Local seniors offer words of wisdom in anthology of true stories

GUELPH/ERAMOSA – Coming together to write an anthology of true stories had a local group of seniors laughing with and supporting one another in a “collective creativity” that had them feeling “like teenagers” again.

Telling Our Stories, Sharing Our Wisdom is an anthology written by 19 seniors ranging in age from 60 and 103. 

The authors met twice a week for writing circles at the Eramosa Eden Retreat Centre and the Rockwood library. They shared their work, provided each other feedback, and practiced writing exercises. 

Group facilitator Alberta Nye said some of the authors “were seasoned writers and some had never written before” and it was wonderful watching them gain confidence. 

“I was blown away by what they were writing, their style, their turn of phrase,” Nye said. “Everyone has a different voice and all of us have stories to tell.” 

Among the authors featured in the book are: Martin Carriere, Susan Johnson, William Bruce, Janine Hancock and Nye and her sister Gloria. 

Nye said some wrote stories their kids and grandkids have always wanted them to write. Now, those families are “so delighted, and can’t wait to read it in the book.”

Bruce said he always had a “sense of ideas” for stories, but wouldn’t have written them if it weren’t for this project. Now, he can hardly believe he did it. 

“Writing a story? Are you kidding me? I’m a published writer? Totally shocking,” he said. 

Carriere explained the project helped him get back to writing, an important part of who he is. His story is a conversation with Indigenous elders about his Métis ancestors – their history and their strength. 

The 38 stories and poems include a teenager’s search for her mother, Japanese Canadians hitchhiking in Pennsylvania, and a mother mourning the death of her son.

Johnson, who has been writing her whole life, said writing in this group was a “totally different experience” due to the social environment. 

She wrote about her experience with cancer, a story that includes humour to “help people look at it from a different viewpoint.” 

Johnson said Nye’s facilitation and exercises, as well as input from other participants, taught her the importance of writing to show, not tell, of embracing dialogue, and of avoiding overusing adverbs. 

“I feel the craft of my writing was improved and I am really grateful for that,” she added. 

Carriere said the opportunity to get together gave the authors an advantage in combatting the impacts of isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The seclusion we went into is connected to being irrelevant in the world, but the (writers’) circle made us relevant,” he said. 

Hancock, an expressive arts therapist, called the writing circle therapeutic. 

“It gave me a chance to really begin to heal from the ways I shut down, and look at life from a different perspective,” she said.

The highlight for her was “being met, being heard, and the collective creativity.

“Being able to bounce things back and forth was wonderful” Hancock added. 

“It was always encouraged to have full expression, because you never know who you are going to touch.” 

When four of the authors and Gloria Nye, who came up with the idea for the project, met for an interview with the Wellington Advertiser, laughs and banter were abundant. Group participants said that dynamic was reflective of their writing circles.

Johnson said “as we each helped the others to improve their writing we did it in a very positive way and it was often through joking.” 

“Something just clicked,” Bruce added.

Hancock compared it to “a ripple, a wave,” and noted “there was a big capacity for play, but also for disclosure.” 

Carriere noted, “Alberta did a very good job of holding that sacred space.” 

“You could show up and be who you are,” Hancock said. “And it didn’t matter how old you were. It felt like we were teenagers at times.”

The group also encouraged the writers to feel proud of being seniors, Hancock noted.

During the interview the authors saw their printed book for the first time, and Hancock said it gave her “chills.” 

Carriere said “after it was done, everyone said ‘What next?’” and they discussed coaching others, or maybe doing another version of the same thing. 

“The whole process to me was just delightful,” Nye said, “I would do it again in a flash.”  

Now, Nye is filming each of the authors reading their stories and sharing them on YouTube.  

She said she has a couple surprises slated for the launch on March 25 at the Older Adult Centre in the Rockwood Library from 1 to 3pm.     

She noted anyone writing a story is welcome to reach out to her for input, as she’s “more than happy to do anything I can to help.”

The anthology and writing circle were organized by the Eramosa Eden Retreat Centre and funded by a New Horizons for Seniors federal grant. 

Telling Our Stories, Sharing Our Wisdom is available to order from Amazon and coming soon to Magic Pebble Books in Elora.