As a writer trying to live a writer’s life, I’ve had to make some hard decisions about what I keep on my plate and what I scrape off. For me, the definition of living a bona fide writer’s life is that most of my daily work is focused on writing. My writing. This definition includes generating most of my income from my work, but that has yet to be realized. So, to put gas in the car and get the mortgage in on time, I turn to those other things on my plate; part-time jobs and assignments that bring in small, but happily accepted, paychecks.
One is a little teaching gig for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. (I’ve written about it before here.) It is little in all the ways; a 10-week semester once a year, an hour and a half long class and usually about 8 to 12 students. I don’t get so much a paycheck as an honorarium. One the administration suggests declining for the good of the organization. (I don’t. I’m a writer.) On all counts it is a job I could give up except I can’t. I love it too much.
The students in my classes are all retired professionals, typically in their 60s and 70s, but it’s not unusual to have students who are over 80. They are professionals from all the fields: education, medicine, finance, real estate, human services. The poets, painters, musicians and writers who attend are those who practiced their arts outside of their “day jobs” which were all of the above and more. The writers come into the writing classes timid, like first graders on the first day of school; unsure of their talents...and their teacher. We get a few classes of writing exercises under our belt and then things get interesting. The truth comes out.
Truth in writing is something I talk about in almost every class because truth is everything in writing. You can hear it. When one is writing for oneself, truth is what brings clarification and understanding. When one is writing for others, truth is what connects the reader to the story. Writing has long been a way to get at truth and so we practice it. The exercises and freewrites are all designed to lead the writer deeper and deeper into their own experience and history. In my classes, given the age of the students, writing often manifests in the release of long suppressed feelings and misunderstood memories. The stories that emerge are stunning; the revelations profound.
At the very end of one recent class, came a gem so true, we all responded with quiet thoughtfulness. The prompt was Mirror, mirror, on the wall... (I’m not known for my wordy prompts.) The responses were the usual fairy tale allusions and exclamations about aging faces and bodies. Then one of the new students, a woman, read about her desire to have her spouse respond to her in a way she wanted him to, and the frustration she felt when he didn’t. She ended with this: “[But] maybe the true reflection of who I am is not my mirror, but my pen?”*
This is why I can’t give it up; I’m addicted to these perfect and beautiful gems of truth and tenacity. When the students read aloud from their work, what emerges from once insecure writers resonates with all those listening. Truth is immediately heard, and it is undeniable.
(*Quote used with permission.)