Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: Guest post by Peggy Shumaker

I know very little about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute when Barbara Lando calls to ask if I’ll teach a class. (Actually, she calls several times, but this is the first time her schedule and mine match.)

So I go online and find out that the “Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UAF is a membership organization providing learning opportunities for midlife and older adults (50+) in the Fairbanks area. Led by its membership, OLLI offers stimulating courses, lectures, educational travel, and special interest groups.” OLLI is a program of UAF Summer Sessions and Lifelong Learning.

No tests, no grades. Members take the classes for pleasure. Sounds good to me.

Some classes involve travel:
* Glacier Bay National Park
* Fortymile River Rafting
* Pribilof Islands
* Wrangell-St. Elias N.P. by Horseback
* Copper River Rafting
* Dutch Harbor

Our writing class involves travel to University Park, a former elementary school revamped for several university uses. I’ll be teaching creative writing for five Mondays, for an hour and fifteen minutes each meeting.

When I arrive the first day, twenty-two lively faces greet me. I know five or six people from other classes and from town. I greet everyone individually, and we set about writing, first thing.

After hearing Christianne Balk’s amazing poem “John Muir Remembers Eliza Hendricks,” we try writing in an If, if, if / then pattern. (At least three “ifs” and at least one “then.”)

Then we read two brief prose pieces, “Confession” by Stuart Dybek and “Moving Water, Tucson” by me. We write pieces that feature a character in action in specific place at a moment of change.

For homework we write road stories. To start out the next class, we return to a place and evoke the landscape inside and out.

After each activity, some writers choose to read. One woman brings to life a neighborhood of small bungalows swallowed by apartment buildings–the place her husband was a boy. This is hard on her, revisiting what’s no longer intact.

One retired nurse tries to read about taking care of an elderly woman who has no family, no friends, no visitors. She weeps, though twenty-five years have passed. A generous classmate reads her work aloud.

One man reads about gearing up for a dangerous winter journey. He’s faced danger before–in VietNam, in an inner city elementary school in Baltimore, in divorce court. The perilous trek? To his mailbox. (He claims not to write humor, though the whole class laughs aloud, just where he wants them to.)

A woman who lived twelve years in Bethel returns to a village. She describes flying over shelf ice, then post-holing and sinking waist deep, then stepping over a seal left to cool in the entryway. Village children, curious and exuberant, throng to greet her. Nuanced, her awareness of how to enter a village, a home, a conversation.

Another woman writes about collecting stones to cover a place nothing would grow. This scene allows her to reflect on the last days of a wrong marriage, on her solid relationship with her growing son, and on the nature of permanence.

We have only three more sessions! I’ll miss this group, that’s for sure.

For more information, please check the Osher website .

Membership is open to adults 50 and older and to companions of members. The annual fee is $25. The membership year is January to December. Membership includes newsletters, socials, special interest groups, and eligibility to register for courses and excursions. Course fees are $10 per course, $40 for unlimited courses for a half-year (Jan – June or July – Dec), or $75 for unlimited courses for a full year (Jan – Dec).

Featured guest author Peggy Shumaker’s new book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. She’s currently working on a manuscript of poems set in Costa Rica. Peggy lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, and travels widely. Professor emerita at University of Alaska Fairbanks, she teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop and at many writing conferences and festivals. Please visit her website at www.peggyshumaker.com

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