What a week. I feel like I’ve barely had a moment to sit down.
I’ve been to four readings in five days, all of which were wonderful in their own peculiar ways. However, the Words Alive reading of work by the older people who are part of Ruth Carr’s wonderful writing group, at Literary Lunchtime on Wednesday was particular brilliant. Seven readers read from their own work and a selection of pieces by group members who are no longer able to attend the Words Alive group. Far from being a heaving reading- though the theme was most certainly aging and all the highs and lows associated with older age- this was one of the most moving, irreverent and downright hilarious Literary Lunchtimes we’ve ever had. There’s an honesty which seems to develop with older age, and coupled with life experience and a greater sense of self-assurance, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the time I’ve spent with more mature readers lately.
Mapping our Memories, the writing project I’ve been working with Sinead Morrissey on, over the last three weeks, came to a close on Thursday. The over 65s we’ve been getting to know during February proved to be quite a rambunctious bunch. We’ve heard some incredible stories, Buck Alec (pictured above), local legend and owner of a toothless lion, has featured quite heavily and there has been great debate as to whether the lion survived on potato peelings, (official story), or on the carcasses of Sailortown’s housecats, (begged, borrowed or stolen). We’ve also heard moving accounts of the Blitz, been sung to, had an elderly man play the bones and eaten more than our fair share of cake. I’m excited to see the material our participants produce. The struggle has been to encourage them to write in the rich and imaginative vernacular which they speak in and not to polish things up for the page. The work produced by Mapping our Memories participants will be exhibited at the Ulster Hall during the month of May with a launch event and reading on May 1st at 6:30. Everyone’s invited along.
It’s been a wonderful experience for me to work alongside older people within the arts arena. I’m passionate that the arts be viewed, not just as a palliative tool or cheap babysitting for older people but rather as a chance to allow some of our honoured citizens, who’ve worked extremely hard their whole lives, the opportunity to develop new skills in retirement, to enter the arts scene on a level playing field with their younger peers and to produce work of a calibre which might inspire the next generation. I’ve been given the opportunity through Arts Council NI to attend a weekend long residential in two weeks time which will focus on best arts practice for those with Dementia. I’m a little terrified. It’s very much out of my comfort zone but I’m also excited to be part of a move to ensure older people aren’t just included, but actively celebrated and encouraged to lead within Northern Ireland’s arts scene. Watch this space for an update.