Stories of My Life Workshop

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I have just concluded delivering another workshop for a group of seniors, this one called “Stories of my life”, administered by the Senior Citizens’ Federation of PEI and funded by New Horizons for Seniors.

I had wanted to join Kathleen Hamilton’s memoir-writing workshops so I could just be the writer instead of being the mentor or teacher all the time, but I guess that wasn’t meant to be. I tutor everyday after school until a fairly late hour, and the workshops were always in the early evenings, so there was no way I could attend those workshops.

As many other things that seem to happen purely by chance, I ran into the Executive Director of the Senior Citizens’ Federation, whom I had met several times in the past when I ran LEAP workshops in art for a few seniors’ residences in Charlottetown. She asked if I would be interested in teaching a memoir-writing class on “Stories of My Life”, and when I confirmed I would have the time to fit it into my pretty full schedule, I accepted, since it would not conflict with any of my other bookings.

I will not say what topics we wrote about, nor will I share any of the stories that were shared except maybe some of mine, but I will say what one participant said: “What a wonderful group of women with such diverse stories.”

Diverse, yes, but also uncannily similar in some cases. Because of the workshop, the group has agreed that we will continue writing and meeting and I will continue to guide their writing as we deepen our stories and deepen our connection.

Yes, I had hoped, when I moved here, to find a group of friends–and I certainly have made many friends and have several different groups I work with on different things at different levels of involvement or commitment–but I needed to find a group of friends with whom I could share a deeper connection that included my writing. I needed a writing group with people whose stories needed to be shared–and not the literary and creative writing I do, because I have friends and a group to do that with–but the very personal writing that bares our souls to each other in a safe yet creative environment.

It seems that I have finally found that group I needed, and maybe we have found each other, because it was chance that brought me to the group, and chance that brought each of the other participants to the workshop. While we have not met outside of the workshop yet, we have already planned our next meeting and everyone already has the next writing assignment. I feel that the connection we have made is one that will keep us together for a while, perhaps even longer than a while. After all, it takes a lifetime to make a memoir.

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365 Things to Look Forward to – Number 20: Helping out a friend

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20. Helping out a friend

Okay, so my friends know that this really isn’t unusual of me. I have gone out on a limb for people who depended on me especially when I happen to be the only who will speak out what others are afraid to say. But when it comes to friends, I go out of my way, and sometimes drag other people along, just to help!

Mind you, it’s not like I plan my day the night before by saying “Hmmm, tomorrow I think I’ll help Annie. I should find out what she needs help in.” Really, most of the time it’s totally spontaneous, and when it all works out, I get a bit of happiness out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do it so I get to feel good.  It’s completely the other way around: I feel good because I do it.

So my new friend Lori was moving and she was telling me about how she found this cozy basement apartment where she’d finally have her own completely private space that wasn’t just a bedroom. I knew exactly how she felt, because I felt exactly the same way (or quite nearly, I suppose) when I moved into my very own apartment to live in by myself in 2009. It really is the first time in my life that I had a living space that was all mine. No, hotel rooms where I stayed by myself when I travelled to deliver workshops and seminars do not count. The longest I ever stayed in any such place was a week. And those were all temporary.

Naturally, I asked her if she needed any help, and somehow it came around to my saying that Peter has a truck and I’m sure he’d be willing but I’d ask him first. And I did. And Peter, in his wonderfully kind-hearted and generous way, said he’d se what he could do about it…which really means yes.

So early this morning (early for a Saturday morning, that is) at 9:30, I called Peter and let him know I was ready to go. He drove around to pick me up and we drove off to Lori’s place, arriving just as she was getting back from her first load of furniture with another friend she had asked for help from. We were speculating that we could do short work of it if we had another truck, and didn’t a quarter-ton pull up, with a couple more friends to help! So with three trucks and two loads each, we got Lori all moved by around 12:30 p.m. Of course it was a totally unprofessional move, and would have infuriated anyone paying us by the hour, but there were a lot of chat-breaks and periods of trying to figure out how to position the boxes and furniture in the trucks and so on.

Pizza and more chat time after the move ended the morning and we finally broke off around 1:30 p.m., mainly because Lori had to go attend a kid’s birthday party and we had our respective Saturdays to return to.

Needless to say, it was fun, with many enjoyable moments, no mishaps, and new friends to boot. Not that we’re likely to bump into Lori’s other friends, but they do mostly work in town, so we are likely to bump into them.

PEI keeps getting smaller, little by little — or more like my little world is getting wider, day by day!

365 Things to Look Forward to – Number 7: Making a New Friend

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7. Making a New Friend

I have always considered myself a fairly shy and introverted person, and I always felt that I had difficulty making new friends. I’m the one who’ll attend an event–perhaps and workshop, lecture or seminar, or even an exhibit, and just move around on my own without knowing anyone at the start, and leaving without knowing anyone! I just sometimes get so intimidated by people, especially in crowds.

It’s a reflection of my being so self-conscious, I suppose. I never really consciously have thoughts running through my head, like “Will he/she like me?” “Will they talk to me?” “Will they want to be friends?” “What will they think of me?” and so on, but I’m pretty sure that’s how my body feels, and that’s probably what every single brain cell in my head is thinking. But they don’t tell me about it. They don’t speak out aloud to me. I rather wish they would, then I’d be able to process the feelings. But they just silently think away and make me avoid contact.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want to make new friends. If you looked at my Facebook page and checked out my friends, you’d see over a thousand, and the list grows a little more each day. I’d like to think they’re all friends, but a Facebook goes, they’re really all people I’ve met in various occasions over the last several years of my life—pretty much from childhood friends to colleagues. The vast majority of them, really, are former students of mine. And I’m really happy that I’m connected to them through Facebook, and see what significant things are happening in their lives.

If you really counted them, I’d have a fairly good number of friends whom I communicate with occasionally. Most of them were made through work, or in school. Still, they’re not all friends who’d understand my little quirks and foibles and my wry dry sardonic humor…in fact some of my really good friends still don’t get my humor, sometimes. But those I have spent the most time with and who know me enough to figure out what I feel and what I’d say or think about some things most of the time, are a very select number of people who are now mostly halfway around the world. And the only way I can communicate with them constantly—or at least as frequently as I can given the 12-hour time difference, is through email, Facebook messages, and the occasional live chat.

So when I do creep out of my shell (oh yes, there is a shell, but it seems to have gotten more transparent) and say “Hello, I’m Cindy!” to someone, it’s because my guts tell me that person can be a friend, or would be interesting to know, or would be nice to speak with. It’s also because I’m in a totally new country where I am starting a whole new life thousands of miles away from old friends, family, and acquaintances, and I need to start making new connections and building new relationships.

I think, if we don’t go out of our way to say “Hi! I’m —. What’s your name?” we’ll never make any friends at all. Who knows what’s beyond that chance meeting? And if the other person doesn’t respond the way you hope they might, then you don’t really lose anything, do you?

I was so afraid of being rejected by people, that I suppose, that was the major reason I didn’t go out of my way to make the first introduction. But after having been a teacher, mentor, manager, actor, dancer, emcee, and so many other roles that require constant communication and initiative, as well as a certain amount of aggression and loads of confidence, I’m really quite confident in my ability to step up to someone and say “Hi! I’m Cindy. What’s your name?” I’m not worried about rejection anymore, since I’ve experienced quite a bit of it in very painful ways, and I’m still alive and still have lots of things going for me, and I know I can be a wonderful friend to others, if they’re interested in having me as a friend. So if I feel there’s a particular person who could be friendly in return (yes, I do play safe and just don’t go up to anyone on the street!) in a situation that isn’t threatening, I might just go up and say “Hi, I’m Cindy. What’s your name?” and start looking for areas of interest or things to talk about besides the weather, and the weather as well.

I just did today, and I think it’ll be the start of a wonderful new friendship!