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Seniors’ Creative Writing Workshop
Ms. Hill-Green, a 25-year resident on the Mendocino Coast, recently returned to England to complete her PhD in Creative Writing whilst conducting writing programs at her university in York, the library, a psychiatric facility, and an elementary school in pursuit of material to complete her doctoral investigation into the perceptions and interpretations of people under stress or suffering from trauma engaged in creative writing. Ms. Hill-Green's thesis is that the results may lead to an evaluation of creative writing as a means of stress management.
Knowing that she would be on the Mendocino Coast this summer, Ms. Hill-Green approached Director Bush to propose the writing series, principally intended for seniors, and her proposal was enthusiastically accepted.
Ms. Hill-Green writes, “Join us for informal and original writing exercises. We will be tackling poetry, fiction, non-fiction and memoir. The aim is to trigger creativity and come at writing from unusual and obtuse angles. All levels of writers are welcome to develop their creative writing in a supportive, no pressure group.
“There is a growing body of evidence that art-based interventions reduce adverse physiological and psychological outcomes, so it is a good time to look at relationships between art and health. Although artistic endeavor is said to enhance mood and emotion, reduce stress and depression, alleviate symptoms of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and the like, the extent to which these interventions enhance health status is unknown and research is needed in the complex area of artistic engagement.
“Secrets are long-term stressors and disclosure provides relief. Reorganising and reinterpreting thoughts and feelings about events to create a coherent story from the messiness of life gives a sense of control and predictability, making us less vulnerable to being swept away by emotions.
“Expression of trauma alone through, say, dance, is not enough. That trauma has to be translated into language for long-term benefits. This is because it is not the trauma which is distressing but our emotional reaction to it, and, to mitigate feelings and thoughts, it is easier to construct a coherent narrative of the piece. Once formed, it can be summarised, stored and then forgotten. It is cathartic to leave everything on the page so that it does not have a hold on your life.
“It is natural to construct narrative through stories, since as children we have drawn causal relationships and formed stories which help the development of a coherent emotional life. Writing defines our stance towards life and, as Seamus Heaney stated, it gives one ‘a definition of his own reality.’
“Story-making, then, is seeking to understand the world and why events occur, so that we are better prepared to deal with them should they happen again. Of course, it is inevitably trimmed in the retelling, where data is conjured, gaps filled and biases embedded. No matter the distortion then, if we can move beyond the experience and it can be resolved in the distant past. In the process people develop self-reflection, understand others and alter behavior and thinking patterns. We are not looking for truth, but how to deal with trauma and its attendant emotions.
“My PhD proposal is geared towards people with mental health problems, Asperger's syndrome, autism, etc... but it can also address those who have no apparent mental health conditions beyond everyday stress. Basically, I teach ways to oil the brain so that people can think in creative ways that they may never have before. The result can be therapeutic but I would not say that it is my specific purpose to use creative writing as therapy when I teach your seniors. It is a class that is fun and easy and, if past classes are anything to go by, people will look forward to attending.”
Redwood Coast Senior Center is also seeking interested backers of this pilot workshop program, in the hope that the community will step up and support elder education and provide scholarships for seniors on fixed incomes. If you are interested in supporting this program, please contact Michael Potts, program manager, at email@example.com.