Golden Lopes sharpen literary prowess in memoir class

Golden Lopes participants attend the "How to Write a Memoir" class.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Our good friend, Memory: He’s always with us. He’s steadfast and keeps us company.

But can he be trusted?

There’s a problem with reconstructed memory, after all: “It’s faulty,” said Dr. Diane Goodman, Grand Canyon University adjunct professor of English.

Dr. Diane Goodman leads the class.

“Today is Monday? Do you remember what you were wearing last Monday?” Goodman asked her class, quiet and attentive and clicking away on their cellphones to capture the golden nuggets of advice she outlined in her PowerPoint. “We can’t really remember — and by the way, this has nothing to do with age — it’s impossible to remember these things.

“When you’re writing a memoir, you have to rely on your memory, but you also have to reconstruct things. The basic truth, of course, is absolutely in there, but what you’re adding into it for the sake of your reader is a reconstruction of what happened."

And so began the students’ venture into “How to Write a Memoir” on Monday morning in the Education Building, part of a series of free Golden Lopes courses for lifelong learners age 55 and older.

Goodman, who taught GCU’s creative writing course as a full-time faculty member before becoming an adjunct, then launched students into a simple exercise: To jot down three things they see before them.

Students blurted out:

“A wire, a large laptop and the instructor.”

“Beige, center console, the cord that’s hanging.”

Gordon and Mavis Pust take notes on “How to Write a Memoir."

“The hard wood, a black ugly computer and the rolled paper.”

“A very valuable lesson has come out of this ridiculous little exercise, and that is that NO ONE sees anything the same way,” Goodman said. “This is evidence of your individuality and the individuality of your vision. … Keep that in mind always when you’re writing. You’re an artist and you have your own individual vision, even if you’re writing about something other people have written about.”

Goodman delivered other advice, of course: Throw away the thesaurus and the big, fancy words and write in your own voice; also, have a literary strategy — will you start writing chronologically or in the middle of the story or at the end?

“How to Write A Memoir” is just one of four classes volunteer instructors such as Goodman are helming for students in the Golden Lopes program.

Homer Drew, a former basketball coach and father of GCU basketball coach Bryce Drew, took similar classes at Vanderbilt University and wanted to bring a similar initiative to the GCU campus.

Dr. Diane Goodman speaks of the faultiness of reconstructed memory.

“The purpose of the program … is to give seniors 55 and older an opportunity to continue to learn,” said Drew, who believes it’s important to keep the body in shape, the spirit engaged and the mind sharp.

“Two things you can do — one is to exercise, and two is to exercise mentally … to stay busy,” he said at the Monday memoir class.

In only its second year, attendance to the Golden Lopes courses has doubled, with 178 registered for this semester’s four classes, ,including “A Healthy Brain,” on the way at 9:15 a.m. March 20.

Drew was particularly excited about the program's first virtual option via Zoom. Twenty-three attended former-FBI-agent-led "The Best Safety Defense for Seniors" class in person, and 81 registered for the online option.

“We’re really pleased and excited about the growth of the Golden Lopes,” he said.

Gordon Pust has attended almost every Golden Lopes class with wife Mavis since they first started being offered in the 2021-22 academic year.

Mavis wore her “Keep on Learning @ GCU" shirt to class and shared with the class how memory really is this elusive thing. When she speaks of a memory with her siblings, she said, “They don’t remember it like I do, so whose is the truth?”

Retired educator Dr. Jim Rice shares ideas during a writing exercise.

Pust graduated from GCU in 1968 and shared a memory he wrote for class that Goodman read.

It was 1965 in the Kaibab’s men’s dorm and he was about to slip on his shoes for his 7:45 a.m. class when he saw a scorpion’s tail poking out of it, no thanks to the boys in the room next door. Their intent was to catch rattlesnakes but had captured the creature the night before and thought they had killed it.

But, “During the night, the scorpion revived and crawled off the snake catcher’s desk,” Pust wrote.

Though he’s not planning to write his own memoir, he wanted to take the class to help him in his duties as an alumni historian.

Sheila Graham takes classes at Scottsdale Bible Church, “but this is different than the church campus atmosphere; I love it,” the basketball season ticket-holder said of being on a university campus.

Golden Lopes participants make notes on story ideas.

She heard about the classes from her daughter, who went to undergraduate school at GCU and “had such a good experience here.”

“The kids are a blast,” she said of the University’s students.

The memoir class is the fourth Golden Lopes course Delores McLaughlin has taken.

“I’m a learner, so I enjoy just coming in, getting new information and sharing that information,” said McLaughlin, who’s semiretired and received her doctoral degree in 2021 from GCU in organizational leadership.

Last year, she took the “A Healthy Brain” class.

It's a great opportunity. Just because you're retired ... you can always still have so much to say, especially with the memoir class. Your story is valuable.

Delores McLaughlin, GCU alumna and Golden Lope

“At that time, my mom was going through dementia. It helped a lot,” she said.

The next series of Golden Lopes courses is being planned for the fall, and McLaughlin wouldn’t hesitate to take more classes or recommend them to others.

“It’s a great opportunity. Just because you’re retired … you can always still have so much to say, especially with the memoir class. Your story is valuable,” she said.

Goodman agreed.

“I think this demographic has … a lot of wisdom and a lot of experience and a lot of talent. They just need someone like me to say, ‘Here are the steps. Try this.’

“Plus, they’re delightful.”

GCU Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Information: Email [email protected] or click here.

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Related content:

GCU News: Older students keep learning through Golden Lopes

GCU News: Golden Lopes confront inflation in free course

GCU News: Golden Lopes opens more classes to older adults

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