11 February

Come And See: Joan And I Continue Our Joyous Search For Memory

by Jon Katz

Yesterday, at the Mansion Assisted Care Facility, Joan and I continue our very happy, even joyous, search for memory.

Joan is a wonderful student. We are having a remarkable time working together on her memory and reading.

Classes of any kind were an awful chore for me, but Joan brings a passion and eagerness to it that are soul-enhancing. We are using the workbooks of reading2connect, two researchers publishing books to revive the memory of elderly people and enhance their voice and confidence.

This does not feel like work to either of us. I am careful to support Joan’s memory work, I might help her, but I don’t correct her. The overall feeling is of us having fun, and working together, there is no right or wrong, no failing.

So far, the Army Of Good and I have purchased more than $200 worth of these books, and I’ve begun one-on-one reading workshops and group meetings, we are going to put on four skits in April – we are using their skit books –  the resident/volunteers will be the actors. I will produce and direct, perhaps the most interesting creative challenge of my media and cultural life.

Joan has severe memory loss, but she and I communicate easily and perfectly, through voice, words, tone and eyes. And most, I think, feelings.

To do this reading work, one has to believe several things that are somewhat controversial.

One is that memory doesn’t die, the connections between them and the brain wither. If you can find a safe and simple way in, the memory sometimes re-appears. The impact on the residents is electric, they feel engaged, successful, excited. They all want more.

This is a major breakthrough in my volunteer work at The Mansion, and I’m excited to move forward and grateful to Susan Ostrowski and Dr. Peter Diamon, the co-authors of these books and workshops.

We are not seeking miracles or claiming them, there is no known cure for serious memory loss.

it’s not clear how far this can go, and I am not doctor or psychologist, just a volunteer. I am also aware that this is not the kind of work the doctors who come to the Mansion do. They don’t have time.

I think many institutions have written off the idea that memory can be revived, or that independent reading is possible. I’m grateful to the Mansion for permitting me to do this work. As a writer, it has special meaning for me.

The reading2connect researchers argue that memory can be revived, and so can the practice of reading. The goal of the program is for the residents of senior citizen facilities to read to themselves and one another, and let the facilitators and teachers and staffers recede. This promotes intellectual growth, community and social skills.

I plan to keep buying individual books from reading2connect and then turn them over to residents who wish to continue reading and share reading with others. Seed books, I think.

Joan is the first of three students I am working with, and all are loving the program, eager to work with me, and anxious to read independently again. That’s the second thing one has to believe: that reading is healing, important, central to identity and confidence and a sense of self. Some of the people I’ve been working with have given up on the idea that they can read again and turn off the TV.

Joan cannot have a sequential conversation at times, but quickly grasped the read-aloud workshop exercises. I read a familiar phrase, and she finishes it. You can see in the video how engaged Joan is. This is not a person without memory or drive, and she has very strong communications skills and ambitions.

She wants to be in the play, and I’ll be alongside of her to help make it work.

I’ll do more reading workshops in the coming week.

If you wish to support this work, you can do so by sending donations to Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. You can write to the Mansion residents c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816,


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