A year ago I gave a presentation in the BookKids department at BookPeople in Austin, Tex. I started the presentation by explaining that even though my eyes are open I can’t see. “When I was little, I went to school just like you — and then when I lost my sight I had to go to school and learn to do things all over again,” I told the kids.
Only trouble was, there were no kids in the audience — I had no idea that I was talking to a bunch of adults!
A similar thing happened at the Memoir Writing Workshop at Printers Row Lit Fest yesterday, only in reverse. Wanda Bridgeforth, a student from the memoir-writing class I teach for Chicago’s senior citizens, presented with me, and I assumed the audience was full of seniors like her, eager to learn how to get started writing their own life stories. I talked about how writing can be therapeutic, how memoir-writing in particular is good for memory. Searching for the right word really makes our brains work hard, I told my audience. Knowing that we’ll be writing these memories down on paper makes it all feel more official. That makes us think even harder about the words we use — that’s good for our brains. Wanda chimed in then, saying that when she sees the doctor the very first thing he asks her is, “Are you still writing?” When she answers yes, he says, “Keep it up! It’s good for you!”
It wasn’t until the q&a session afterwards that it started dawning on me. The voices asking the questions were young voices, and if that wasn’t enough of a clue, the questions they asked betrayed their youth. I’d misjudged my audience. They were closer to senior high than they were to senior citizenry.
It stinks being blind sometimes! Had I been able to see, I would have adjusted my talk, spoken more about creative ways to get personal essays and stories published and less about how memoir — writing is good for keeping our brains alert.
Ah, well, couldn’t spend too much time fretting about all that. Session over, it was time to celebrate with my sisters, Flo, Wanda and her family at the author hospitality suite. My sister Marilee sat next to me there, and she quietly acknowledged that my suspicions were right. Most of the audience probably had come looking for something different from our session. She was quick to point out, though, that the younger people could have snuck out early if they wanted. None of them did, she said. “They liked you and Wanda!” We toasted to that sentiment over our sandwiches and sodas, and then again later that afternoon — at Hackney’s, of course!