for it

    Reply

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