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The Story In Their Eyes

A writing course for homeless women whose lives have lost their narrative

September 28, 1997|Mark Miller

Ask Karen Spritzler to name the best job in the world and she'll tell you, "The best jobs in the world are volunteer jobs."

Spritzler has a volunteer job. Every Thursday from 1:30 to 3 p.m., she teaches a weekly writing workshop at the Daybreak Shelter/Center's Women in New Directions program in Santa Monica for the homeless, mentally ill women who live there.

Spritzler, 44, believes the writing class is ideal because "a good story is the perfect template for mental health."

The workshop participants come from all cultures, races and ages, and Spritzler's background is as varied as theirs. Having studied fine arts at Carnegie-Mellon University, she has been a produced playwright, a published poet, a story analyst for movie and TV studios, a teacher of art, drama and storytelling. Earlier this year, a friend asked Spritzler to fill in for her at one of the writing classes at the shelter. She's been teaching there ever since.

Spritzler does not ask the women about their backgrounds or what brought them to the shelter. "I don't do therapy. I'm not pushing emotionally--I'm pushing creatively."

The pushing has paid off with some powerful creations. During a lesson on poetry, her students wrote a group poem called "Heart": My own tenderness and affection/Life nonexistent without a heart/Has a beat and a breath and a rhythm and a tune/So it can sing music faith/And the joy of all existence.

"I feel so good when I'm teaching, I forget it's a homeless shelter--until I'm quietly reminded of the challenges they face," Spritzler says. Nevertheless, she adds, "I plant a seed and walk away imagining a forest."

("The Art of Daybreak: Heart, Mind, Body & Spirit," an exhibition of art and writing created by members of the Women in New Directions program at Daybreak Shelter/Center, runs through Sept. 30 in the Community Focus Gallery at Santa Monica Place.)

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