Another 'Life Stories' class to ready to start

August 22, 2013 

In last week's column of readers' responses, I didn't have enough space for this reader's timely letter:

Mr. Spevak,

I enjoy reading your columns in the Los Banos Enterprise. I would like to know if you give any creative writing classes for adults in town.

Sincerely,

Martha Pineda, Los Banos High School Class of 1990

Martha, thank you for your email. I'm glad you have an interest in writing. I have an opportune idea that I think will meet your needs.

Although I don't teach a creative writing course, I do lead a group in Los Banos in which people write stories I consider creative.

The focus of this group, or class, is on writing autobiographical stories, maybe the most important and valuable writing people can do.

On Sept. 10 this free class, called "Writing Your Life Stories," starts its sixth year. It will convene every Tuesday at 2 p.m. in a meeting room at the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Center Street.

I hope to see you there, and I hope you are joined by other new class members. You will see that the group is warm, informal and welcoming.

You will find, too, a great deal of creativity. I believe when persons write their own life stories, they become "naturally creative."

Part of being human is sharing stories — telling our own and listening to others'. And when we tell our own stories so that others can experience them, our natural creativity comes through as the stories emerge.

Our class emphasizes not just telling but writing autobiographical stories. In this way the stories — which describe who we are, when and where we lived, and what we went through — are available permanently for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond.

I know there are persons reading this column who are saying to themselves now, "I'd like to write my life stories for my children or grandchildren, but I'm not a writer, and I'm certainly not 'creative.'"" If you are one of these persons, dear reader, I encourage you to come to the class and see for yourself that you can do this.

You'll see people around the circle of tables who look a lot like you — ordinary people of many different ages who simply write the way they talk. They essentially let a story tell itself.

You'll also find that you aren't obligated to write any stories or read aloud any stories you've written. During the five years this class has been meeting, we've had several people join us who haven't written one story; they come just to listen to the stories of others.

The people who share their stories simply write from their heart. Those stories are the best kind, which children and grandchildren enjoy the most.

As you can see, this is not a typical "class." Although I give a prompt (or assignment) each week, the other persons in the group don't have to write about that topic. They can choose a different topic or not write at all.

In any case, the participants are not trying to record their complete "life story," beginning with birth, but rather writing individual, brief life stories about specific experiences they particularly remember about their life, as a kid or as an adult.

Eventually, they can collect and organize their stories in a three-ring binder, which can be put on a shelf and later enjoyed by others in future years.

The free class is possible because of the generosity of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The church not only allows the group to meet without charge but also encourages people to come and welcomes them warmly.

My hope this fall is that we continue to have a mix of returning and new participants (like Martha) who gather together for the fun of it and write stories that future generations will enjoy reading.

On a different but related note: The Life Stories class and all of Los Banos will miss Bill Stenberg. Bill's death will leave a hole in many hearts. He was such a wise, witty, and kind man, who, along with his wife Bev, wrote wonderful life stories. Bill's spirit will continue to encourage and inspire us.

Comments on the writing of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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