On most Saturdays, just before noon, I am in my office at the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center anticipating the stream of middle- and high school writers who will burst in the door for their weekly 2-hour workshop at our Young Authors Academy. Some of these young talents have been attending since our inception in February 2012, some of them are new to the program this fall. All of them have the need to write in common. Just as their instructors have answered the call during our lives, these are true writers who surrender fully, sometimes obsessively. They are diverse and vibrant, eager and pensive. All have a flair for language and are good listeners. They are generous in their responses to each other’s work and keen in their observations of the writing pieces shared at the table. They are supportive and generally really good to each other. It is a joy to witness, much less facilitate.
One thing they seem to have in common is a fascination for writing with blood, gore, and guts … mysteries, alien adventures with gruesome hand-to-hand conflict, vampire encounters full of foreboding, zombie massacres, fairy tale characters facing certain dangers. They are fully engaged in each other‘s tales of mutilation and shock. Oddly, I find it humorous, as do they. They love it! They laugh! And they tell each other what they think should happen next, riffing off each other and the myriad television shows and YA novels that fuel their plots and characters.
One of our younger writers declared that her parents are growing concerned that she writes so much murder. But this is common for the age group and does not reflect that either the young ones are particularly depressed beyond typical pre-teen/teenage angst or poised to harm themselves or anyone else. Still, yesterday, as the subject came up again, and after a series of responses to the daily writing prompt reflected either depression or death, I asked why their work was so focused. It was a great conversation that started with acknowledging themselves that they are formulating a new, maturing awareness of death as an inevitable in life as well as a continual backdrop in both literature and media.
One pointed out that Shakespeare dwelled in the depths of loss and murder, as have most other “greats” in literature, with a simple postscript, I mean … Romeo and Juliet … HELLOOOO!”
Another declared herself an atheist and that death is a necessary knowledge and that she took solace in the thought that there is nothing after this. Another stated he did not really know what it all meant or if there was a heaven. He wasn’t sure what he believed and was not certain there was a definitive answer.
The girl who stated earlier that her parents are growing concerned stated that she writes about death so much probably because she is afraid of it. This was a remarkable self-reflection for any of us but for someone of such youth to be pondering the big blank slate of loss and afterlife, it was very astute.
The conversation also gave this young woman a chance to honor the memory of someone very close to her but no longer living. She was able to move into sharing details of the person she loved deeply who was now a memory and a hole in the heart. She was fully open and honest and every other person around the table gave her all the time she needed to speak her truth. One of her colleagues suggested that we all do meditative breathing to clear the room before we all left, leading us, Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth … again, in through the nose, out through the mouth as the room filled with our warm air mingling with the soft etude of tears as everyone consoled their friend with the respect of simply hearing her.
The clock indicated we were at the end of our session. Everyone sprang to the door, returned to their exuberant chatter, met their families in the library to head back out into the world. There were some reassuring hugs. It was real. It was honest. It was an honor to witness. Next week, they have the day off to crash from Halloween mayhem and sugar highs. In 2 weeks, they will stream in again with stories to share and blood to let on blank pages that are ready for their words.
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