Writing is a learning process for Lois Requist. As she composes her words, insights come to her.
“Writing has helped me understand myself and other people,” she says.
Lois was Benicia’s poet laureate from 2012 through 2014 and has published two books: the political novel Where Lilacs Bloom, and a memoir entitled RVing Solo Across America … without a cat, dog, man or gun. Another novel and a memoir are in the works. “Writing is my first love,” she says.
So she would love to have more time to write. But the work and fun that make up a meaningful life sometimes overwhelm her calendar. She has coffee with friends three times a week, meets a group for breakfast each Tuesday and regularly competes in trivia contests at the Rellik Tavern. She also is president of Benicia Literary Arts, a regular participant in First Tuesday Poets, a board member for her homeowner’s association and a member of the local League of Women Voters. In May, she received a Living Legacy award from the Senior Coalition of Solano County for her contributions to Benicia.
The latest chapter in her life involves researching and learning more about the Village movement, a program that offers assistance, service referrals and social events to help seniors age in their own homes. She and Judie Donaldson are co-chairs of a steering committee for the Carquinez Village Project (see pages 18-19) that is exploring the feasibility of starting a Village program locally.
“It takes a village for even the most capable people to have a life that’s engaging,” Lois says. “It’s a better world if we have enough in our lives to stimulate us to keep learning.”
Lois, 76, moved to Benicia in 2000. She grew up in Idaho, and came to California with a job transfer for her husband. They raised two sons in Moraga, and she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees while the boys were in high school. Lois became actively involved with the League of Women Voters while in Contra Costa, and was director of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce for six years.
On a sunny morning in late June, Lois sits on her patio overlooking the marina and talks about writing and the projects that keep her on the go. “For me, life is good.”
How does writing help you realize things you hadn’t recognized before? Writing has at times clarified things for me in my mind. There have been times when I didn’t know something until I wrote it out.
One thing I remember was about my father. My father was 24 years older than my mother, and he was a difficult person. He died when I was in high school. I was writing about him and had information from his family and in that, I found forgiveness for him.
What writing projects are in the works now? I have a memoir about the five years between when my husband was diagnosed with lymphoma and his death, called Taking Care of You and Me. It’s out for consideration. It’s about taking care of yourself as well as the one who is sick. I think it would help others going through this.
I also have a novel that I’m working on.
How has writing changed for you? Technology makes it so much easier than what it was! I remember when you would be typing on a typewriter and want to make a change. Now you can move things around, and it’s easier to get things out to other people. But it’s harder to get people’s attention.
Also, my writing has changed a little bit over the years. At my age, I think you become more reflective and start to think more about the times of your life.
What stands out about your time as Poet Laureate? One of your responsibilities as Poet Laureate is to present a program of your own work. It helped me to look at my work. It showed my development as a poet. It was very helpful to me and people seemed to enjoy it.
Also, I met a lot of poets. … Poetry is like church—everyone is welcome.
Why did you decide to travel across the country alone in an RV? I love to travel. After writing, travel is a big love of mine and there were a lot of things in the United States that I hadn’t seen—there still are. I stayed away from the cities. I wanted to see the quieter places, more intimate places.
People said I was brave to be traveling alone, but I didn’t feel brave. I wasn’t nervous on the surface, but I did have a problem sleeping.
Did the trip change you in any way? I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I think that trip made me realize how much I need community. Most of the things I’ve done, through League of Women Voters, Benicia Literary Arts and now the Village Project, happened after that trip.
Does playing trivia add to that sense of community? I like the Rellik and I’ve gotten to know Tom (Hamilton, one of the owners). He’s a good person.
Trivia keeps you humble. It’s kind of generational. One night there were med students from Touro and I graded their paper. They missed the whole section on Roy Rogers, and when I took the paper back to them, they asked me, “Who is Roy Rogers?” But they know a lot of things that I don’t.
What interested you in spearheading the local Village Project? Partly it’s because I would like to live the rest of my life in this community, specifically downtown. And any place I go, these things come up. Everyone I know may have issues (related to health and aging) themselves or their parents may have issues.
How much time are you devoting to the Carquinez Village Project? I don’t know because I’m not keeping a time sheet (laughing).
It took a lot of time to get started, but now we have a really good team. They’re smart and they get it and they move on things, so the Village Project should start taking less time. I just look at my calendar and see what needs to be done.
What motivates you to be so involved with civic activities and social groups? I like to learn and I like spending time with interesting people. I like to socialize and work with people I enjoy. I’m having fun with the Village Project.