Thursday, 1 November 2012

A life about meself

Spaghetti Maze: dementia and life stories

Lois and I visited Bury Dementia Cafe for the first time this week. We've been commissioned by Bury Art Gallery to devise life stories, working with people who have a dementia diagnosis and the Cafe was the latest port of call.

A life story document helps people remember their lives as memory fails - an invaluable ally as they progress through the stages of dementia. It can also be crucial for carers to 'know' someone in their care quickly and to understand their mindset. Finally, life stories are a kind of heirloom which can be handed down through a family.

We're experimenting with the many life story templates that are available, bringing some fresh thinking to the field. For years now we've used avant garde writing techniques to help people access and write about their memories and in this project we're trying some of those approaches. But we've also been asking participants what they believe are the most important parts of their lives and reinforcing that by recording their conversations, noting things they like to discuss.

This week we brought some of the life story templates to the session and asked participants and carers what questions they think a life story should answer. Did their lives break down into easy-to-spot categories? What were their important life stages? What would be good questions to ask so as to find out about a life? The questions that people suggested are in bold in the text below. What phrases did they use to describe certain periods of their life experience? The phrase 'The Dancing Years' had a wonderful ring to it, as an evocation of teenage freedom and restlessness. And rather than the ponderous word Autobiography, I liked the phrase 'A life about meself.'

Just about everybody chipped in with some thoughts. Here are some of them below, from my notebook jottings. 

Childhood 'A learning time'
Teenage 'The dancing years'

Life experiences and emotional histories shape our reactions. How do you react to difficult circumstances?

“Mum and dad's music was motown. I still love motown...” Who influenced you? How were you influenced?
People you meet change you and alter your path – What's your path? What shape? Was it a wandering road or a straight line? Did you get to where you were headed?
Politics: 'I was a political animal, through and through. But I put family first.'

Family stays with us – how do we keep it alive? Grieve for it?

Inherited beliefs: 'The need to work and how to treat people. Justice. Treat everybody with FAIRATION.'
Family history and rebellion against it and yet how precious it becomes when we get older. 'I wish I'd asked more.'
'It's because they're no longer here and yet you're trying to hang onto them.'
'You're curious about why your children are the way they are.'
'Tell it, if not for us, for your grandchildren.'

Fitting a whole life into a small space, like a life story book. How do you squeeze it in, choosing the most important bits? 'It's difficult to compress..'
Individuality is difficult to describe. 'The unusual thing about my life is...'

Heirlooms as history.
Objects have some of their power because of their personal or social resonance with history.
'Being born in a certain period shapes your future.'
'These events shape the human being you eventually become.'
'It's a devastating thing to be bombed.'
What childhood memory would you keep? What experience would you pass on?
Autobiography 'A life about meself.'

'I hope that you have managed to enjoy the opportunities you have worked for.'
How fortunate are you?
Travel - 'I was able to travel, the world opened up.'
Things you might have done (but didn't). What are the great might-have-beens in your life?

1 comment:

Ed Baker said...

"Fitting a whole life into a small space,"

I like that
and might add:

a single breath
am whole life