“I learn by going where I have to go” ~~Theodore Roethke
It’s taken me half a lifetime to figure it out, but I’ve always been an experiential learner. Much as I love words, it is difficult to learn to swim from reading a book.
Theodore Roethke’s poem “The Waking” is about a lot more than learning by living, but his line, “I learn by going where I have to go” could certainly be a motto for the work and mystery of learning.
I’ve been doing a lot of learning-by-going in recent years, taking a very non linear path from nonprofit consultant to therapy-based teaching artist. Just a few points along the way: a masters in family therapy, vocational rehabilitation for vision loss (think learning to read and write braille at age 47), the wonderful accident of landing an internship in a senior high-rise and witnessing how poetry could sometimes be at least as healing as something called “therapy.
I’ve been so busy learning-by-going that it’s often hart to capture or reflect on all this learning and what its benefits might be. But through Known by Heart, I’ve been given a chance to change that, at least for a while.
In 2015 the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (through a Saint Paul Knight Arts Challenge grant) took a lovely leap of faith and funded Known by Heart Writing Home, a project to provide writing workshops to older adults and to explore the possibilities of creativity as a key strategy for healthy aging.
The basic arc of the project is to immerse myself as a poet-organizer in the ecosystem of elders in my own community: the Creative Enterprise Zone, to develop writing and poetry experiences that grow out of what I learn, and to provide elders a way to find and share their voices.
And as part of the original request, I proposed keeping a learning journal to share some of the experiences and reflect on the process along the way.
So now that Known by Heart has met the Knight match and is starting to offer workshops, there’s no time like the present to get started on the reflecting… (thank you funding and programming partners: Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation, Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, Creative Enterprise Zone, and Keystone Community Services Senior Services Program)
Over the next few months as time allows— between workshops on memory, haiku, basic writing craft, and more—I’ll use this space for occasional reflections on what I’m learning and what I’m still puzzled or curious about.
A few questions I might look at:
What would it look like to offer a writing class for homebound people, delivered along with the daily hot meal delivered by Meals on Wheels volunteers?
What would it look like to provide meaningful poetry experiences for people in skilled nursing care who may be beyond writing and perhaps even language expression?
Is Roethke’s poem :The Waking” (“I wake to sleep and take my waking slow”) bout life death or both?
What’s the worst mistake I’ve ever made in teaching?
Is there a better title than teaching for this work?
What’s more important, the quality of the art-making or the quality of life benefits of art-making?
Are age-specific workshops the best way to serve the creative needs of elders?
How can sharing the creative work of talented elders change cultural perceptions about aging?
Can something as simple as a poetry class really have an impact on the course of our aging?