Invincible Summer

by NJG

Monday, June 17, 2013

A note about Tell It Like It Tiz, my book with senior citizens.

     When we first started going to the Marie Smith Center, I had no strong connection to the seniors in my life besides our mutual appreciation for orthopedic footwear. My own grandfather experiences consisted of him yelling
at me to speak up, telling me to find a man with clean fingernails, and saying that Gone With The Wind and The Bible were the only books I needed to read.Walking into the Marie Smith Center in North Portland, I realized I had no idea how to even speak to old people. My first day there was during a music therapy hour with a woman singing slowly "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands." to a room full of her elders. Let's just say, I started stiffly. Politely. Loudly.

I came in with a combination of zine teaching experience and a love of The Duplex Planet under my belt. I brought in stacks of zines and comics and tried to talk to the participants about the joys of self publishing.

I soon discovered they did not give a shit in hearing about self publishing, but they were interested in these curious young people who came in week after week with weird questions and funny hair styles and pet chickens. We went on vacations and brought them back souvenirs, we asked them for advice, and we accepted loads of hard candy from our new friends. We documented each day on computer paper from the front desk, and after a while pasted together a small zine whose title was based on the tag line of participant Malcolm: "Tell It Like It Tiz'."
((Malcolm was a famous jazz drummer who would refer to people as "cats" in his stories and punctuate each tale with "I Tell It Like It Tiz. Like it T-I-Z!".))

When we brought in the zine for the first time, with the participants faces and life stories reflected back at them, there was a moment of curiosity, some skepticism, and then deep pride (that we observed) as each person discovered their own contributions and life stories had been appreciated. Had been listened to, written down, and produced as this small book. Something they could give to their friends and families. Senior stars were born!

After the first issue, the group really got rolling. The main players, the people who were there each week, got super invested. Donald would shepard new people into zine culture when they were wheeled or walked up to our table. He would explain what a zine was, and proudly show them our project. He would even gently interview newcomers for our benefit. Miss Bee came dutifully every Friday, getting walked over with her latest beading or sewing project. She gave us beaded necklaces, bracelets, and rings, and when Marc was trying to quit smoking, she rode his ass and brought him jars of peanuts to put in his mouth instead.

She will sometimes mention that she is grateful to have her stories put down on paper because she cannot write, but she appreciates our "beautiful hands" and is finally being appreciated on paper for the years she has lived through, and the years she has given to other people. I'm happy to do that for her. I'm happy to have these people as my friends, and as my surrogate family. We visit them in the hospital and bring them flowers. They are upset when we don't show up, they are worried when we are sick or when I get in 17 car accidents a year. They meet our new pets, judge our girlfriends, and give us unsolicited hair advice.

This book is a story of inter-generational friendship. I'm sorry to get sappy and saccharine, but that's what this project is.

To be honest, I would make the book with or without a Kickstarter. There is just no fucking way I would let the seniors at the Marie Smith Center down. They have been generous enough to lend us their time and their stories, and Miss Bee was nice enough to let us videotape her.

Now I write to ask if you, reader, will consider donating or being generous with them. We have just a few hours left until our Kickstarter goal, and we would appreciate your pre-order or contribution to the project greatly. I believe that a book, a real life giant book, will take the hint of pride and validation our tiny zine has given them, and put it through the roof.

Six and a half years later, Marc Parker and I still attend the Marie Smith Center every Friday. We do it for free*, we do it for fun. We get as much out of it as the participants, truthfully more.

Thank you for taking a glimpse into our time there by reading this letter, and for considering our Kickstarter and our project. We hope you will contribute, pre-order a copy, and enjoy the musings of North Portland's elder population, as told by two street toughs (i.e. 30-something zinesters).

Have a nice Monday!
I tell it like it T-I-Z!
Nicole J. Georges

*We have only just revealed to the participants this past year that we come there as volunteers, not as staff or from any organization. They were surprised, and now they sometimes bark "You getting paid yet?".
To be transparent with you, we did get small artist fees from the project this year through a grant from The Regional Arts and Culture Council, after which we started attending the center 2-3 times a week instead of just once , and meeting weekly to assemble, edit and assemble the book. There, now you know everything!

P.s. Some of the brilliant , generous, and compassionate individuals who have volunteered with our project, contributed, or worked at the center are listed below:

Lisa Nims, Cecca Wrobel, Diane Gasperin, Meg Storey

p.p.s. Something I just remembered that I get out of this project: It helps me appreciate my youth, and it puts things into perspective. When my friends in their thirties complain about being "old", or go to bed too early, or think they'll never find someone, it helps me to remember and remind them that life is so long, and that we need to appreciate every moment. Appreciate the opportunities that we have as young, able-bodied people. It's really important. I am reminded of this often by my friends who have lived for so much longer and who are so appreciative of every second they've been given on this beautiful Earth.