What’s an English teacher to do once she retires: take a trip through the Northwest Passage?

Ruth Armson did that, and wrote about it.

Compile an autobiography, perhaps? She did that, too. “I’d been away from home since I was 15, and I thought, ‘What’s a better way of letting my family know what my life has been like?’ “I come from quite a large family, and there are a lot of them scattered everywhere, so I thought I would write it and give the eldest person in each family the book. They really liked it. It worked out quite well,” she says.

Armson may have left the classroom behind, but she still felt the urge to teach. “I wanted to do something with seniors and writing, because I do like writing,” she says. “I didn’t think autobiographies were the way to go, because they’re kind of a solitary thing.”

After doing some research, she found herself attracted to the idea of memoirs, “and how much fun they can be in groups”, with participants writing and sharing short, theme-based vignettes drawn from their own life experiences.

After more research, Armson settled on the theme of Writing from the Soul, and set about gathering a circle of would-be writers willing to meet for two hours each week. “Most of them were seniors, because I held it in the morning, so I didn’t really have people who were still in the workforce.”

Over the course of five years, Armson conducted six separate sessions, each one lasting for 10 weeks. “And I was lucky, I got some really good writers. I don’t necessarily mean that they wrote beautifully, but they had wonderful ideas and everybody got along really well.”

Armson’s role – an unpaid one, at that – was “to be a facilitator; I would motivate them and give examples,” she explains. “I introduced a topic each week, and they wrote on that topic, but in any area of their lives. They started with just paragraphs, but eventually it grew into three- or four-page write-ups.”

Years of drawing up lesson plans made it easy for Armson to come up with topics and themes, such as Joinings and Separations, Chance and Choice, or Embarrassing Moments. “One we did that was really fun was called the Dream Police, where they got fi ve minutes to choose 10 things they would take out of the house, and that’s it.”

Each session, she would assign a specific project for every student to tackle. One year it was to create a mandala. “The centre had to be the soul – you know, your faith, your emotions, your soul – and then you spread out from that into the world and so on. And you told how your stories that you did through the whole session tied into the centre of your mandala,” she says. “That was beautiful. We got all kinds of things I would never have thought of.”

After taking a one-year break from facilitating her story circle, Armson is ready to get a new group together for an eight-week session this fall.

Anyone who is interested can contact her by phone at 667-4926, or e-mail her at [email protected] com.