“Writing crystallizes a life, distills a person’s life story.” – Marita, workshop participant

This fall, we partnered with Lake Forest Senior Living Community in Plattsburgh to bring an 8-week writing workshop to their residents. The workshop was led by writer and professor Jackie Keren, who taught for many years in our federal prison writing program. Throughout November and December, the ten residents in the workshop met each Friday afternoon to learn foundational writing skills and try new exercises to inspire stories, poems, and essays. Many participants in the class wrote about their lives, chronicled important memories, and explore ideas of home, identity, and beauty.

We celebrated the end of the class on Friday, December 9th with a round-table reading of some of the pieces that had ben written during the class.

“At first I was a little resistant,” said Avis, a student who, thought not a self-described writer, did journal for many yeas before this class. “I don’t usually write for an audience. But then once the writing began, it flowed out of me without any effort.”

Joyce, who shared a sweet and funny story about an alternative use for a flower pot, said, “This class was an excellent learning experience for me.”

“It’s been really fun to learn different ways to express ourselves and make our writing more interesting,” said Louise, who loved the “I Remember” poem she wrote so much that she let us publish it. Find the poem below.

Marita, who shared a beloved memory of her first and only time attending the opera, told us, “I learned that through poetry you can encapsulate a person’s entire life. The writing crystallizes the life, distills a person’s story.”

Jackie Keren (instructor) and Joyce

“Walking into the library at the Lake Forest Senior Living Community, the first thing I noticed was the art work by the residents, in a corner of the library sectioned off as the artists studio,” said ACW instructor Jackie Keren. “I was there to facilitate a writing workshop and soon learned firsthand what a creative, thoughtful and dedicated group they were.  Together we delved into drafting short memoir pieces while exploring the craft of writing.  What a pleasure and honor it was to hear their stories and listen to their voices take shape as they explored their experiences.  They reminded me how much is contained in a life, and that in storytelling, we can find what makes our experiences extraordinary.”

I Remember
by Louise Patinelli

I remember when everything and everyone was larger than me.
I remember when I learned to measure things not by size but by quality.

I remember where I was when I understood there were three of us children.
I remember where I was when I understood we three were a team.

I remember understanding mom and dad were grownups who loved and protected us.
I remember it was I who, by wanting to have their love and protection, put myself with them on a two way street.

I remember what learning about God meant for me.
I remember what choosing to walk with God meant for the health of my spirit and body.

I remember learning about why the sun and the moon moved through the heavens.
I remember learning about why this happens connected me to a universe filled with wonder.

I remember what it felt like to know I was important.
I remember what it felt like to know I have a responsibility to maintain this status.

I remember what it looked like to see hollyhocks clinging proudly to our backyard fence.
I remember what it looked like for mom to maintain the life of those hollyhocks and that fence.

I remember what it sounded like to hear jingle bells on Christmas Eve.
I remember what it sounded like to hear my prayers thanking God for ears to hear.

I remember what it tasted like to have pancakes and maple syrup on Sunday morning.
I remember how I savored the taste of those pancakes more deeply knowing not everyone could have such moments. 

I remember what it smelled like when mom had yeast dough rising on the kitchen windowsill. 
I remember that smell of yeast dough rising can still bring me back to that tiny kitchen in the heart of my childhood world, with mom, dad and us three kids watching the dough rise

Louise Patinelli is 80 years old and living in Plattsburgh, NY.  She was in the field of education and mental health before retiring. Since childhood, her passion has been art, and she has enjoyed expressing herself through the mediums of oil, pastel, watercolor and pencil. She presently leads an art workshop at Lake Forest Retirement Community in Plattsburgh, New York.

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