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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Anthropologist Teaches Seniors Class Life Story Writing

"Voices from the Past, Gifts for the Future" is the motto for a class of seniors aged 50 on up, who participate in "Life Story Writing - A Guided Course in Memoir/Autobiography Writing. The class is taught by Anthropologist Myla Collier and is part of the Cuesta Community College Adult Emeritus classes, San Luis Obispo County, California. Retrieval of detailed memories from 40, 60 or 80 years ago, by using Myla's system of Memory Joggers for each time period in life, enables students to write and preserve their life stories.

Myla teaches a group of life story classes in San Luis Obispo County,Ca., and the Grover Beach class is shown in the photo. From left to right are Olivia Scholz, Jessie Stone, Cheryl Hagopian, Gary Simms, Mary LeBlanc, Anthropologist and Instructor Myla Collier, Sara Medzyk, Arnie Dowdy, Phyllis Simms, Susie Tacbas, and Chester Johnson. (Photo by student Kristi Gott, not pictured).

Elders storytelling and seniors' life story writing are popular trends today. Classes and groups can be found through local community education programs, college programs, and genealogy groups.

Traditionally seniors have been society's storytellers, who preserved the family history, and passed on details of an era to the next generation. Seniors' life story telling is a chance for family and friends to gather around, and hear about times that have disappeared forever.

Instructor Myla Collier sits at the end of the table in the photo, with Phyllis Sims, age 80, sitting on her right, sharing her life story. Her husband, Gary Sims, age 81, also a prolific life story writer, sits to the left of Myla. The class gathers round to share and discuss. Chester Johnson, age 84, far right, is also a skilled storyteller. He shares many interesting facts in his life stories about growing up in Louisianna.

In my current class we link the historical events with life events, and write a chonological life story, starting with birth. Photos and other memory treasures are brought to class and become part of each life stage, as we write the life stories. As class members create a written record of their life histories, they often include valuable genealogy information that will be passed on for generations.

Sharing their life stories brings people closer to each other. Seniors often find that writing life stories helps them to feel more comfortable with the past. Painful events can be softened by the passage of time, and humorous events might become funnier in the retelling.

Putting the events together, in a chronological narrative, makes many people feel that having a timeline makes looking back less confusing.

Teacher and Anthropologist Myla Collier advises students to use the Memory Joggers which are part of the class materials. She also says that if a memory keeps coming up to "go ahead and write it down while it is fresh in your mind."

Examples of Memory Joggers are questions such as "What were your first impressions as you started school?" Many people are surprised at the details they can remember once they get started.

Using photos and family memorabilia helps jog the memories also. The class members agree that writing a life history provides good mental exercise. Sharing life histories with class members, family and friends provides a chance for social interaction.

Many life history writers also become active with family history and genealogy.

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