There always seem to be stories running through my head. While I'm in the pool at Red's or taking a shower, or driving, they pop up, unbidden. Sometimes at night, lying in bed, they come to me. Always, always, when I cannot write them down, the stories come. I blame this on my life writing class.
Last fall, I was driving my neighbor Nancy home from a lecture series at the library She was telling me about the life writing class that she was teaching and the idea sounded wonderful. I applied for the spring, but was too late. What a disappointment, but Nancy encouraged me to apply for the summer session. That, too, seemed like it wouldn't work out but finally I was able to get in. I was thrilled to begin my class.
On my first day of class I had no idea what to expect. Upon arriving, there were many new faces, and most seemed to know one another from previous classes. We did introductions all around, Nancy explained some of the basic points of the class and we were given a syllabus with suggestions as to what we should be writing. I didn't know then that not everyone followed these suggestions. On our next class, we began reading our stories. This was not what I had expected. I thought we would be given pointers, grammar rules, anything to do with writing. Just sitting and listening to others' stories - this was NOT what I had in mind. Nancy had worked so hard to get me into class. I would just continue through the summer and gracefully "drop out" before the fall session began.
Then something happened. I realized, as I listened, that even though all of us were from different backgrounds, our stories were remarkably the same. Each of them touched me in some way, as did each of the people in the class. Their stories blended with my own, and added things that I had long since forgotten.
Fall session started and I was there, listening to some of my friends from the summer , and learning "the stories" about the new people in our class. Earl, who is so soft hearted and gentle. Lorene, whose husband VL's eggnog recipe I will use this Christmas. I have never seen Hong Kong but know of the beautiful people and wonderful sunsets from Mary. I have never eaten food from Newfoundland, but I know about them from listening to Imelda. I learned about the pain of having a black friend in an integrated world from Helen. Mac and Bev bring me back to New Orleans, with Bev's tales of playing ball for NORD and Mac's knowledge of my great uncle's bar, Sprada's Café, a "classy joint." Edith tells tales of her grandchildren and William, stories from the past in Acadia Parish. Jackie, by her own admission, tells of her "cause du jour." There are people in class that I had known previously. I have known Harriet for some time, but never knew was a daughter of sharecroppers. Linda's daughter and mine graduated together, so I knew of her and her husband, but never realized she had served in the Air Force when it wasn't common for women to do so. Nancy grew up in a small Texas town that my grandmother's family had lived in for years. So many commonalities, so many differences.
Each week, as I sit and listen, I learn so much more about my new friends and their lives. I listen to their stories, and their way of writing them, and more stories pop into my head. I have also learned that Nancy will offer help in grammar, technique, all those things that I thought I would need to write when I first began. I've learned that more than those technical aspects, writing begins in the heart.
My goal, when I began this class, was to write a history of my family for my children. That is still where I am headed so that they will have the story of their family. I just may take a few detours, with my friends, along the way.