John Spevak: Now may be the right time for life stories

john.spevak@gmail.comAugust 15, 2014 

Now may be the right time in your life to tell your story. And there’s a place for you in a group that believes the stories of their lives are worth telling.

Starting Sept. 9, “Writing Your Life Stories” will begin its fall session in a meeting room at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Los Banos, 1826 Center Ave. The group meets every Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m.

Some people call this free opportunity a class, but it doesn’t work like a typical class. There are no requirements and no papers to fill out. People of all ages, from 19 to 91, simply come and embrace the opportunity, if they desire, to write and, if they so choose, to share their stories.

In the news, it seems, a report appears each week that stresses the importance of people talking and writing about their life experiences. These reports show how valuable this process is for the storyteller and for the people who listen to and read the stories, especially family members.

What gets in the way of storytelling for many people is either inertia or fear. “I’ll write about my experiences some day,” is what many people say, “but not today.”

Others have some anxiety about writing. Some say they can’t write, but the truth is that anyone who can tell a story can write it down. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just needs to be from the heart.

Others worry their lives are unimportant, not worth writing about. Nothing could be further from the truth. All people have experienced highs and low in their lives; all have learned something about life from their experiences. And others find that interesting.

Family members, in particular, are interested in knowing more about the lives of their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. And, according to Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, people who know a lot about their family’s history “tend to do better when they face challenges.”

For six years now I’ve been leading this group or class. Although I’m a teacher by trade, I don’t claim to “teach” this class. I simply provide opportunities for people of all ages to write, share and listen to life stories.

The class has a simple concept: I provide a prompt each week that encourages people in the class to write about a particular time in their lives (say, their elementary school years) or about a particular topic (say, a good friend they once had).

The following week, people in the group can read aloud what they’ve written, either about the prompt for the day or about something completely different.

But no one has to do anything. I’ve had several students who’ve come to the class but haven’t written anything. That’s fine. I’ve had others who’ve written stories but have chosen not to read them aloud. That’s fine, too.

Everyone in the group is at least thinking about their life experiences. Many are writing about them at home, with a pen and paper or on a computer. One student even types her stories using a typewriter she’s owned for many years.

I encourage anyone who is even slightly intrigued by the idea of telling or writing their life stories to attend just one class. People who come will feel welcome and will realize the time with the group is enjoyable.

Those who decide to stay with the class will know they can come when they want and won’t feel bad if they miss one class or even several in a row. They know the door is always open for their return.

The group is fortunate to have the support of the local LDS church, which enables the class to meet in a comfortable, climate-controlled room each week.

Church members like Glenn Cantrell have been very hospitable. Glenn, a class member, opens the door each week and sets up the tables and chairs in a friendly U-shape.

On Sept. 9, when the class reconvenes, the group is looking forward not only to seeing the “regulars” again, but to welcoming new people of all ages, including some of you reading this column.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, a California Newspaper Publishers Association Blue Ribbon Finalist for 2013, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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