A funny thing happens when George Olson shares his writing: people share back.
George caught the spark from his grandfather, who used to entertain the family by reciting poetry. In the Second World War George used poetry to make sense of his experiences, and shared those poems with his crew mates. They appreciated what he wrote and offered him other stories, wondering if he might turn them into poems too.
At the start of the pandemic George’s daughters urged him to write his memoirs. What happened when he shared the completed work? His daughters responded with memories of their own. Friends at Berwick Qualicum Beach (where George lives) shared memories too.
The sharing kept going until there was enough material for a book: Our Wild & Precious Lives: Collective Wisdom and Wit from the Heart of Berwick Qualicum Beach, with contributions from over 30 residents.
“It is my dream that it will keep on going, that future residents will keep writing,” George says.
Using creativity to care for ourselves in difficult times
“A lot of us have been taught we’re not good enough — a teacher tells us we aren’t good at drawing or writing, so we stop,” says Denene Derksen, Berwick Qualicum Beach’s Active Living Coordinator, who facilitates the evolving writing program. “We call the group ‘Write From the Heart,’ but when we started it was just me and George! More and more people joined as we shared our work, and coached people to quiet their inner critic.”
Denene trained in art therapy, and believes art helps people process their emotions. George wrote his way through the trauma of World War Two, and he encouraged his peers at Berwick to write their way through the pandemic. Many wrote poems thanking George for giving them the courage to play with words.
“We didn’t have return tickets when we went out on bombing missions. What I was seeing, it left vivid impressions in my mind. A lot of my crew mates took out their frustration in alcohol, but I never liked the taste. So I wrote poetry,” George says. “A psychologist from Veterans Affairs asked to meet me after hearing about my poetry. He said it probably saved my sanity.”
The book is filled with stories of pandemic life, life in Qualicum Beach, and epic tales of residents’ lives before Berwick: gopher hunting in the 1930s, nursing polio patients in Saskatchewan, witnessing a wild elephant birth in South Africa and so much more.
“It’s very eclectic! We’ve supported people in generating some very engaging writing,” Denene says. “These are stories of resilience. The people in this community have lived some amazing lives — it’s inspiring to read.”
Buy your copy of Our Wild & Precious Lives: Collective Wisdom and Wit from the Heart of Berwick Qualicum Beach at Mulberry Bush Books, The Old School House Arts Centre, Alcove Living, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre or directly from Berwick by calling 250-738-6200. Books cost $25, and 100 per cent of sales go to SOS.
For more information about living at Berwick Qualicum Beach, contact Krysta Robins at 250-738-6200 or bqb.marketingMGR@berwickrc.com.