Hi Ho, Hi Ho, A-Writing We Will Go…

hotel Irkutsk

An exchange of emails and telephone calls confirm lesson plans made can now be actioned…

Hallelujah! – I have work…

Schools have gone back but my classes in community houses don’t commence until this week, and as is the nature of being casual, contract, part-time, temporary… confirmation usually doesn’t happen until enrolments are confirmed, and that can be very last moment.

(If lucky, sometimes managers decide to run a class in the hope people will turn up on the starting day.)

An email midweek from one employer confirmed enrolments in tomorrow’s class are enough – the class will run. A telephone call Friday confirmed the other classes have numbers too.

Returning to work, after the long summer break without an income is definitely a cause for celebration – and that good old-fashioned, ‘Hallelujah.’

I’m not alone working in jobs reliant on funding and nearly everybody is at the mercy of the vagaries of the economy. Most workers are hostage to an employer whether it be in the public or private sector. And the courageous few who establish a business spend a lot of time worrying too.

It is wonderful to be told you have paid work – the certainty helps with budgeting!

In the adult education field, many teachers are employed on short-term contracts or a casual basis. Sadly, this even happens within the school system nowadays.

Uncertainty, flexibility, adaptability – the modern workers buzz words. The only guarantee is there are no guarantees.

red rose bud.jpgWho Are My Students? Uncertainty and Anticipation

Some students are returning and I wonder what they have written over the holidays and if their writing projects and aims have changed. (Or have they shared my struggle to write!)

I’m curious about the new students. Always, the stirrings of excitement a motivation to remember and act upon the Girl Guide Motto, “Be Prepared.”

Despite teaching for 20 years I love the research of planning lessons. Seeking new ideas, books, craft information, a variety of sources, prompts and challenges to ensure we move out of comfort zones.

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Did Anyone Put My End-of-Year Present To Work?

When classes ended for the summer holidays, and because it coincides with Christmas there is often an exchange of presents or an expectation to give a gift.

Gift giving often problematic, if you are someone like me who likes to give a book. Writers are usually avid readers and the chances of giving a book the recipient already has is high.

Print books can be expensive, especially new releases.  I decided to promote writing and wrapped up a pocket notebook and pen for each student.

I asked them to keep the notebook handy and every day write down ideas for stories or poems: observations that strike them as interesting, perhaps overheard dialogue, a memorable smell, unusual sound, evocative texture or taste – all the happenings and minute details that are important to engage with readers.

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Paying it Forward

I first started using a pocket notebook over 30 years ago after hearing Australian writer,  playwright and poet, Dorothy Hewett interviewed on the ABC. She talked about having a notebook and pen in her apron pocket and mentioned some of the stories that grew from her scribbled thoughts.

I’m still old school and usually write by hand before recording onto the computer. Adding words, rewriting, subsequent drafts, plus editing, are all done on the computer, but that initial writing by hand allows me to be more in tune with thoughts, whether brainstorming, a stream of consciousness, or what I call ‘the splurge’ in class, or just musing.

The downside of course is finding it difficult to decipher my writing if I’ve scribbled while on public transport or in the middle of the night (I keep a notebook and pen by the bed) or under the influence of a strong emotion like anger or grief with my mind in overdrive and the hand finding it difficult to keep up.

I’m sure observers the other day thought I was mad as I paused in the middle of Main Street to jot in my notebook. (Maybe I’ll appear in another writer’s notebook as an eccentric old woman.) But I had to note a couple of young girls giggling as they crossed the road arm in arm, one wearing a t-shirt that said, “Mermaids don’t do homework”.

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Uncover or Discover Stories to Record

It’s easy to become stuck in a routine or feel life is ‘same old, same old’, to rely on books, television, movies, and various social media platforms for entertainment, experience, and to extend imagination.

There is an endless amount of stories out there but it’s easy to convince yourself ‘nothing is new under the sun’ and all the original stories have been written by someone more capable or talented.

Writing is hard work, it takes effort – 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration – that’s why it helps if you have other writers encouraging, supporting and motivating your pen to move!

I discovered a poem I wrote after an icebreaker session when the writing students interviewed and introduced each other. I listened (the most important part of any learning process) and made notes to help me remember the students.

The poem takes me back to that class, remembering the students and recalling what they wrote. It may be rhyming doggerel but it also a record of part of my life.

Poetry is great for recording snapshots of life.

Writing Class at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House 2005

Mairi Neil

WW2 was announced on the airwaves
and Heather’s family gathered round
a ten-year-old girl confused
until the air raid sirens sound.
Later, the adult Heather
chose Nursing as a career
a passion shared by Angela
who cared for children three.
Angela’s knowledge of medicine
has stood her in good stead
because she daily battles MS
gallantly facing whatever’s ahead
She’s had environmental change
to Melbourne from the Apple Isle
like Margaret Birch’s Moorabbin memory
gumboots a necessity, not style.

Margaret watched Moorabbin grow
from soldier settlements to busy metropolis
South Road’s dirt track transformed
into a modern traffic terminus.
To escape car fumes and pollution
visit Margaret Birkenhead’s home
meditate in her Edithvale garden
a splendid oasis of beauty to roam.
Sixty years of devotion and giving
mirrored by Marjorie’s journey
a shared vision of contentment
family values central to living.
These two ladies share a thirst for
knowledge and highly value education
Marjorie returned to study at sixty-five
gaining a BA and a new vocation.

She now writes family history,
children’s stories, and rhymed verse,
which strikes a chord with Phillip
whose words forever impress.
He produces poems that inspire,
they also enlighten and amuse
a talent shared by Jeanette
who adores theatre and to choose
serenity listening to classical music
whether operatic or dance
and loves to go to the cinema
whenever she has a chance.
With her beautiful English skin
rosy-cheeked regardless of fashion
She’s travelled from Tibet to Marrakesh
and cites bushwalking as a passion.

Jeannette’s love of reading and writing
shared by Fay, their meeting revealed
how grief’s strain on life’s journey
has oft times their sadness sealed.
These two widows like many others
have made a silent promise
they’ll live life to the fullest
and never a writing class miss!

Ceinwen was born in Wales
and sings as sweet as a bird
she wanted to go on stage
but her Mother said, ‘how absurd!’
Until WW2 intervened and
Ceinwen found the freedom she craved
in the RAF’s Entertainment Unit
performing dreams were saved.

Toula grew up fearful of change
with a Greek father ultra strict
friendless and often oppressed
her husband was father’s pick!
Toula escaped through books,
photography, and painting too
she wants to write her story
migrant women’s voices too few.

Amelia is an artist producing poetic
landscapes with her paintbrush
she meditates every morning
a daily routine she’ll never rush,
each moment must be enjoyed
since meeting the Dalai Lama
his wise words keeping her buoyed.

Whereas Doreen is more practical
divorced for over thirty years
and as a single parent of four
she conquered many fears.
Her Mazda 121 is special
it’s twenty-seven years old
driving gives her pleasure
and walking leaves her cold.
Doreen’s a voracious reader
writing stories that entertain
with characters and dialogue
refreshing as spring rain.

Variety is the spice of life
a well-worn cliche we know
but this group of writing students
have plenty of seeds to sow.
Each Monday promises to delight –
as their pens move across the page
characters and plots coming alive
as if on a Shakespearean stage

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A friend recently commented, ‘Wow, what richness in that class of skills and life experience. I bet they wrote some great stuff!’

They did indeed!

Her observations right – I’ve been privileged to meet some truly inspirational people with powerful stories told well.  The writers who have peopled my classes over the years did produce amazing poems and prose.

Unfortunately, some of the Class of 2005 are no longer here, others attended a short time, but two of the writers are still coming to classes, honing their craft and enjoying their passion for words.

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Not so long ago I was celebrating the lack of timetables and freedom from routine as the summer holidays commenced… but I’ll accept the persona of the female stereotype and change my mind.

Now, I look forward to the beginning of the term and the predictability of the working week to re-establish regular writing practice and share the journey with old friends and new students.

Writing Classes – A Wealth of Wisdom, Wistfulness, and Wellbeing…

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Why Enrol In A Writing Class?

I’m grappling with this question as I prepare lesson plans to start the new writing term. Putting myself in the shoes of prospective students. I know some of my past students are returning – they’ve already been in touch, checking dates and times with several looking forward to continuing their projects, meeting up with old friends, learning new techniques and returning to some structure to their week.

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But why do we write?

I’ve been addicted and passionate about words and writing all my life so it’s a question I’ve often asked and been asked!

Is it a desire or need to scribble thoughts on paper, record imaginings, in a belief it is important, or fun, urgent or pleasurable – or a combination of all of these?

So many people express the desire to write and record their story ‘if they had time’ or ‘when I finish work’, ‘when the kids leave home’, or numerous other excuses. Just as many start a book and don’t finish.

And despite stating how much I love writing, I can identify with all those categories and excuses!

Maybe that’s why I love teaching writing classes – it keeps me writing, keeps me motivated and engaged, and keeps the dream of the printed word alive.

The novel may be unfinished but hundreds of stories and poems are written, shared, and published.

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Emotion, Trauma, Social Justice – Strong Motivators For Writing

A life-changing experience or strong feelings often encourage people to pick up a pen or switch on a computer. The opposite, of course, can be true – many people write from boredom. They need the adrenaline rush of exercising their imagination and writing the books they love to read!

I am always fascinated by the variety of responses to a single prompt.

Students can fill a page with characters and plot, or pluck beautiful prose from their memory, write original metaphors and similes and then weave the words into remarkable settings to immerse readers and listeners in the power of story.

Or they address and simplify concepts, share life-transforming events that speak to profound truths and touch the heart…

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Writing Poetry And Short Stories Can Solve Dilemmas

A problem shared is a problem halved,” Mum used to say.

Sleep on it” or “take a walk and mull it over” some other good advice if a burning resentment must be exorcised,  difficult decisions faced, or a dilemma solved.

Rather than real life exposes or rants, writers can put characters in a situation, give them the problem to solve, the ethical conundrum, the family feud, the injustice to fight – work it all out on paper.

It’s useful and even therapeutic to have characters take the criticism or kudos, make the mistakes, work through the issues.

julie signing her book at launch

Many people have a need to be creative and writing may satisfy that need. You may not have the stamina to produce a novel but exploring poetry can be exceptionally satisfying and fun.

Wordplay, riddles and even returning to childhood rhymes and fairy tales and writing new ones all valid and satisfying writing projects.

Form poetry a good starting point and everything from affairs of the heart, the devastation of war, to the meaning of life can be expressed through poetry.

Writing isn’t all about entertainment or amusement nor does it have to be obscure or difficult to understand but it does have to connect with the reader in some way.

view from train between LA and San Fran 2012

Playful And Powerful – English Has A Word That Fits…

English… What’s That?
Mairi Neil

English is definitely a funny language –
funny peculiar and funny ha ha!
So many words with double meanings,
unusual spelling – can drive you ga ga!

Let’s take a word like mean,
an average word you understand,
unless like Scrooge you won’t share
or be a bully – and don’t care.

So many words that sound the same,
they’re annoying and confusing,
their meaning drastically different –
mistakes often highly amusing.

Some words sound how they look,
so clap for onomatopoeia and be glad,
but knowing phonetics doesn’t stop
those silent letters making you mad.

You can pinch a pinch of salt,
and we know a flea can flee,
that ship’s sail may be on sale –
but no way can a pea, pee.

The pale moon won’t fit in a pail,
but every tale can have a tail,
a little mite has a lot of might
and that rite may not be right.

A mayor can ride a mare,
he may stand on a stair to stare,
and eat local fare at a fair,
their jobs are always there.

Your genes may fade like jeans,
and I’ll shed a tear over a tear,
worry about the whole of a hole,
being the sole keeper of my soul.

Criticisms of English usage has weight,
when you can eat a date while on a date
and meet a terrible fate at a fete,
by discovering pâté on your pate!

A male can deliver the mail
and a hare without hair is rare,
but both can be weak for a week
if bones creak because of a creek.

And English has many phrases,
difficult for learners to understand,
like ‘pot calling the kettle black’
oh, the language is underhand!

Advice ‘from the horses’ mouth’,
‘without a shadow of a doubt’,
advises dreaded cliches to avoid –
but it’s hard weeding those phrases out.

English language confusing and amusing,
yet its richness can be rewarding –
once mastered, you’ll be addicted,
and it’s not banned or even restricted!

 

workshop board longbeach place
Henry Ford advocated lifelong learning

 

Do You Need to Write or Just Want to Set Your Imagination Free?

Kingston Seniors Festival with Mary O Rourke + Mordialloc Writers Group - Sat. 11.10.2014 (23)

I’m looking forward to the start of another teaching year. Meeting new and old students coming together to write. Each one will have their own voice and style and a dream or project.

All will be united in their love of words.

Some will write fact, others fiction.

Some will struggle with the blank page. Their words dripping like a slow-leaking tap, while the ink from the pens of others gushes like Niagara Falls.

Stories that have waited a lifetime to be written will astound, others will be fictionalised to be more palatable or easier to write.

Short story fantasies or gritty realism, profound poems or funny doggerel – all shared to inspire each other.

Passions rekindled and new passions created as genres are explored.  From comfort zone to brain challenging learning. Each class new friendships will form as we become a writing community.

The price of wellbeing rarely factored in when the beancounters in government look at community education today. It is all about being job ready or being digitally and technologically savvy.

Wellbeing, not a word to use when applying for education funding apparently.

Yet, some of the most talented writers in my classes have lived 80 years or more. They still want to learn, still want to write, and are producing wonderful stories and poems. Seeking employment and digital glory, not their highest priority!

Octogenarian
wise, retired
writing, learning, producing
lifelong learner combatting isolation
Student

They create a legacy for the next generations, they focus on writing and building new friendships for a few hours a week… forget age and ability … they have aptitude and attitude!

They’ll embrace new techniques and tools but it’s about the words, emotions and engagement.

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WHY WRITE?
Mairi Neil

A has aspirations to write a novel
B likes to play with words
C has a loveless life and seeks romance
D thinks Mills and Boon absurd
E loves family history
F reads and journals a lot
G creates settings with descriptive flair
H just loves to plot!
I preaches grammar absorbed from school
J admits to being a hopeless speller
K always suffers from writer’s block
L is an expert storyteller.
M adores purple prose
N employs similes galore
O aches to be published one day
P escapes household chores
Q uses metaphors imaginatively
R nurtures the inner child
S writes for children but libertarian
T is erotica gone wild
U is definitely a poet
V writes doggerel and verse
W fears rejection
X is tense and terse
Y dramatises everything writing  drama to entertain
and Z – well –
Z writes to understand the world – the musings society’s gain!

If You Are A Writer…

You do need to write!

So, join a class at your local community house – I’ll be at Chelsea on Mondays and Bentleigh on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

We’ll be Writing Creatively and passionately, recording Life Stories and sharing others.

Supporting each other, forever learning, observing, commenting on and enjoying life because that’s what writers do!

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