Last week marked the end of our very first month-long writing session at the Hayward Senior Center. Six enthusiastic students participated. We began with what I thought would be a simple topic: childhood food. The result was anything but simple. We ended up with stories of parents and grandparents, cousins and neighbors, layered with mouth-watering descriptions of food, snacks and candy, kitchens and table manners, all set against a backdrop of war-time ration, segregation, and other historical moments. We were all amazed that such a simple topic generated such rich exploration.
Some students had been writing for a while, had started various projects over time that had petered off. Others were brand new to writing. Either way, people explored this topic with depth, honesty and a whole lot of creativity.
We had plenty of small group discussions, which proved fruitful for inspiration and motivation. The rules for small group discussion were simple: a) listen without interrupting b) ask questions to foster further ideas for your partner c) thank your partner for sharing. We did not offer criticism, life advice, or specific writing tips. Why? Because this writing workshop is a safe space for exploration, not a strict, punitive classroom. We've all had enough of that in our lives!
On our last day, we had a celebration. We shared the final drafts of our stories over chocolate cake and sparkling water. Why? Because it's so important to celebrate your efforts- not after you've written your whole life story, but after each snippet that gets put down on paper. As students shared, there was much laughter, much connection, much debate over whose grandma's fried chicken was the best in the land. This was my secret wish for this class: connection, laughter, the understanding that whether we grew up in the South or in South Korea, many of our life's experiences are similar.