Diversity and Discovery: The Arvada Hard Times Writing Workshop

By Patricialyn Veal

There are many in the United States that still do not have medical insurance. I am one of them. So I look for alternatives, and one of those alternatives appeared through a little 3" x 11" card at my local Arvada library. I’ve gone there since my latest displacement, which happened when my husband passed away a few years ago.

The card said, “Hard Times Writing Workshop.” It continued: “Telling our stories can often help process our life experiences and find new paths. This safe and supportive weekly writing workshop is free and open to all. Writing prompts, tools, and refreshments provided. Wednesdays, 3-5 PM.”

“Wow,” I told a friend. “This might be just what we’re looking for to deal with all the (insert your favorite expletive here) we’ve been dealing with.” So we popped in.

The Arvada Hard Times workshop meets in a bright and lovely space on the second floor of the library, in a room that has large windows with a view of the mountains and Olde Town Arvada. On your first visit, you receive a journal with a Lighthouse Writers Workshop sticker on it and a pen.

Lighthouse sponsors this workshop with a writing facilitator, Joy, and the Arvada Library provides an adult librarian, Cody. Joy is true to her name. She is a joy. She is eclectic, positive, diplomatic, and gets us back on track discussing our writing fairly quickly if we go off the rails sharing our similar experiences.

Cody is calm, cool, and a wealth of information. He will hunt down and find almost any book you’d like that relates to your personal experience, or books on writing. Between the two of them, we are well supported.

Lighthouse Writers also sends us other writers to meet one-on-one with those of us who want further advice on something we’re currently writing. The workshop really is, as my kids would say, the “bomb!”—meaning it has blown all other writing experiences I’ve had out of the water.

Our workshop is made up of a glorious mix of people with some pretty diverse life experiences. We have everything from hippie conscientious objectors to veterans, entrepreneurs to retail workers, old to young, and everything in between.

The difference in perspectives is so interesting. One of the most interesting days was when a white veteran wrote and shared a story about his last days in Vietnam, and the Canadian Asian refugee wrote about when her family revisited their country after their escape from war.

It made me wish that everyone in the world could hear just what strife has done to people over the years—especially now, when the powers that be are poised to repeat the stupid actions of the past. (Yeah, I would be the weird Second Amendment-supporting, hippie conscientious objector in the group.)      

In this workshop, we are provided writing prompts to help us learn to write our stories—although stories are not the only writing style of this group. We have some very good free verse poets, as well as classically rhyming ones.

The group operates in a “judgment-free zone,” which means you can write or not, comment or not, share what you wrote or not. In some cases, when the writer’s piece has been too emotional for them to read aloud, someone else has read it for them.

When critiquing, we are asked to listen for the positive of a piece so the writer can continue to build upon that. We share what we felt as we listened, as well as what words or phrases “popped out” for us as listeners. We provide a more critical perspective if the writer asks for more.

This has become important to me, as I can’t spell. In other creative writing classes I’ve taken, we printed out copies of our work so other writers could mark it up for spelling and grammar problems. Here, there is none of that, and I think that has helped me be more expressive and creative. I’m writing about more specific, sensory, concrete details, without worrying about how my grammar or spelling errors will be received by the group, instead of my actual story.

The Hard Times workshop is my weekly therapy. It has helped me work out some of my issues with others, my grief from many losses, my current pain over experiencing homelessness. It’s improved my mood and given me some of my power back.

The following is a poem I wrote in the workshop, and I was honored it was selected to be read by Stories on Stage actors at the recent Lighthouse “Voices from the Edge” event. It’s a piece about dealing with a multitude of AIDS deaths among friends and family as well as family of friends. I’ve compiled several events here and combined them into one:

In Loving Memory

by Patricialyn Veal


By a newly named blight

A pestilence

A precious one from us has gone

A place is vacant in our world

A voice stilled

No more laughter within this home

For just a fraction

of one moment

I thought they had the wrong boy

And I

A brother’s sister

A son’s mother

Another’s lover

A slumbering one to be later called

His wage

In death

Now paid

There was no AZT, there were no pills

Now there is nothing to cure this woe

They gathered the scraps of memory

A baby blanket

A first leisure suit

Two tassels from different years

A handkerchief

A similar piece of satin from the box they laid him in

A set of pockets from the rear of Levis

he himself had cut

They all sat and stitched and cried

Saying ALL

that could be said

in 18 square feet

Then his mother pulled the baggie out

We sat in awe as she threaded the needle

with his young blonde curls