Monday, April 25, 2016

Tip #11 Focus on one story at a time.

The Tip:
This tip is one of my favorites because it's really easy and also really powerful. An indicator that an older adult has had trouble trusting people is that he or she goes from one story to another with trouble stopping, causing both the older adult and you to be emotionally exhausted after the conversation. You may be the first person who has reached out to him or her in decades - it's awesome but also an unfamiliar experience for the older adult. So how do you know if the older adult you are approaching has trust issues, before the storytelling begins? You may not. And by the time the run-on stories start happening, it's too late to stop them. It will be hard to cut the older adult off without coming across as disrespectful. Instead, try this: prevent run-on stories before they happen with every older adult you approach. Set the tone of your conversation to be fun and easy by asking to hear just one single story. That way, when the topic starts to switch, all you need to say is, "That sounds like a great story for next time!" When you put it this way, what you are really saying is that you will be back to spend more time together, and I bet your older adult bud will laugh the happiest laugh you have ever heard.

The Moment:
As I get to know my older adult buds through spending time listening to their stories, I find out in hindsight that many of them came in with trust issues - because they would actually write stories about their own before vs. after transformations. I learned that story by story, step by step, older adults will transform at their own pace. I learned that the simple effort to focus on a single story every time will lead to unbelievable transformations. Below is a pair of stories that taught me that. 

The Stories:
Josie Miller

Images of fabrics of numerous textures, prints and colors; my grandmother’s hands as she held the scissors and cut into the clothes; the old heavy black Singer sewing machine with engraved golden print that sang smoothly like a locomotive as grandmother guides fabric beneath the needle that rose and fell to create a stitch.

I had never owned a store bought dress.

Josie Miller
I Never Wore a Store Bought Dress

I love coming to writing group because everyone is so pleasant and I love hearing the stories, written by group members.  This is about my fourth session and my enjoyment has increased with each class.  Also, with each class I discover something new about myself.  One week I wrote a story describing what I saw, as my grandmother made one of my many dresses.

When I finished, I read the story to the class.  Seeing the attention they paid as I read my story and hearing their sounds of appreciation, filled my heart with joy.

I’ve never before belonged to a group and trusting people in groups had never been easy.  That’s why when I finished my story about my grandmother’s sewing and the group suggested I title my story “I Never Wore a Store Bought Dress” I could not accept their suggestion.  Later I thought about how often I have rejected ideas from others, simply because I didn’t believe in what they were saying.  I wish I had accepted the title the group had given me, because it was a perfect title.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tip #10 Get in the groove.

The Tip:
When you land in your groove, know how AWESOME that moment is - and then just stay there! Have you ever seen a vintage record player or a picture of it? The way it works is so simple and amazing. "As the disc begins to spin on a turntable, an arm drops to the outer edge of black vinyl record. After a brief pause, you are greeted by tunes that sound rich, but not perfect, and sometimes the needle skips across a groove, interrupting a song." (source: electronics. How does this translate to storytelling? The drop of the turntable arm is equivalent to you showing up to visit an older adult or giving him or her a call. The arm freefalls until the downturned needle at the end meets the record. That precise moment is when you and the older adult connect emotionally through a breakthrough story. You are the needle; the older adult is the disc. Before this moment, you may have exchanged pleasantries, small talk or less emotional, more factual stories, but when this story happens, you will know it, because it will feel different. After this moment, you are bonded into one continuous motion, making music together as though effortlessly. Sometimes distractions happen to take you out of the groove, but don't worry, just get right back into it and music will continue to play. Imperfections and struggles are just part of the process, and will make your music - your shared journey - even richer and more beautiful.

The Moment:
The first definition that pops up online when I type in "get in the groove" is this. "To enter into the spirit of the situation or circumstance of the moment. The groove is really the track on an old record in which the needle of the record player had to ride in order to reproduce the music – so the meaning is figurative." (source: I love that for both the meaning and the visual imagery. When this tip occurred to me, I went right to my computer to reread Mo's story! Nothing like a good childhood story by one of my older adult buds to bring the historical reference of the tip back to life, and help this tip stick!

The Story:
Mo McCooper
His Master’s Voice

The first records I ever heard were played on a turntable. They went around on top of a piece of wooden furniture called a Victrola at my Grandmother’s row house on Stanton St. in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA.  The large records, as I recall, were almost as big as a round kitchen or office clock today. My favorites were recorded during the World War I years and were titled “Don’t You Believe It!” and “She Lived Next Door to the Firehouse.”  They were funny songs, and all my cousins loved them.  The record player had a handle on the side, which we took turns winding so that the music would keep playing.  In the middle of the large records were pictures of a dog with his head cocked so that one ear was in line with the music coming out of the original phonograph from the RCA Victor manufacturing plant in Camden, New Jersey.  The title of the picture is “His Master’s Voice.” Thanks Grammom!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Tip #9 Make this your me-time.

The Tip:
Everyone needs a little me-time but no one gets enough. Don't think of your time listening to an older adult as a chore on your to-do list; think of it as a breather from the list. Use this time to take care of yourself. Know that if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else – this includes the older adult and other people in your life. It's kind of like grabbing a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage. It's really not a lot of time out of your day but it's just a little something that makes you feel good. As I grow older myself and have more responsibilities every single day, I have come to realize that me-time is one of the two most valuable things on earth. The other thing? Genuine relationships. How awesome is it that listening to an older adult's story can help you achieve both things at once?

The Moment:
A couple months into the start of the original group, I wrote a blog post after I got home from the session. I entitled it, "Detox." I wasn't referring to the changes I saw happen in the older adults, which by then were obvious. I was starting to notice the changes that was happening in me.

The Story:
Benita Cooper

Class felt nice today. We went half an hour overtime and we could have kept talking for hours more. Hattie said, “They must think we’re giving out money in here. We always leave the room with huge, silly grins on our faces.”

Today was one of those days when everyone had powerful thoughts that kept rolling and rolling. No one talked over one another. The seniors took turns reading, speaking and listening. And no matter who spoke, he or she got everyone else’s full attention.

I remember at some point, Helen said, “Of course everyone has a little heartbreak. Losing both my parents, losing a child, there are some events that I still haven’t gotten over yet. But I have, and I do have, a lot of happiness in my life. I do. I have happiness.”

What could you say to something so profound? Except – nothing. Saying nothing was the only appropriate thing the rest of us could do. And that’s what we did. Hattie, already moved to tears – was the first one who started clapping. Then the rest of us joined. We just sat around the table and clapped. I mean, where else can I sit in a circle with other people and just clap about the sheer power of a thought? It felt nice. Nice like spa-nice. Detox-nice. Feel-good-about-yourself-and-humanity-nice.