Life is about creating our own stories, and the memories we create are the photos that go with the stories. But stories are meant to be shared, and the partnership between Mount Royal University and United’s Garrison Green community ensures some of those stories and memories are passed on.
What has become an annual Life Writing Project, first proposed by the late residents Cam Mitchell and Tim Tyler, pairs English students with residents. They tell and record the stories, which have sometimes profound effects on both. As Mount Royal’s Richard Harrison, professor of English and Creative Writing, says in the introduction to volume 4 of the collected stories of Garrison Green residents, “The result is that beautiful moment the world becomes larger because the people on both sides of the story they are making become less alone, less defined by where they live or how old they are. Instead, those parts of us that often confine become gifts.”
The stories in volume 4 carry with them a range of emotion – drama, comedy and tears.
The cover of this year’s book shows two arms intertwined. They belong to resident Nigel Way and student Annie Wauthier, and expresses the bond that develops between resident and student that often remains long after the project has ended.
“Working with Nigel has allowed me to reflect on our society and how we treat seniors,” said Annie. “I think about our indigenous population and how they value their elders. Storytelling in that culture gives the elders a voice to their experiences. For me, I’ve learned a lot about how society has changed. Through this experience I’ve developed a close relationship with Nigel and his family.”
Others in the program have come away with similar thoughts. Former students Logon Pollon, who now facilitates a poetry program, and Monica Schmidt, now Garrison’s program development coordinator, continue their relationships with residents. For a look at the first project, watch this video.
There are six stories in this year’s book. One story by student Megan Nega and resident Hertha Reich spoke of making a difference. While teaching a young class, Hertha had a difficult student who was often angry and refused to participate. At one point he storms out of the class in anger but comes back and asks to rejoin the class. The story continues, “Paul sat in her lap, put his arms around her and said, ‘I like you Mrs. Reich.” With tears in her eyes she said, “I like you too, Paul.” She had got through to him. It was a victory to see him join hands with the other children. It was those moments where Hertha thought, “I have made a difference.'”
Richard Harrison, who recently won a Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, spoke of the impact that storytelling can have. “Telling a story to someone who has never heard it before changes the teller and the listener. Families may have heard the stories before, but telling them to a new audience can often enrich the dialogue, and the stories are told in a new way. It lets them see their lives in a new way.”
Richard encouraged the students to write the stories as if they were listening in on a conversation, and the result is often candid and humorous. In his introduction Richard noted that the process changes lives. “In short, in this book there is life. And stories.”
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