Larry Butler is a poet and publisher who focuses on the idea of writing as a healing process. Larry came to the Scottish Writers Centre on the 26th of September to deliver “Autumn Voices”, an event billed as a talk and workshop centred around creativity and aging. As the discussion began, however, it became apparent that this was not only a talk about aging in general, but also about that little-discussed side-effect of aging. Namely: dying. I have never in my life had such an honest conversation about dying and death as I did in those two hours, with people who were either complete strangers or tentative acquaintances. I wrongly expected that there wouldn’t be much in the workshop that was relevant to me, as a relatively young person who hasn’t really done much in the way of writing. However, death is relevant to everyone, and as the night progressed I realised it had touched the lives of every person in the room, young and old.
Although Larry was the host of the evening, he had a wonderful panel joining him. His first guest was Robin Lloyd-Jones, author of the book “Autumn Voices” which Larry is publishing. Robin has made it his mission to interview writers over 70 in Scotland and get an idea of their experiences. He himself is aged 82 years. Over the night, Robin explored his idea of “successful aging”, in which he copes with the problems of old age (for example loneliness and loss of independence) by writing about them. Larry’s second guest Shelia Templeton reinforced this idea by telling us that writing is how she looks at “the difficult stuff”. She followed this with a reading of some beautiful and moving poetry about her mother’s death. David Donnison was Larry’s third guest, and with David’s brilliant statement “creativity is how you do things, not what you do”, I had a whole new perspective on what it means to be creative, not just as an older person but at any age.
After hearing from all these fascinating writers, Larry split the room into more intimate groups of five, and encouraged us to play a game of questions. Each person in the group had to take a question from a selection written by Larry, answer it and then invite each member of the group to answer in turn. Slowly, under the guise of a “game”, we shared our intimate feelings and experiences around death and creativity. Larry was brilliant at encouraging those who wouldn’t have normally spoken up in a group setting to explore their own feelings and comment on those of others. I found this activity so rewarding as it created bonds between the young and old in the room and encouraged us to listen to each other. After this Larry conducted a Q&A session, and the evening ended with the panel responding to deep and searching questions with humour and thoughtfulness. I left the event with a greater respect for those facing the challenges of aging and death, and a great deal of admiration for Larry, Robin, Shelia and David as creative individuals.
Words by Jessie Docherty
Photos by Clare Patterson