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'Your Story, Your Life' Supports Valley Writers

May 17, 2019

Members of the "Your Story, Your Life" writing group listen to facilitator Shelly Miriam read a poem.
Credit Christin Kay / Aspen Public Radio

Carving out time for creative writing can be tough. Sharing it with others can be downright terrifying. A group in Glenwood Springs wants to be a safe place for any writer.

“Your Story, Your Life” includes everyone from retirees reflecting on their lives to people who’ve left the office for a few hours. They all come for the sense of community, no matter who they are and where they are on their writing journey.


 

On a recent Friday, in a sunny conference room at the Glenwood Springs Library, 15 people sat at folding tables pushed into a circle, some with spiral notebooks or journals before them. They ranged in age from almost 90, to a few 20-somethings, whose skateboards lean against the back wall.  

Everyone listened to a poem 85-year-old Nade Steindler wrote about her daughter decades ago.

"Sink deep in love, love again / First yourself, maiden in blue jeans," she read.

Steindler grew up in a strict family in Italy during Mussolini's rule. This was the first time she’d ever read her work aloud.

The group applauded when she finished. Steindler said he was unsure about reading, but is glad she took the chance.

"I was reticent, but I now see that it’s good to be with people," she said.

Shelly Miriam is a red-headed woman in her 60s with a slight Southern twang. She started “Your Story, Your Life” three years ago.

"This came out of my need for structure. I love to write, but I wasn’t making enough time for it," she said.  

Her idea was to create a casual, supportive group. If people didn’t write something new for every session, no problem. Just belonging would be a reason to prioritize writing a little more.

"It’s all about you, finding your voice, in your time, in your space," she said.

 

Miriam does have a few rules: Don’t apologize or make excuses before you read; when you’re talking about others' work, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

It was Don Lechuga’s first time attending “Your Story, Your Life.” He recently retired from a job at a fish hatchery. He said he loves to write, but the last time he journaled was 1987. He just didn’t have the time.

"It’s always been in the back of my head, and I think this career I’ve had for the past 28 years just overwhelmed everything else in my world," he said. 

Now, he’s writing a book with his young granddaughter. He writes, she draws the pictures.

 

"She’s a big part of why I’m starting to write again," he said.

Lechuga half-joked that he’s been put out to pasture since he retired. This project, he said, is giving him a sense of purpose.

People read all kinds of things during the two hours they spend together. One woman told a true story about speeding to a vet with an injured armadillo bundled in her lap.

 

Another talked about a homesteading grandmother who tucked a gun into her skirt before she went out to feed livestock.

 

Jordan Callier is in his 20s. His story was about travelling to Italy to meet distant relatives.

When he read his line, "Eating dinner is an act of grace and communion and always taken seriously," the group nodded approvingly.

"Isn’t that what connects us is food?" asked one person. "Across every culture?"

Callier says people his age don’t express themselves much, except through photos or Snapchat videos. He craves time with different generations, which is why he attended the writing group.

"Their words are words of wisdom, and they’re valuable. They’re worth their weight in gold," he said.

 

After a couple hours of reading, commenting and a lot of laughter, the group packed their notebooks into purses and backpacks.

Shelly Miriam watched them go and said she’s amazed at how stories connect strangers.

 

"It’s nothing that I imagined would happen, but it happens every time we meet," she said.

It’s that magic that motivates her, and others, to spend a little more time with a pen and a journal, or a keyboard and a screen.