Written by Ellen Ryan
I am offering two pairs of Hamilton Aging in Community workshops on writing this fall, via Hamilton Public Library Online:
The Art of Writing Memoir on Mondays 1:00-3:00pm, October 25 and November 1
Writing Legacy Letters on Mondays 1:00-3:00pm, December 6 and December 13
For registration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why Do We Older Adults Write Down our Life Stories
A life story is a gift one generation bestows upon another,
a legacy people have been giving from the beginning of time.
~ Denis Ledoux
The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand.
They are moments when we touch one another.
~ Jack Kornfield
All that we are is story.
~ Richard Wagamese
Human beings can survive and grow through anything
as long as we can wrap a story around our experience
that fosters resilience.
~ Christina Baldwin
Whether as a private act or a public act,
by writing we can howl, sing, or plainly
and humbly tell what is true.
When it becomes public,
our howl of outrage can waken the world to injustice.
Our singing writing can waken the world to beauty and to joy.
~ Pat Schneider
My Experiences with Life Stories in Prose and Poetry for 20 Years
Twenty years ago, I began to write poetry, joined a local writing group, and started writing two-page stories from my life.
Journaling and writing drafts and publishing a few pieces and facilitating writing among other older adults – all these writing activities have contributed to my sense of self, a sense of purpose in my life, and connections with past and future generations within and outside my family.
My evolving pieces Three Generations, My Name, and My Childhood Failure to Speak My Mother Tongue take different stabs at my heritage and early childhood – connecting my parents’ migration with the 1880-1930s history of one million French Canadians moving from Quebec into the numerous textile mill towns of New England; connecting my name after genealogical search with Mme Samuel de Champlain as godmother to my ancestor Hélène Desportes, reportedly the first European baby born in North America; and addressing my deep-seated regret about not speaking French after age 3.
After spending time over the pandemic’s Christmas holidays reading drafts of my stories, my daughter told me she was surprised that I grew up with the same large family musical gatherings for the holidays among the Bouchards that she has experienced only with the Ryans. Now she can see that her own and her daughter’s musical talents come through several family lines, not just one.
Now that my grandchildren are teens, I can share my poem Car Talk about my learning to go beyond black and white thinking with the blessing of my Dad. As they contemplate international student exchange opportunities, I can share Russian Summer, my story and poems about ten weeks in the Soviet Union during the Cold War on a student exchange.
Finally, writing our stories down allows the stories to cross geographical and time distances. On the centennial of my parents’ birth, I put together a collection of seven poems I had written about them. Two years later this collection appeared at my son’s place in Stockholm Sweden on Easter morning where he found himself reading them for the first time. My parents would have been so pleased with the photograph he took of their cover picture on his balcony. Talk about time travel.