The below is a love letter to my fellow writing students and teacher who persevered together through the pandemic. It is written to be spoken, and that is what I did in our last Zoom-based quarterly writing presentation. We classmates supported – and challenged – each other in our explorations.
We have been lucky to have each other during a difficult time. And now… the reading:
For those of us old enough to know that our past is longer than our future, happiness arrives with two scoops of lowered expectations, a heaping helping of defiance, and for the lucky, a deep dive into looking back and trying to make sense of it all. Writing stuff down can help. Writers have the chance to defy life’s burdens through the exploration of memory. Plus, a tad bit of research.
My mother, in her early 70s, plumbed for meaning in her senior memoir-writing class, racing to document her life before dementia took it away. She was another one of us elders who desired, through writing, a satisfying summing up.
My father was a social work professor and gerontologist with a specialty in death and dying. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, our dinner and overnight guest one drizzly winter’s evening, helped me with my middle school German lesson. Dad didn’t live long enough to see Kubler-Ross’s sad unfolding. The good doctor was duped by a fraudulent psychic then leaned heavily into the occult. But she documented the hell out of it till the end.
So much of aging is about coping with loss. Loss of others. Of one’s own physical and mental capacities. Of one’s innocence.
But Beautiful Lies, Beautiful Truths, this little Thurston Senior Center writing class of 12 students and one teacher – or more accurately 12 teachers for each student – has been a precision-guided weapon against despondency. How encouraging and inspiring this voyage with my fellow elders has proven to be! Comrades who have retained curiosity and hope despite all the losses, tragedies and traumas that time on this earth surely brings to us all. In that way, they are my heroes.
During these 15 peculiar pandemic months of faces in boxes, this class has taken all of us student writers and readers to India. To Kenya and Lithuania and York, Pennsylvania. To the Kingdom of Hawaii and off the planet entirely to the home-world of the sasquatch. It has taken us on the American back roads to a generous and pretty waitress in the Midwest, and to the terror of scaling talus slopes and icy cliffs in the Rockies. It has taken us to childhood homes that talk, and aged Alzheimer’s-ravaged parents who can no longer do so.
We have danced at the prom, and at Jewish summer camp. We have explored the value of benevolence with good deeds to those we love and those we will never meet. We have contemplated the advice of our friend Janis Joplin while we sat at a honky-tonk sipping booze. We have wowed the groupies while bodyguarding Paul Newman, and we have bet on the horses at Golden Gate Fields. We have left men and we have left women and sometimes we married up for bad and sometimes we married up for good. We have relived the zaniness of teaching at Elementary School, and the delight of Cuban flan and a small tightly rolled cigar. We flew a wild ride when starting up the federal Transportation Security Administration and we grinned with wizened memories at the passionate delight of sneaked teenage kisses on a Bronx brownstone stoop. We know that Grandma Alice loved a sunrise.
Every week, we BLBT students have been writing on. Nervously confronting what we’ve just as soon avoided. Playfully risking attempts at humor that could very well fall flat. Defying fear through honest exploration, such that, as the class has progressed, a growing confidence has settled into a comforting norm. We have made and received critiques; and provided with candor and tenderness, what seems to have emerged as a comforting blanket of devotion. We’ve discovered that Wednesdays from 2 to 4pm are, more often than not, our favorite hours of the week.