Friday, January 8, 2016

Why We Write

     Last Sunday I saw a New York Times article about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Do you know about this?

      Some 150,000 people around the country participate at more than a hundred OLLI locations. The story focused on a couple in Rockville, Md., that takes classes at Johns Hopkins University, which itself has five locations throughout Maryland. "The institutes, affiliated mostly with colleges and universities, are among the best-known advanced adult educational programs in the country," according to the Times. "The lifelong learning programs position themselves as communities where the participants not only take on challenging subjects but also seek to engage more deeply with their fellow students."

     I, myself, do not take classes at OLLI or anywhere else, even though I sometimes feel like I should. After all, B works at a library, so she's learning all the time. Both of my sisters take classes. The one who lives in Florida audits a course every semester at a nearby university. My other sister is learning Italian and has been taking classes for two or three years (and also has made two trips to Italy).

     I instead volunteer at an educational institution -- though one not nearly so prestigious as Johns Hopkins University. I go to my local community college. I help students write their essays, which involves helping them understand what they're reading and then coaching them how to write a coherent report. I also help students with transfer applications, scholarship essays, resumes and job applications.

State House in Annapolis
     The community college is currently on winter break, and I am on my way to Florida. My first stop is Annapolis, Md. -- which is why Johns Hopkins and Rockville, Md., caught my eye. By the way, if you want to learn some history, Annapolis is not a bad place to start. It is home to the U. S. Naval Academy, St. John's College (founded in 1696), and the oldest continuously used state house in the nation.

     They say travel is a good way to learn. I'm not sure if a trip to Florida with all the Snowbirds is particularly educational -- I wouldn't trust the Orlando, Fla., version of history -- but thinking back to my work at the college, I realize I have learned a few things.

     I've learned about the many ways that a piece of writing can go wrong, as well as some of the essentials of what makes a piece of writing work. It doesn't have much to do with vocabulary or grammar. Of course, an essay has to be comprehensible. And it should have a point to it, a thesis. Beyond that, it should have a voice -- something that makes it real.

     One of my last students before I left for Christmas vacation was a young woman who came to the writing center with an essay about discrimination faced by transgenders. She wrote about how friends can ostracize a person who changes gender. She cited the sometimes-horrified reactions from parents and teachers. She discussed the negative signals that transgender people get from the media and society at large.

     I didn't know anything about transgenders before I met this young woman. But reading her essay, I felt as though I had learned something, and I also felt like I had shared some of the transgender experience.

     And I learned something about why we all write. Perhaps we have some observations or opinions; perhaps we have something to say. But most of all, I think, we just want someone to know: We are here. This is who we are.


DJan said...

I write because it's a good brain exercise, as well as something that gives me pleasure. I also read a lot! I've been watching the second season of "Transparent" and while it's a comedy,there is plenty of pathos depicted in the series. You must really be motivated to change gender, it seems to me.

Wisewebwoman said...

Writing to me is like breathing. I write every day, a lot of it rubbish but that's how I learn :)

I've known transgendered people, mostly very unhappy, but that's another story and highly controversial.


Tom Sightings said...

Haven't seen Transparent. I've heard it's good ... but it's on Amazon Prime? We don't get that -- maybe we should. As for writing, I recall the quote attributed to William Faulkner: I never know what I think about something until I've written about it.

Anonymous said...

I write because I must.

Dick Klade said...

Like your conclusion, Tom. With the internet now preserving what we write, we not only define who we are at the moment, but who we were in case anyone is interested in the future.

Snowbrush said...

My father was born in 1909, and he was a transsexual. He was also extremely angry, socially isolated, morbidly shy, had but an eighth grade education, and became furious whenever anyone disagreed with him. Before my birth, he had literally been a barroom brawler. I was one of the few people whom he told about his sexuality, and he didn’t even realize that a single other person felt as he did until he was in his fifties and read about a transsexual person in “Life Magazine.” I don’t know what causes transsexuality, but I see no reason to think that there is anyway that transsexuality will ever be regarded as acceptable, particularly when it involves someone who was born as a male presenting himself as a woman without there being any doubt as to his underlying maleness. I completely support full equality for transexuals, but this doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable around them.

Olga Hebert said...

I have taken a few OLLI courses at the University of Vermont--some of them on writing as it happens.

Anonymous said...

If you speak with the transgender person again, recommend she read Becoming Nicole. A lovely book with many photos.

We havw OLLI classes inour area.

rosaria williams said...

Well said!

Linda Myers said...

I've taken several OLLI courses in recent years, but I'm lazy enough to prefer online learning these days.

I've met several transgender people - one a guest lecturer where I live in the winter - and, while I can't imagine how it would be, support their right to move comfortably in the world as long as the rights of others are not infringed upon. I watched the first season of Transparent and noticed that the trans dad was more "normal" than any of his kids. That was a valuable perspective.

I write as a discipline. Particularly blogging. I have a responsibility to myself and to those who follow my blog. I notice I'm getting better as a writer - always a good thing!

Barbara - said...

I take a writing course at olli, as it happens one of them is on memoir writing. This semester the other class is on the Wyeth as our art museum has a huge exibition right now. My former niece/now nephew is transgendering. Hi is finally happy which is all I care about and his girlfriend is a wonderful person.

Sally Wessely said...

I just finished a writing class. It was a great experience. I think it was worth the money. I write for many reasons. Mostly, it is an important part of self expression which was encouraged by my father and my teachers. Once I became a teacher, I wrote because I tried to model what I was teaching. Now, I write to for me. I guess I'm always a bit surprised when I find that I have readers. It is nice to have readers, but that is not the only reason why I write.

Barbara Torris said...

Oh my gosh, you have said it so perfectly..."But most of all, I think, we just want someone to know: We are here. This is who we are." Thank you.

I hope Florida is a lot warmer than Arizona. We are not warm at all.