Several new students joined our ranks this term, bringing along their enthusiasm and creative ideas. Many jumped right in and wrote and shared delightful stories. Our newcomers included Diana Kightlinger, who soon enlisted two friends, Sharron Pankhurst and Shari Shaw. Others new to our group were Kathleen and Roy Anderson, Elnor Betzhold, Jim McKown, Melva Patton, Dorothy Pope, and Beverly Geddy.
It was gratifying to have former students return to class after being absent for awhile to pursue other activities. Returnees Pat and Dale Peterson had last attended class in 1999. What a surprise…they’re back! Barbara McLaughlin and Hans Lietz also returned after a hiatus. Alice Gordon returned as Alice Royer, after marrying Rich only a few weeks before the term began. She blew us away the last week of class with her engaging story about how her treasured pinecone-print skirt sparked a grade-school clash between the city kids and country kids.
I experimented with a new class format this term, introducing weekly in-class writing assignments based on a series of writing prompts tailored to specific life phases. Some weeks worked better than others. On our best days, everyone was busily engaged in a flurry of creative energy. A number of clever stories emerged from those short sessions. On other weeks, our elusive writing muse must have been inspiring writers elsewhere. One thing’s for sure: a number of students discovered the potential of a flash drive!
Susie Sufficool showed the Tuesday class how courage, desire, and perseverance can overcome the hurdles of a disability. Early in the term, the school outfitted a computer with an over-sized mouse and a foot pedal mechanism, enabling Susie to participate with us during our in-class writing sessions. Susie was as intrepid as ever. I watched as she clutched a round wooden stick in her fist and patiently tapped out each word. Because the process was so laborious, a 20-minute writing exercise often yielded only a few sentences. She humbled the rest of us who can so easily accomplish what for her requires a supreme effort. During the seven-week term, Susie produced two delightful, three-page stories about a charming family gathering she attended when she was seven.
I was excited to see students makes some creative breakthroughs this term, either writing more stories than ever before or advancing their writing skills a few notches by trying some new techniques. I think these developments were as gratifying for me as they were for the writers. There were a number of accomplishments: Catherine West completed her series of stories chronicling her World War II experience as a nurse and a young military bride; Bill McLain wrote about adolescent sexual awakening with honesty and sensitivity and sparked a lively discussion about how much should be disclosed in a personal history; former English teacher Pat Milligan branched out from the essay-style pieces that come naturally to her and experimented with re-creating a scene from her past—with great success; Marta Sarkissian bravely tackled the story she long knew she must write and showed us the power of candidly addressing a traumatic family matter.
Our classes plugged along while a few lucky ones travelled hither and yon. Among the places visited this term were China (two students), the great European rivers, Switzerland, Austria, Texas, New England, Portland (three students), and Georgia. Though Willie Walker is still calling Georgia home—at least for the near future—he surprised us all by stopping by on the last day of class. He gave us hope we may have him back with us at some point.
As always, we laughed a lot and shed a few tears now and then when poignant stories reached in and touched our hearts. And as before, we finished the term knowing each other a little better and feeling enriched by the experience of writing about our lives. I can think of little I enjoy more than being a cheerleader for such a rewarding, meaningful enterprise, and I’m looking forward to starting all over again when we reconvene in February.
If any students have special memories they’d like to contribute, click the “comments” link below.