One of the Senior Center’s most popular activities is a Writing Workshop. Jan Bassin guides men and women — many of whom have never written for pleasure — through the transformative process of turning their long lives and powerful insights into words that will live forever.
One of Staples High School’s most popular electives is Reading and Writing Fiction. Kim Herzog and David Stockwell help teenagers — many of whom don’t think of themselves as writers — turn their creative ideas into words they can be proud of.
Last spring, Bassin invited Julie Heller — the Westport school district’s grade 6-12 English coordinator — to her group’s final workshop. Heller was awed by the senior citizens’ eloquence and honesty. When Bassin asked if the Center could collaborate with Staples on a writing project, Heller immediately thought of Herzog and Stockwell.
Joining forces was easy. Figuring out what to write about together was not.
Eventually, the instructors settled on food. Senior citizens and high school seniors have something in common: “We all eat, smell and experience food,” Herzog says.
Earlier this month, both groups gathered at the Senior Center. They divided up, a few per table. They introduced themselves, then read their works.
Many older writers told personal stories. Many teenagers chose fiction. But all wrote powerfully, and well.
One woman described growing up in Europe, during World War II. An American soldier gave her a wonderful drink. Years later — now in the U.S. — she tasted it again.
Amazed, she asked its name.
“Coca-Cola,” she was told.
Another woman related her first experience with oysters. They were not, she said, as fantastic as she’d heard.
The Staples students “couldn’t believe how honest” the Senior Center writers were, Herzog syas.
As for the younger writers: Their creativity and emotion stunned the older men and women.
It was the first time some of the Stapleites had sat down with senior citizens who were not their grandparents.
“It was great to watch,” Stockwell says. “The kids couldn’t stop talking about their experiences. And the seniors raved about the students.”
“Their collective writing skills were surpassed only by their good manners, self-confidence and the ease with which they made conversation,” one Senior Center member wrote afterward.
“The shortest distance between two people is a story,” Herzog notes.
And the quickest way to share experiences is through food.
So — naturally — both groups ate together too.
Westport Pizzeria, Trader Joe’s and Stew Leonard’s all donated lunch.
That’s something else to write home about.