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!


  1. It sounds like a great class. And they are so lucky to have you for a teacher.

  2. I'm going to be sad to see the class end but the inspiration they've given will remain.