Intergenerational Writers Create Verbal Collage
By Sandra Coopersmith
If reincarnation exists and the universe is listening, consider this my bid to come back as a student at Turning Point School in Culver City. Please.
In 2010 the Intergenerational Writers Workshop, comprised of the school's Level 6 students and volunteers from Culver City Senior Center, first convened. Having been lucky enough to participate from Day One, it has become my annual rite, and this year's recently concluded fifth workshop was certainly one to savor.
I thank my tablemates on this creative journey for a wonderfully interactive six-session experience that provided me with so many moments of insight, inspiration and pleasure. Appreciation is also extended to Jill Thomsen, the innovative Volunteer Specialist with Culver City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, who played a key role in facilitating the initial and all subsequent collaborations.
This year's workshop included some new and imaginative touches, woven through a fluid, organic structure.
It kicked off on Jan. 15, when we met at the center and split into four roughly equal groups. Mine consisted of teacher Diana Bender, fellow volunteer Marilyn Russell and Level 6 students Leila, Beatriz, Andrew, David, Sebastian, Cleo, Amy, Shane and Rachel. We had all received the same advance homework assignment, to write an introductory poem about ourselves. After each poem was read we discussed our writing process, favorite lines and those that were difficult to write.
We then reviewed Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech, and Marilyn awed us by sharing a once-in-a-lifetime memory. She had participated in the 1963 March on Washington and was present when that historic speech was delivered. "I was a 23-year-old librarian living in New Jersey," she recalled, "and I got on a charter bus to Washington at 4 am. We sang 'We Shall Overcome' on the way." Although she was at the back of the crowd when Dr. King spoke, she and those around her knew an extraordinary event had just occurred.
Our homework assignment was to write about our own dreams for our community, country or world, and as we shared our writing at the school, the site of our Jan. 22 session, I was touched by how supportive the students were of each other, Marilyn and me, and impressed by their ideas and incisive comments. And there was a new twist this year. This was going to be the most collaborative workshop by far, since we were each to choose two or three of our lines for eventual assembly into a group video.
Because change requires effective leadership, for homework we were to write an acrostic poem about the qualities of leadership, using all 26 letters of the alphabet, and then create our own found poem (the literary equivalent of a collage) by using 10 to 13 lines from the acrostic.
Diana was unable to join us at the center on Jan. 29, but she had arranged for Jane McEneaney, a Performing Arts teacher, to stand in. After we shared our found poems, Jane read the following quote by Stewart Friedman: "Leader in its most important sense means being the agent of your own life, influencing the things you care about most in the world to make it a richer life."
Then she placed a large sheet of yellow paper and box of crayons on the table and asked us to illustrate that quote, following which we discussed the meaning of our spontaneous artwork. For homework we were each given a different leadership-related quote that was attached to a sheet of blank paper, and asked to draw our interpretation of it – a challenging exercise in imagery.
On Feb. 5 Diana rejoined us at the center. Because there was so much to pack in, we deferred sharing our drawings until the following session. In the meantime, she had prepared 11 separate sheets, each with the couple of lines we'd chosen on Jan. 22 from our "I have a dream" papers. We arranged them on the floor in what we felt would be the best sequence to make the words flow, doing a little tweaking in the process.
She then passed out the leadership poems we'd turned in on Jan. 29. After we each selected a line or phrase, we wrote them on pieces of paper and concluded they would have the most impact if, as a group, they followed the "I have a dream" lines.
And on Feb. 12, back at the school with us each reciting our contributions to that collaboration while holding up our drawings, we created our computer video!
Afterwards, as we discussed those drawings, I marveled at how inventive and stimulating this year's sessions had been. My wonder got kicked up yet another notch with the homework assignment to be shared at our next and final meeting two weeks later at the center.
But first we reviewed the various components that comprise an effective story. Then we took turns rolling six story cubes (basically dice with different images on the sides) and writing down the six that came up, since they were to be incorporated into a life story to be shared when we next met. Creative writing, Vegas style!
The final meeting on Feb. 26 was imbued with gratitude and a terrific sense of team accomplishment. Marilyn and I were moved and charmed when the students presented us with thoughtful, handmade gifts that we will treasure as endearing mementos of our brief time together.
Then, after reading our homework assignment – and I was impressed by how everyone managed to integrate the images – we viewed the video of each of the four groups on a laptop, truly a heartening experience. Later, as I mentally replayed this year's sessions I was reminded of Nelson Mandela's comment: "A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special."
And indeed it was.