Tag Archives: Jan Bassin

Wise Words At The Farmers’ Market

It’s a scene familiar everywhere in America.

A group of retirees gathers every morning. They sit in the same seats. Over a single cup of coffee, they chew over all the problems of the world.

A group in Salt Lake City realized that all their wisdom, all that advice, went to waste. No one listened to them.

So one Saturday, they headed to the local farmer’s market. They hung a sign — “Old Coots Giving Advice” — pretty much as a joke.

To their amazement — and despite the disclaimer “It’s pretty bad advice,  but it’s free” — people wanted to listen.

Old Coots at a Salt Lake City farmers’ market.

Sarah Gross saw a CBS News story about the group. Suddenly, a light bulb went off over the longtime caterer’s head: There are plenty of older Westporters, with lifetimes of experience and a wealth of advice.

And we’ve got a Farmers’ Market.

Which is why this coming Thursday (September 19), a group from the Senior Center heads a few yards south on Imperial Avenue. There — under a table, tent and chairs — the writing group led by Senior Center coordinator of writing programs Jan Bassin will offer advice to anyone who wants it.

The official topic is “what we would have said to our 25-year-old selves.”

But feel free to ask about anything else, from turnips to Trump.

Just don’t call them Old Coots.

They’ve taken the name Westport’s Wise Words.

Respect.

A couple of old coots at an early Westport Farmers’ Market.

FUN FACT: Robert Penn Warren rocked Sarah Gross in her crib, and Ralph Ellison held her in his arms when she was an infant in Westport. Her extended family was made up of  authors and artists and the like — and her father was a book editor and literary agent until his death a few years ago.

Westport: The Write Place

The statistics are in: 18 iconic Westport locations. Six library spots. Six pick-your-own-spots. All told, 250 “writes” during last month’s Write Here project.

Jan Bassin

Led by Jan Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the Westport Library’s Maker-in-Residence — each hour-long session began with a brief introduction. After a prompt, Westporters of all ages, abilities and backgrounds began writing. At the end, volunteers shared their creations.

The proudest — or bravest — uploaded their writing to a dedicated website.

But those dry facts don’t come close to telling the whole “story.”

Like many participants, Bassin knew some of the writing locations well. In her case it was the Senior Center, Westport Country Playhouse, Compo Beach, Wakeman Town Farm, Levitt Pavilion and Farmers’ Market.

Others she hadn’t visited or thought about in years: Earthplace, Rolnick Observatory, Westport Historical Society.

She’d been to Toquet Hall only once; the Westport Weston Family YMCA and Ned Dimes Marina never. She had no idea where to find the police station entrance.

Writing at Earthplace …

Jan was excited to “discover” those new places. But just as intriguing was the chance to look at familiar places with new eyes: the Town Hall lobby, for example, and train station.

She realized too that classrooms at fire and police headquarters, picnic tables at Longshore and chairs under a tree at the Farmers’ Market were as exciting as the more “sparkly” venues.

Each site brought new revelations. Jan and her group sat spellbound as Nick Marsan described his circuitous, unexpected route to becoming a firefighter; Sue Pfister spoke of shifting her focus from business to social work, then finding a population where she could help; Lori Cochran-Dougall shared her passion for sustainability; Carleigh Welsh offered her heartfelt philosophy about the importance of the arts, and Shannon Calvert showed photos of the universe taken at the observatory.

… the Westport Country Playhouse …

Each visit, Jan says, “felt like a private and special writing party.” Everyone at every site treated the writers as special guests.

At the end of each talk, she guided the group into “feeling” the place they were in. The writing that followed was “amazing.”

It was “beautiful, connected and gorgeous” — even from people who insisted, “I don’t write.”

When she designed the month, Jan did not expect to be as moved as she was, every single day. “People’s voices and stories still play in my head,” she says with awe.

… and the Westport Farmers’ Market.

The project was as much about “place” as about words. “We can’t actually think of ourselves at any point in our lives without remembering where we were,” she notes.

“By writing together in a series of places in our town, we ask: What makes a community?”

The answer, it turns out, is write right here.

(Click here to read the writing posted to the Write Here website.)

Exciting New Project Is “Write Here” In Westport

The Westport Library attracts plenty of writers.

And not just in the stacks, or for book talks.

It’s a wonderful place for anyone — published author, budding writer, wannabe — of any age to sit and create.

Choose your spot: the big tables in the Forum, one of the smaller community rooms, a bench on the Riverwalk.

There are other places in Westport to write, of course. The Senior Center and Westport Writers’ Workshop offer classes. The Saugatuck Story Lab is a welcoming space too.

Jan Bassin.

But Jan Bassin believes our town pulses with places that can inspire words. To jump-start those muses, she’s teamed up with the library to offer a month-long community writing project.

Every day during August, Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the library’s Maker-in-Residence — will host an hour-long write-in.

Every day, it will be at a different spot.

The Playhouse. Compo Beach. The Farmers’ Market. The boardwalk at National Hall. Longshore. The train station.

You name it — if it’s in Westport you’ll find Bassin, and writers of every age and ability, all month long.

Each “Write Here” (get it?) session begins with a brief introduction from a representative of that location. Bassin will provide a prompt. Writers will then free-write: prose, poetry, first-person, creative, whatever. At the end, anyone who wants to can share their creations.

“The act of writing connects us to ourselves and our community,” Bassin says. “When you write somewhere, you feel connected to that spot.”

One example: At Wakeman Town Farm, the prompt might spur one person to write about her memories of growing up on a farm. Someone else might react to the sights and smells of WTF itself. A third person might be inspired to create a poem about animals.

Scenes like this could inspire some great writing.

The project kicks off this Thursday (August 1, 12 noon, Westport Library). I’ve been known to write a few stories about “06880,” so I’ll join Jan Bassin to talk briefly about writing in Westport.

Then we’ll turn it over to you all, for your own words.

Every “Write Here” session is free. You can come to as many or as few as you want. You can read your writing aloud, or keep it private.

“Write Here” will evolve, Bassin expects. She may create a website for writers who want their words to live on (by name, or anonymously).

You might even be inspired to submit a “Write Here” story to “06880.”

You know: this blog, right here.

(For more information about “Write Here: Westport,” click here.)

Seniors And Teens Share Stories — And Lunch

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.

Talking together …

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.

… reading …

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.

… and listening. (Photos courtesy of wanderinginwestport Instagram)

“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.