Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lifelong Learning

I think I'm in love. I'm facilitating (they say moderating) a seminar, Let Me Tell You about the Time: An Introduction to Lifewriting at the University of Dayton Lifelong Learning Institute. This is my first time volunteering to moderate a seminar. In the past, I've taught students from preschool age to the doctoral level so I'm comfortable teaching. But this is a teaching situation distinct from all my prior experience.

You must be fifty years of age or older to attend UDLLI. There are no assignments and no grades. People register for seminars based on their interests, period. And, if the seminar is not what they expected, they simply withdraw. Attendance is not mandatory; several folks told me on the very first day which of the six sessions they would miss. I was a bit jealous when I learned these missed classes frequently involved travel, often to warm, sunny places. These are lovely, well-educated, sophisticated men and women. While exceedingly polite, they make it quite clear what they are willing or not willing to do for the class.

At first I worried about this new paradigm. Learning for leaning's sake? Taking a seminar as much for the social interaction as for the topic? Once I relaxed a bit I found this the most refreshing and invigorating atmosphere. My original plan was to have everyone complete at least one life story and then publish an anthology of these stories at the end of the six weeks. Um, no. Some folks wanted their story in a handwritten document. Some wanted it typed but not published. Some wanted to incorporate photos and artifacts. Some wanted to write for their own pleasure and did not particularly care about sharing their writing. But what stories they have to tell! The eight men and six women, ranging in age from fifty-seven to late eighties, are writing about life experiences that keep me captivated each and every Tuesday.

Class thus far has included some strategy tips, some writing prompts, and some time to write followed by sharing. My favorite part of the two hour class is when they read from their work. Each sharing prompts a flood of responses and questions from the group. Their descriptions of the setting and era of the tale combined with the experience they chose to share fold us all into the memory.

Last week they brought photographs and mementoes that related to their story. One gentleman had pictures of himself right after enlistment and right after returning from battle. What a story those pictures told. One class member brought in some 45 rpm records from his collection and explained how you could tell the age of the record from the label design. Plus, oh those songs! Made me want to jump up and dance. One beautiful album with a hand tooled leather cover showed a class member's parents from their wedding through her early years. Another person's photo of himself dressed as Santa with his granddaughter was the spring board for the tale of how he first began to dress as Santa, in a costume made by his wife, and how that lead to years of Santa experiences.

This week, we are going to play with six word memoirs. I introduced the concept last class so folks could think ahead. One of the men immediately composed a five word memoir. A classmate promptly jumped in with the sixth word for a perfect finish and a roar of laughter and approval from us all. I'm looking forward to the next session to hear what else is composed.

I have no idea what the finished class projects will be. Each person's product, if any, will reflect his or her desire. I only know that I have fallen in love with a vibrant group of writers who are taking me to school as to what really matters and I am so grateful!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Second Anniversary

On January 23, 2009 I was diagnosed with Paget's Disease, a rare form of breast cancer. The Story Circle Network has a new blog called One Woman's Day that asks a woman to select a day that holds special meaning for her and write a post about it for that date. I chose January 23rd. I submitted two posts.  That day was so dense with shock and fear that I had written two extensive journal entries and gleaned my posts from those. You can read  A Harbinger and the First Sign  and The Third Sign's the Charm by clicking on the titles.  

The beautiful fiber art below was made by my friend Kate Burch. I keep it in my kitchen where I am reminded daily of the beauty and power of friendship and to take a moment to be thankful for my recovery from breast cancer and to pray for the women facing it today.

Life, Love, Hope

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Zen Zentangle Tango

I've had Zentangles on the periphery of my consciousness for a while now. I'd seen some samples and heard a few folks talk about them but was not quite sure what they were. I love Loretta Puncer's Gallery 510 in Dayton's Oregon District and often visit for a visual feast and inspiration. In early January my friend Lori, fellow writer and fiber artist, noticed some Zentangle art for sale and while discussing it with Loretta she mentioned that a Zentangle group meets in her studio once a month for a work session and that there was an introductory class coming up in a few weeks. I signed up with limited information and an open mind.

I confess that if I was on top of my schedule I would have at least googled Zentangle for some prior knowledge. But, I forgot about the class until the day of and had to go cold. This was good! Zentangle is a form of, well, doodling. You can read about the origin here. Many people find it stress-reducing and enter a meditative state while drawing.

Carole Ohl, a certified Zentangle teacher, gave us a little box with all we needed to get started. I love little boxes and containers of all sorts. This one was pristine white cardboard with a pen, a smudge stick, a pencil, and four paper squares. These were not just any pen, pencil and paper. The pen was a Pigma Micron 01 Black. The pencil had soft lead good for smudging and the paper was archival quality. It felt like the first day of elementary school when I always reverently clutched a brand new pencil box, pencil, eraser, and crayons, all ripe with possibility.

Zentangle supply box and an in-process Zentangle

You start by making a dot in each corner of your paper and then connect the dots to make a shape. You can use any kind of lines you want to do this. Then you add a string. This is Zentangle talk for a line that divides your shape into smaller sections. Again, any way you like! Then you begin to fill in the spaces created by the string. There are over a hundred Zentangle designs (tangles) for you to try. And, of course, you can make up your own!

Now, here's the fun part, there is no such thing as a "wrong" Zentangle! There were six of us in this session and using the same prompts and tangles, created six very different finished pieces.

My first Zentangle

Initially, my grip was tight, I was using two much pressure and was over thinking the whole thing. When I relaxed and just played I slipped into a lovely place. Calm. Peaceful. As I finished my first Zentangle,  I shifted into a creative rush and began to think of all the things I wanted to try with these. I was especially enthused about using them within or surrounding letter shapes. I finally got up from my seat and wandered in the gallery for a few minutes to mellow out.

In a one hour session I went from curious, to fascinated, to soothed, to eager, to inspired. Zen to tango to zen again! Engaging my right brain always opens creative thoughts for me and that leads to creative action. I think this will be helpful to my writing practice. It gives me a visually productive way to tap into a sense of well-being, of being at peace within my body. Lovely.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Berry Bowl

This is one of my favorite Christmas gifts! Peter and Sarah, family who live in New Hampshire, sent it to me. It arrived in a plain brown paper package delivered via Parcel Post a week or so before Christmas. I waited until Christmas morning to open it and was so pleased. After having breast cancer in 2009, I have been making an effort to eat plenty of antioxidants, berries especially. This sweet bowl has holes so I can rinse and drain the berries, then a little dish to rest upon at the table. Pete shared that it was made by a friend of his, Diane Coveny of Forest Pond Studio in New Hampton, NH, a retired educator. I treasure hand crafted items and this one is both useful and beautiful.


My mother always said that presentation matters. Beautifully presented food adds a visual element that enhances taste. I make an effort to give myself antioxidants in the most pleasing way possible. As you can see, I have already served blackberries, blueberries, and Riviera Pears. Riviera Pears are an extra special treat, the juiciest, tastiest pears imaginable. I only have them at Christmas time. The table cloth under the berry dish is the one that usually graces my table. It is hand made Irish lace my mother bought for me on her first of many trips to Ireland. I don't reserve it for "special occasions," just being alive is special enough!

Blueberries with Riviera Pear
I hope you serve yourself healthy, nutritious food in a beautiful way. And one gentle suggestion, take the time to stop and savor every bite, enjoy the pleasure and the blessing.