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Dauphin County Library System Spotlight

Sep 29, 2021

(Image description: female and seated participants in a circle) Marla Cattermole, Outreach Pilot for Dauphin County Library System, listens in as elder storytellers build on a Beautiful Question in a TimeSlips session at Homeland Care Center in Harrisburg, PA. Photo courtesy of M. Cattermole.

Marla Cattermole and Emily Anderson from the Dauphin County Library System reflect on what TimeSlips means to them in this blog.

Marla writes:

Before being employed by the Dauphin County Library System, I knew nothing about TimeSlips or that it even existed.  I was pretty ignorant of life outside of my office working for a State Agency.  Then, in 2019, I retired, and became employed by the Dauphin County Library System.  I never realized how much of a dream job I had gotten until I began learning about the TimeSlips program.  Going to nursing homes and performing this program not only made my job more of a dream come true, it actually became the highlight of my day, week, and month.

TimeSlips helped me realize that not only did it have an impact on me in learning how engagement, creativity, and purpose, impacted seniors and especially those who are experiencing cognitive disabilities, but I in turn had a positive impact on the seniors in allowing them to become engaged, have purpose, and show creativity.  There is nothing more rewarding for me than to see our participants smile, laugh and to tell me they can’t wait until I return again.

This has truly been a game-changing program for me, and has helped me to realize that the secret to longevity and happiness, regardless of any type of impairment being experienced, is rooted in engagement, creativity, and purpose.  This can all be accomplished with a picture and some beautiful questions, to which there are only beautiful answers woven together to create a beautiful story.

Emily writes:

Despite only having been involved in TimeSlips a short time, the ideology behind the doctrine of “creative care” has impacted me profoundly. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve long experienced hesitancy engaging with elders. Like many others, my fear of my own mortality significantly influenced my interactions with the aging population, particularly those experiencing physical or cognitive impairments as a result of older age. I cannot say that I have entirely conquered this fear—my knowledge of my own family history leads me to believe that as I age, I too will begin to experience cognitive difficulty, and the panic I feel at losing my ability to communicate or function as I will have grown accustomed is very real. That being said, however, the founding principles of TimeSlips have not only given me the opportunity to drastically reimagine what it means to age, but they have implored me to explore the joy that I have been denying myself and others out of a fear that is, at its core, predicated upon prejudice.

The idea that anyone can engage in creative storytelling regardless of age or ability does not seem like it should be a radical concept. And yet, the TimeSlips model for creative engagement has radically changed my perception. I’ve long been familiar with the improvisational concept of “yes, and,” but never had I thought to apply this to a conversation. When we are freed of the constraints of what is conversationally “right,” I began to wonder, where will we choose to go?

A few years ago, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia. I have watched as she has increasingly struggled to find her words, sometimes so frustrated at being unable to locate them that she’ll leave them to be lost entirely, instead choosing silence over any further embarrassment. I love my grandmother more than I have the words to describe, and I’ve spent many an agonizing night lying in bed since her diagnosis, wondering “Am I losing my grandmother? Could she already be lost?”

Creating stories with my grandmother has shown me that nothing could be further from the truth. The freedom to ask, “Well, what do you want to call it?” has opened entire lines of conversation that would have otherwise been closed. Telling stories together has given us the chance to explore whole new worlds, where anything we say goes. That freedom to create, unbounded, has shown me delightful new sides of my grandmother that I’d never seen. That freedom to explore has time and time again given her new avenues to express that quick, sardonic wit that I love so very much. My grandmother isn’t lost—she never has been.

TimeSlips has allowed me to truly examine what it means to collaborate, to listen, and to meet people where they are. We lose so much when we enter an interaction with fear or hesitancy. Comparatively, there is so much to be gained when we shift our perspective from aversion to acceptance, and when we treat each idea with the love and dignity it deserves.

Editor’s Note: Dauphin County Library System, located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is part of the Capital Area Library District, consisting of 22 libraries across three counties in Central PA. The library is currently training seven employees to form a Creative Community of Care to broaden already-established outreach networks with the elders in their county. They can be found at https://www.dcls.org/

Marla Cattermole is the Outreach Pilot at the library. Her email address is mcattermole@dcls.org 

Emily Anderson is the Assistant Adult Programming Coordinator. They can be reached at eanderson@dcls.org.