Every week my students discover new things about themselves while listening to other students stories...oftimes many discussions follow - such as this week. Each week I choose a story from the previous week to use as an example of 'ways to tell one's story'. I use the words of the story and create a scene (eight to ten lines) between two people and then the ending of the scene is improvised by the actors. This week it was Betty's story...an important story to share with not only the class but an audience. In her story, she wrote of being a member of the NAACP in college and after the sit-ins in Greensboro she joined a group to protest the 'white's only' lunch counter in a local department story in Concord. People threw rocks at the protesters as they entered the store and as she sat at the lunch counter a white man yelled 'Hey there's a white nigger. I could almost sit down beside you'...She wrote that all of her friends looked at her in scorn and when she returned to school, she was not allowed to march anymore and given office work for the NAACP. After the scene she said she felt caught in the middle of two kinds of prejudice.
There was much discussion between Betty and the newly enlightened students. Afterwards, we discussed the elements of a good story and the importance of its impact on the audience. One of my students brought me a vase of daffodils and told me I was one of the best teachers she'd ever had and another student told me she'd re-arranged all her post cancer doctor appointments so she wouldn't miss any of our classes. I was quite moved by these words of my students and new friends. My life's mission continues to grow!
And now the journal entry from Wonderful Willie.
The Memory Chair (cont’d)
Wednesday March 2, 2011
This is the fifth week of Life Stories class.
It began in much the same manner as the weeks before: with getting our bodies moving and into mode, then engaging our minds by way of Shakespeare with his lofty words…bringing laughter.
And too, improvisational skits showcased memories: Dave’s story of A Summer Romance; and Betty’s story of the tumultuous years of the 60s and racial protest.
Also, like usual, there were designated groups to read this week’s assignment stories and choose one for a skit: Carolyn’s arrival at the airport in complete disarray; Dave’s tale of a banner of white (bathroom tissue) trailing from his shoe as he left an important meeting; Sandy’s story of being a new lady in town and showing up with eyeliner on her lips instead of lipstick; and Jane’s memory of going to a meeting and being sighted with her skirt tucked inside her pantyhose.
Laughter often rang out. However, there was another element in the room, an undercurrent of inward thinking; Betty’s story of racial protest sat in one of the empty chairs. It served to remind us that a need remained ever present to embrace each other in total equality. I suspect many of us travelled a circuitous route to reach the point of our present day lives; and behind our outward visual image, there lies many hills and low, low valleys in this journey called Life. Although these experiences don’t ride our faces, they dwell at the back of our minds, triggered now and then by certain references.
Wrenn gave us another challenge: to write a sentence using: It was 8:46 A. M. on Sept.11, 2001 and I was…, and then to write a closing sentence for the same prompt. The second option was to write an opening sentence for the words: And I couldn’t stop laughing. This first endeavor caused another empty chair to be occupied: Sept. 11, 2001.
There was total silence in the room, heads bent down, pens raced across the paper from fingers eager to put in print that indelible day of uncertainty. In due time, each of us read our words about that day, often with impromptu comments from classmates that further took us back into that horrendous morning. A somber mood subdued the room…Ted’s words spoke an infinite truth: “…What he was hearing seemed a uniting thread that our world had changed on that day!"
Elizabeth Towles (Willie)