Picture yourself in a university extension classroom in Edmonton with nine strangers; all female, all ages. Add a skilled, compassionate, funny instructor, also female, and you get a sense of what a Women’s Words course can offer.
If you come open to the experience, bring your best to the writing prompts, and learn to give and accept feedback you will see the magic happen. Differences in age, education, and background fall away as the women laugh and cry together. Shirley lectured, told tales out of school, read excerpts of wonderful personal essays, and laughed. Her wonderful, mischievous sense of humour ran like a glittery thread through our five mornings together. Her thoughtful feedback to our writing and generous sharing of her own life and writing experience touched each of us.
We were in the Writing the Personal Essay course where ?You’re allowed to say ?I?; where you are the authority on your life; where no outlines or footnotes are required, just life experience and reflection.? Through the use of a basket full of decorative eggs, prompt cards, and handwritten how-to topics, we were given multiple opportunities to write. We were invited, but not obligated, to share what we wrote. We were encouraged to do ?homeplay? (as opposed to homework) if we wanted to.
The sharing of the writing by single women, young mothers, retired women, and a cancer patient brought nods of recognition, outbursts of laughter, and tears of empathy or breakthrough. I (only) jokingly asked Shirley if she had a therapist on standby. In her work with hospital ward patients, quite often that help is needed.
Most of us poked around under some stubborn, long-buried rocks and dragged issues and feelings into the light of understanding. My theory is that It’s easier to share those hurts with strangers in a safe, confidential setting than it is with people we know. Most of us have a facade and public persona that we need to protect at all costs. Kind strangers accept our version of the truth without question, proof, or contradiction. Our take on our own history is accepted and validated by the murmurs of understanding, the knowing nods, the laughter in all the right places, and the words of recognition as our truth turns out to be a universal truth.
And while I was most interested in my own story and insight, I couldn’t help but be touched by the stories I heard. I relived the blessings and bondage of early motherhood. I empathized with the older women who are trying to find their role in retirement and marriage. I listened to the eloquent words of the woman fighting cancer and wondered if I would take the same angry approach to the ?work? of being a cancer patient.
I came home with story fragments, great prompts, some wonderful beginnings, and an email contact list. The true blessing of the week, though, was the gentle reminder of what it means at the cellular level to be a woman. Ours truly is a sisterhood, from where I sit.