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Episode 34: Patsy Hall

Ep 34: Feet to the Fire with Writers Workshop Students Patsy Hall and Dan Bauer Part 2

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas, the senior living podcast. This is a continuation of an amazing conversation we’re having with founder of Feet to the Fire writing workshops Angela Burton and we have a very, very distinguished special guest with us- a student, Patsy Hall. Welcome Patsy.

Patsy: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.

Lucas: We’re honored that you’re here and so, Angela, talk to us a little bit about- help us introduce Patsy and how did you guys meet and how did this relationship get formed?

Angela: So, Patsy was in a workshop that we had in Christian care communities which is here in Louisville and she showed up at the beginning one day. I think I came in one day and I was just pitching because sometimes I have to pitch, like sell it, to the people that are going to partake of it. Because you can imagine, people are necessarily just willing to do this. So, there’s a little coercion.

But, I went in and Patsy was eyeing me really closely. I saw her across the table and, you know, I am who I am and I was explain the program and she said something that stopped me completely cold in my tracks. She asked me a question, which I’ll let you explain, but it was a really valid question. And I did not have an answer.

So, ever being the teacher, I said, ‘that’s a good question, but I don’t have the answer, I hope you’ll continue and come back and maybe we’ll find out.’ So, Patsy did continue and not only did she continue, she wrote some amazing stories. And is continuing to write those stories.

Lucas: So, Patsy, what was that question that you asked Angela?

Patsy: I asked her, I said, ‘when you have loss, your heart loses its soul and how do you get a purpose when you have no soul?’

Josh: Wow.

Angela: Can you imagine getting that question?

Lucas: I’m stunned right now. No, I couldn’t.

Patsy: That’s what I asked her. And she said, ‘I can’t answer that. But we’ll find the answer.’ And so we worked. And as she talked, I wrote down words because I’ve been writing most of my life to friends and family and my church and I had suddenly lost all the will to write for quite some time because of loss of my son, loss of my wonderful therapy doggie- a black lab- and then I had a heart attack and that was loss of health.

So, as she talked, I wrote down words. And hopefully captured my art of writing again.

Lucas: That’s beautiful.

Patsy: And I brought what I wrote that first day.

Lucas: Amazing. So, Angela-

Angela: She’s a gift. I tell you, she surprised me. I didn’t know she was doing that, I thought she was just taking notes. But, at the end, she said, I want to read you something I’ve written. And I’m like, wait, this is the woman that’s not writing. And she read it to the group and I thought we’re off to the races again. And then you came back and every week you had something beautiful that you wrote.

Patsy: Thank you.

Angela: And we can’t stop, right. That’s the other part. Once you begin, it’s very hard to stop.

Patsy: Through the years, family and friends have given me journals, you know, put your writings in a journal. And I never did. So, I have about I think I counted 15 different journals but under the bed, I have an under the bed full of letters and poetry and things that I have written through the years. Because of Angela, because of the Feet to the Fire, I’m now taking those little pieces of paper, sometime napkins or matchbooks or whatever I wrote on, and putting them in the journal, so hopefully that will be a legacy for my great grandchildren. My children have seen it all these years, but my great grandchildren need to see it.

Lucas: Absolutely. Well that leads into another great question. Before we read your story or you read your story, is what’s the feedback from Ms. Hall’s family but from other writers that you’ve worked with just when you talk to their family members?

Angela: So, the family members are always amazed, first of all, that it is funny. It’s like, oh wow, my mom can write or my dad can write. And I’m like, you know what, a lot of people can write. That’s the thing. It’s not like a weird club that you belong to that you feel like you have be like William Faulkner or something like that. You just have to have the desire to express yourself and that’s the thing, that’s the secret to all of this.

And, so, the family members appreciate the stories, obviously, but they’re amazed because sometimes they get stories of things that they’ve never heard in their life. They may have been told stories but they get a version written that they didn’t even know existed.

Josh: Well, I was about to say that. Me, at 38 years of age, whoops I revealed my age, but I’m still learning things about my parents and they’re still relatively young, but you know maybe it’s things that I was too young to hear, just experiences they sharing or just things they had forgotten and now they remember and now they’re telling me. So, what a blessing to be able to hear those stories. I’m fascinated.

And I understand, Ms. Hall, you actually kind of blessed us with bringing one of your stories, one of your many stories, and you might be willing to read that.

Patsy: Yes.

Josh: And tell us about that story today, is that cool?

Patsy: Yes.

Josh: We’d love to hear it.

Patsy: Well, about three days after the first class, and by the way I have to say that at that class I cried and I don’t cry very often. But I cried. And just a few days after that, I was asked to be guest speaker at the volunteer dinner for our auxiliary, which I’ve been a member of for 10 years. I thought about the words that I jotted down on a piece of paper at that class and I expanded on them and this is what I wrote:

All of us sometime in our life have experienced a loss. A loved one, a cherished pet, or even our health. When that happens, our heart loses soul. Without soul, your mind no longer functions. You eat, sleep, work and pray, greet and smile, but the shell of you covers an empty space that has no purpose. How do you recapture your soul? How do you fill your mind with hope? How do you fill your heart with love?

You volunteer.

Today, we show our gratitude to all of you. You have filled the hearts of many. You have given hope for a new day. You have covered their space with love.

So, what must we do to seek and find joy in our heart, peace in our mind? How can we know what we are supposed to be? How can we tell what is expected of me? Where can we go when errors we’ve made, when judgement is clouded and our dreams all fade?

Be just, give love, walk tall and proud. Be your own person, don’t follow the crowd. But, most of all, come what may, have a heart full of hope, then give it away.

Thank you for giving hope, for sharing your heart with love to so many for so many, many years. God bless and always love.

Josh: That is beautiful. Thank you for sharing that with us.

Patsy: I had not written for a long time until I met Angela so her program is one that is so special and so needed for seniors. You know, grandchildren will say I’m going to go visit grandma, she’s old. They don’t say she’s neat or she’s cool or she’s great, she’s old. So, with this program, they can know who their grandparents are.

Lucas: Amazing.

Josh: It is amazing. So, you know, what you just read is timeless and it spreads through the generations; it’s so relevant. I was just sitting here thinking in my own life- no matter who you are, if you’ve lived on this earth for any length of time, you’ve experienced hurt, loss and so taking that encouragement from the years of experience and wisdom that you have and passing that to not only your family but to the generations, that’s awesome. So, thank you for sharing that with us.

Lucas: And so, Angela, I’m not normally speechless my mind is spinning right now- there’s a lot of emotions. So, it’s a very unique experience for us I’m recording this right now we’re living this kind of emotional output of a mode of writing of telling your story and is the outcome in general for most of your students similar to this where they’re able to open up and say things and reveal their hearts in retrospect?

Angela: It is. It is and I think that’s the beauty of writing because writing is such an amazing tool to be able to express yourself if you got something weighing on your head or your heart and your mind and you start to put pen to paper and you just one sentence at a time you know and if you have a prompt it’s a little bit easier because you’re like I’m trying to understand and make sense of that prompt and then you write this thing down whatever this thing is released it and it is very, very therapeutic that way.

I think it’s interesting that studies are coming out right now about the cognitive benefits of expressive writing. There was just one that was published in the journal American Medical Association. I’m like this is this is so simple we get it I get it I’ve been getting it for years as a teacher as a writer myself and anybody that actually partakes in this anymore I don’t even want to call it an activity because it goes beyond an activity but process it’s really important because it literally helps you think your way through things and make sense of things. It’s amazing.

Josh: Ms. Hall I think we could probably summarize just from what you’ve told us but, in your own words, what does this program it to you because it is seems like you were very much questioning it. You’ve written the story that you shared with us now and many more that our audience doesn’t have time to take it to partake in the short show that we had but what has it changed her outlook and maybe what is it meant to you.

Patsy: What it’s meant to me is to give me purpose again and that’s what Feet to the Fire is, is to give you purpose and when you lose something it’s really hard to regain that loss and you can’t regain that loss you have to go on and get another purpose, another reason to keep on life happens between wink and blink and you got to keep on going. You have to do as my dad would say suck it up honey and go on.

Lucas: What a special experience of this has been and Angela thank you so much and Ms. Patsy thank you so much. You look beautiful in blue by the way.

Patsy: Thank you!

Lucas: Yes and your stories and in the time that you shared with us has greatly impacted me and I know also here at Bridge the Gap and our audience that are listening and this will be recorded and be able to share forever. Your stories will impact a lot more people than you’ll ever know so thank you for being willing to open up and share.

Patsy: You’re welcome and we need to keep Angela out there everywhere.

Lucas: I think a lot of people agree and so I thank you for this time together. It’s been a wonderful experience but it doesn’t end here because we’re going to go onto some more stories here on Bridge the Gap.

Lucas: So, we’re back and this is a very important episode. A very important part of the platform of Bridge the Gap is that in bridging the gap we seek to inform, educate, and influence everybody that’s involved in senior living, n the in this market space. And so one of the beautiful things about the industry are the people in their lives and their stories, right Josh?

Josh: That’s exactly right Lucas. I’ve been in this business, this industry as we say, serving older adults, serving our team members for now over 13 years. And the beautiful thing about it is is that often times part of the work is healthcare, part of it is hospitality but we are engaging with other humans and the love stories, of what I refer to as love stories, that are created is something that needs to be told. So today on our episode is really exciting that some of these love stories maybe we’re going to get to hear.

Lucas: So, we’re back with Angela and our esteemed guess Dan Bauer, not to be confused with Jack Bauer the rebel world saver. We have our esteemed guest Jack, I mean Dan Bauer. Thank you for being here.

Dan: Thank you sir. Believe it or not I’ve never watched 24. But my nephews have so they’re all into it but anyway.

Lucas: We’ll take your word for it. Dan is a student of yours Angela, so how did you guys meet?

Angela: So, I went Christian Care communities which is a senior care community here in Louisville and met Dan and other individuals in a writing workshop. They’d gathered to come and hear what Feet to the fire was all about and never had met any of these people in my life so they never met me. And I was taken by Dan because for lots of reasons. Dan and I share a love for music and so a lot of times the things that Dan would write would get prefaced by a particular song which would flip me back in my memory. You know, my old memory, which is sometimes that I meant to mention is sometimes, often times, people trigger each other in their memories. So, you know, somebody could read a story that they’ve written and five other people are like og, I remember. I remember that and your memory gets triggered. It’s a wonderful tool to reawaken memory.

So, I met Dan in the writing workshop.

Lucas: Wonderful. And so then, Dan, talk to us a little bit about your experience of meeting Angela and what were you thinking going into the workshop?

Dan: Going into the workshop I was like, well this is the second workshop I’ve been in the first one had to do with our activity that the campus activity director (put together). She had worked at another facility for several years and she had started this Feet to the Fire shop or a workshop in the other senior care facility where she worked and that’s where she got the idea, the idea for this concept. The idea for this project was generated or germinated there. So, then Jackie came twice and several about maybe eight or nine of us got involved in the class…

I kind of knew what to expect because I’ve been writing like Mrs. Hall, Patsy, I’ve been writing since I was about 15 or 16 and I started when I was in high school. And then I took a few years off and then I saw an article in the Courier Journal about the positive effects…of journaling so I decided to get back into it and I’ve been pretty much on and off ever since.

Lucas: Amazing, amazing.

So, in the process of you guys coming together and putting on this workshop, your student Dan here is now on our show. So, what made Dan stand out that out of all the people that you’ve met- what do you think it’s been a unique in forming that relationship.

Angela: So, the thing that I’m always amazed about when I hear people write their or I listen to the stories that they write and I watch them go through the Feet to the Fire program is it’s amazing to me A) how vulnerable people are and vulnerability is a very much a strength, you know. I mean people around but it’s really no it’s bravery it’s vulnerability is bravery and honesty people are so incredibly honest when they write the stories that it just it shines. It comes across.

I think when you are able to be honest and you’re able to give that part of yourself to a group it’s magic. It’s really special. Dan was really willing to be honest when he wrote his stories, you know, he just put it out there and he’d say hey, I’m going to read you this.

And we have a kind of a joke you know in Feet to the Fire that you can’t beat yourself up before you share your story. In other words, the punitive preamble we call it, so because we like to do that as human beings we like to like be really critical of ourselves before we even get ourselves a chance. So, I think Dan was especially good at not doing that he’s like I’m just going to read it. I’m just going to say what I have to say, we get it out there. So I appreciated that and you and I thought that that was special about you.

Dan: Thank you.

Josh: So it sounds like today we might be hearing some unfiltered stories from Dan. Is that right?

Dan: No. I mean, yes, in a manner of speaking. You do not want to unfilter me, I’ll just leave that alone, but you don’t want to unfilter me.

Josh: Super excited. So, it sounds like you came into this with a complete open mind and kind of an experienced journal writer and you were encouraged and wanting to do this so the transition to begin writing in and working through these workshops was a positive experience for you?

Dan: Yes.

Lucas: Fascinating. Dan, are you ready to share your story?

Dan: Yes I am.

Lucas: Please do.

Dan: August of 1968. I remember the summer of ’68, the summer of 1968, with a mixture of enjoyment and fear of the unknown. The setting was my grandmother’s kitchen. Ah, the fragrances of strawberry pie, apple strudel with fresh dough stretched out and unrolled on the kitchen table.

I loved it.

Rewind the middle of June and my mom, ever the mistress of surprise, sprung on me that I’m about to spend a week at the hospital for special surgery in New York City. My grandparents lived in South Hampton Island two hours distant from the city. I was a frightened 9-year-old in the thought of spending a week in the hospital did not thrill me.

I was in for a hamstring lengthening. The hospital stay was necessary and the surgery went fine. My rehabilitation was slow because I had to first learn to walk with a walking cast. Second I had to practice walking, of course, with the chair for support and there was a tremendous rack of motivation on my part. Until my mom said, ‘look Dan, if you don’t start walking, you can’t go to George’s wedding.’ Then she left the rehearsal dinner in Newark.

The next day the pressure was off when I walked across Nana’s kitchen on my crutches and then we left for the wedding. So, once again my grandparents stepped up and this story has a happy ending. We all attended the wedding and had a great time.

Lucas: I didn’t want it to end.

Dan: Oh, there’s more. Not with this particular story, but there’s more.

Lucas: I bet. Yes, so Angela I mean we’re experience, Josh and I are experiencing this in real life in real time right now and even with your preparation and you preparing us it’s really impossible to be prepared for this type of stuff.

Dan, do you have more that you like to share?

Dan: Yes.

Lucas: I see, for those that are listening, Dan is flipping through his notebook right now and I’m seeing pages upon pages upon pages.

Josh: Yeah, it’s an extensive piece of writing, for sure.

Angela: While he’s flipping, there’s a really important aspect of writing by hand and not everybody can do that because depending on you know if you have Parkinson’s or if you have any kind of neurological deficits, it’s tricky but I encourage it if it’s possible because there is a brain to hand connection when you write by hand that’s very very good. That’s a good thing yet typing is good to get it out in a pinch but writing by hand is amazing.

Lucas: Your hand writing is amazing. And Patsy’s handwriting was amazing and is amazing.

Dan: Yes I have to thank you from both of us. I have to take my grandmother for that because when I was about maybe three or four years old she started working with me with a method called “palmer.” The method that she used you can either draw circles kind of piece of paper and keep doing it. Think Mr. Meowgi in the Karate Kid.

So, she was working with me with that and that’s how my handwriting came to be.

Lucas: So, you have another story for us.

Dan: Yes sir.

Long and winding road. Abby to your door.

Cut to- it’s June 1977. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. And this writer is listening to Jackson Brown’s ‘Running on Empty’ on his brand new stereo system. His pride and joy.

I’m also preparing to graduate from high school. I was really stoked to begin a new chapter of my life in Lexington, Kentucky at Cornell Hospital where the disabled students lived. My parents and I made the 90 minute trek up the Bluegrass Parkway to my new dorm, quote, and digs.

I was nervous and I was as nervous as a new first grader. We arrive to Alice Cooper blasting out of an unoccupied room but tuned full blast and I thought, I can do this. Oh boy, I can do this.

I mostly got along fine until Norm Constanza said to me, he was the dorm supervisor read RA, Dan, we’re expecting big things from you in an academic sense. Hell, I didn’t even know what I was doing. Literally.

It worked out okay though and I got to pour a beer and flick Bic lighters at our local Pizza Hut. I was the only guy in the crew with workable hands. I learned firsthand how guys and gals the price is high spinal cord injuries navigated through life.

Later I figured out by trial and error how to drive a manual wheelchair though snow. I did it, without benefit of a team of huskies. I did it with gloves, a down jacket and treaded tires on the chair and brute strength.

I came back to Elizabethtown and attended Elizabethtown vocational school, earning my business and office degree. And parlaying that into my present employment as the mailman on wheels at Jewish Hospital, KentuckyOne Health, downtown campus where I’ve been working for almost 31 years.

Josh: Wow, that’s fascinating. So, a couple things I just want to, I’m not sure how to communicate to you this but I find it very interesting- I am assuming that you wrote this recently talking about a time in your past was this at an older running?

Dan: Recently. I wrote this about maybe four weeks ago.

Josh: Well, it’s fascinating to me that you know obviously these are very vivid memories and stories from your life but you’re actually taking us there. The way that you’re describing the stories I can almost smell the sounds I hear the birds…

Dan: …you hear Jackson Brown.

Josh: I hear Jackson Brown so you know just kudos to you, what an excellent skill set in writing to be able to literally kind of transcend this room and you kind of took us into that story so I what a wonderful talent you have. That’s fascinating.

Dan: Well, thank you sir.

Lucas: Yeah, I forgot that we were doing a podcast during that time. What a very special gift that you have shared with us.

And, so, Angela I’m looking at you right now because we’re going to hold your feet to the fire to start your own podcast because these are stories I think that would benefit so many other people and benefited us so great. What an amazing experience for you to pull back the veil of your life and share these experiences so Angela I can tell why you love doing this so much.

Angela: It’s necessary. As far as I’m concerned, everybody that wants to do the should be able to have the access to do this. You and you and everybody. I mean we all have stories we have memories. Somebody said to me the other day, we have memories until we don’t and I said wow that’s so true. It doesn’t take a lot sometimes to access those memories. It takes a word, it takes a phrase, it takes a prompt and it takes other people willing to share with you and listen and care.

Josh: Angela, this is much needed in our industry and with the tools that you’re giving you’ve talked to us even previous times about how you’re equipping the industry. And communities that want to have a program like this not only to just be able to bring you in or some of your team but you’re actually equipping them tell our listeners if they want to get a program like this started to simply out the facilitate writers telling their stories that need to be told how do they reach you and how do they facilitate that?

Angela: So, any care community that wants to have this program can contact me at feettothefirewriters.com. There’s an easy way to navigate that. I will then get into a conversation with them about how they can bring the program to their community. So, the solution is out of the box, the guide is written, it’s week by week by week. You could learn how to do this.

Josh: Even me?

Angela: Even you. And then there’s all these cool prompts that have been developed and their licensed and ready to use. How about that? And so, it’s literally, if people are wanting this, if communities care about- and I think that they all should care about those frankly- not to compete with bingo, but this is really important.

Josh: So, it is very innovative which is one of the reasons that we’re here today at the Thrive Center, innovation meca, that you’re featured. And our viewers maybe that are watching us on YouTube, they can see that you’re featured right here behind us. So, what an exciting and awesome opportunity to have them on our podcast Lucas:

Lucas: Absolutely. So, to our listeners, we’re very, very grateful that you’ve joined in on this very special episode of Brige the Gap where we’ve been able to bridge the gap not only the business aspect but to actually go into the real lives of the human beings and the people that are living inside these communities and what a special moment that we’ve had to share together with both Patsy who is sitting just off set here and with Da. Thank you guys both so very much for sharing with us and we will connect to Angela and her writing workshop in the show notes.

Thank you for listening to Bridge the Gap.

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Episode 34: Patsy Hall