The power of intergenerational sharing
I’ve now run thirteen online poetry sessions, and one of my favourite parts that has emerged really organically from these Zoom group get-togethers is the power of intergenerational sharing.
I’ve waxed lyrical for years to a couple of close friends about the way that social life is stratified in Australia means it is comparatively rare to have deep, unedited access to people of other generations.
True, a lot of us including me are lucky to have our parents or other older relatives around, but they cannot know everything or be everything to us no matter how great they are. What’s more, even if there are plenty of bridges in those relationships, we often have our own barriers and triggers there too. With family, there might even be issues that we do not want to or are not ready to share with them that we otherwise want some advice and perspective on.
Beyond family, the workplace is also great for throwing a whole bunch of people of different ages into the same room as one another. But professional boundaries necessitate limits as to how much we can really pester our bosses and colleagues about their views and experiences on love, freedom, career, money, relationships, family, integrity, faith … or whatever.
This leaves us with a lacuna. The popularity of Internet figures and published authors like Jordan Petersen and Brené Brown demonstrate the pent-up demand for intergenerational guidance, and while people like this do make brilliant contributions to public discourse, there is a ceiling on how much they alone can solve the problem that I and others are seeing. True intergenerational sharing requires two-way communication — being heard, being seen, and being understood by another.
One solution is to create spaces where intergenerational sharing can happen naturally, and in a way that is actually fun, not like some super intense guidance counsellor pulling you aside to say go ahead and ask that girl out goddammit or a stern financial advisor ordering you to consolidate your superannuation immediately.
Last year, I had a great conversation with Tina Skipper, who runs farm stay accommodation and hosts various workshops at My Rural Retreat in the NSW town of Guyra. As well as running a business, and co-running a farm with her husband Tom, she also has kids in high school. Tina is beautiful, fierce, and thoughtful. We spoke at her kitchen table about the desperate need that she and I were seeing for women in their twenties and early thirties to lean on the generation one or two ahead of them for guidance.
She had hosted a workshop that had helped to enable just this. It sounded great - over the course of the day, a lot of the doubt and self-confidence issues of the younger women dissipated among the confidence and wisdom of the older women. The conversation left a huge impression on me. I felt inspired to find or create more spaces for these different axes between people to form. Because the truth is - and I know this may come as a huge shock, dab your brow as needed - I am very far from figuring everything out in life.
Which brings us to these poetry sessions. Although the average age of the people who have joined has been late 20s to early 30s, presumably because I am 29, the sessions in my opinion have been sooooooo much richer when people who have lived through even more seasons of life have participated.
When we did John Foulcher’s poem For Jane, which is a gentle, Australian ballad-esque poem that pays homage to the poet’s wife, the discussion was enriched by the fact that we had people in the discussion who were not in a romantic relationship at all, people who were in long-term relationships but not married, people who were married, and people who were divorced.
A beautiful friend recommended the poem to me, and it’s amazing. It captures something that so many people hope for - a tender relationship with a loved one that you can do life with. For those of us still searching for this experience, the poem was a template. For those of us who are living it, it was a timely reminder to be grateful for our partners. For those of us who have lost it, it was a nostalgic look at the simple moments with past loved ones gone forever.
During the Dolly Parton session, which for me, was one of the most electric thus far, diving into the story of Jolene was made much more vibrant by having people of different ages and life experiences on the Zoom call.
Parton’s Jolene subverts the typical “other woman” genre that’s a favourite trope in country music. Rather than badmouthing her behind her back, the singer confronts Jolene - the other woman - directly. She even names her, compliments her, and pleads with her to break it off with her lover/husband. Anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela reportedly blasted Jolene on repeat from his jail cell, and I get why. Musically, it is an absolute banger, and it has made its way onto my Spotify Wrapped several times.
The core themes of love, betrayal and desperation are pretty relatable to us all. But again, the diversity of perspectives and life stages made the discussion about Jolene so deep and textured. Is the song a menacing one? Is the tone desperate? Who has the power here - the singer or Jolene? How relevant is the male lover/husband to the narrative? Whose position is the most understandable? Is the conversation happening in the singer’s head or is this an IRL confrontation? Shoutout to my Mum during this session for bringing to bear how her interpretations of both Dolly as an entertainer and this particular song have changed over time - a powerful tribute to the way that as we evolve, the way we see the world evolves too. As a group, we did not come up with final answers to all of these questions, but the range of voices and ideas gave me so much to think about long after we logged off.
There is a quote I like and need to remind myself of more from the Dalai Lama: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
The Trojan Horse of these sessions is poetry, but one of the hidden gems inside that I hope to uncover is more about how to live a beautiful, authentic, wholehearted life. I have parts of that down pat, but not all. However, I think if I keep on listening - particularly to people older than me - I will get the chance to learn everything that my mind and heart yearns to hear and with time get even better at putting it into practice.
*FYI, anyone mentioned by name in this piece has given me explicit consent to do so. I would not mention anyone or share a traceable anecdote without getting permission first, as the sanctity of these sessions is very important.