Thursday, October 7, 2010

Conviction and Insight: A Teenager Speaks

Addiction. Cutting. Suicide.

Please visit Two Write Love on Her Arms and The Trevor Project for information on what you can do to help someone in crisis and to celebrate the hope offered in a single smile.

After my daughter came home from rehearsal last night, she posted this note on her FB account. Keep in mind she is 14 years old and a high school freshman:

How to Save a Life

Bullying. This is a word that everyone knows, and at some time or another we have probably all experienced. It ranges from the annoying but relatively harmless and cliché insults such as "four eyes" or "pizza face" (which I never fully understood) to the kind that is utterly unforgivable. The cyber bullies, the bullies that shove kids down stairs, the group of girls that has some snarky bitchy comment to say to the class nerd every day, the bullies that harass other kids about being gay, the bullies that purposely exclude people just to make them feel insignificant.

Something people don't realize is that the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is BULLSHIT. Words are sometimes worse than bullets. Hell words often are the bullets that some poor kid has to deal with every single day. Words kill kids. They really do. So many kids today commit suicide because of bullies, and it’s often because of what the bullies said, not because they took the kids lunch money. I can give you a list of kids that I either go to school with now or used to that have attempted to kill themselves because of bullies and this has to stop.

An 18 year old boy posted a suicide note on facebook then jumped off bridge, killing himself because his roommate posted a video of him and his boyfriend having an "encounter"

A 13 year old boy killed himself after being bullied at school, why? He was gay.

A 13 year old girl named Hope killed herself, because of cyber bullies.

These kids shouldn't have died; these kids killed themselves because of other kids.

Some quick facts:
· Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students
· Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds.
· Every hour and forty-five minutes another young person commits suicide.
· More than 13 of every 100,000 people aged 15 to 24 committed suicides in 1990. Experts estimate that each year nearly 5,000 teenagers commit suicide.
· Teen/youth suicide rates have tripled since 1970.

To any of you out there reading this that are the bullies or have ever been the bullies here is what I have to say to you:
In a few years from now, you're not going to remember the kid’s names, you won't remember what they looked like, and you probably won't remember half of what you said to them. THEY will remember you though, every word you said every time you shoved them, and every night they spent crying because of you. They will remember what you sounded like, what your face looked like, everything. If they kill themselves because of all the crap you put them through it’s your fault and you'll have their blood on your hands. Remember that.

Kids: I'm sick of hearing all these stories about kids our own age who are dead because of what other kids put them through. We need to stop this, and we all can. Smile at that kid who sits by herself at lunch, hell GO EAT WITH HER. Help the boy who dropped his books, don't laugh. Talk to the quiet kid. Say something nice to the kid you know is getting picked on. Something as simple as "I like your shirt!" or just smiling at someone really can make a difference.

Adults: Look, a lot of the time you're not too helpful. Saying things like "Oh they are just jealous" or "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" tell us kids two things: one, you're a moron and two you've probably not been bullied very much. Kids need people they can get help from, someone they can talk to. We need you to say "They are such assholes sweetie." and stuff like that. We need someone to go in and help us. The thing is most kids don't have that; you adults need to step up to the plate.

At the beginning of this school year my teacher told my class to write 3 goals in our notebook or just write one big goal. I know what my big goal this year is.

It’s to show one kid that they are wanted and loved.

It’s to save a life.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Social Media: Getting Drunk and Vomiting

Last week I read Sarah Glazer's post, Writing as Solitude and found this link to Alone, With Words by The New Republic's Jed Perl. From there I read Emily Gould's NY Times Magazine article.

Social media - the power lunch redux - is networking. Arguably this tool takes networking to the tenth power; however, the expansion of results are achieved through an amplification of consequences. When we power-lunched in the 80's we got drunk; when we overshare in the 2010's we vomit.

Early in my tweeting career, I followed a woman recommended by an acquaintance only to learn her tweets are limited to three areas: her breasts, getting drunk and how much she hates her job. She posts from work all day long. Tacky to be sure, but when I found out she's an elementary school teacher, I unfollowed and sighed. Surrounded by cheap-chirps and furious-facebooking, I am still hard pressed to find a colleague or friend smitten with twitter, facebook or blogging who will in any way speak ill of their new obsession. So I called their girl-friend a slut.

I'll admit I struggle with peering over the edge and into the abyss. I tweet. I blog. And I update. If I publicly share a piece of my life that hits fairly close to the bull's eye, I at least confer with the other parties involved. Emily Gould, though somewhat reformed, and many many others argue two-fold: "freedom of speech" and "it's the truth". Both positions may very well be the case, but neither is a defense against human decency nor accountability.

The idea of tell it all and tell it anywhere is quite frankly just bad manners. The online equivalent of the nose-picking, gum-smacking gossip you encounter at a networking event and break away from at the first possible moment. And yet, online, with its built in anonymity for both writers - and readers - we spend the night with mean-spirited and self-absorbed people with whom we would never be friends. Then again, they could already be a friend, or parent, or child.

Perhaps part of our collective challenge as writers in this age of immediate gratification is the absence of a cooling off period. We react, we type, we post. I found Jed Perl's words to be true at a most basic level. Some thoughts, feelings and beliefs are private. Some are meant for only a few. And some are shared among thousands. My responsibility as a writer, a friend and most importantly as a parent, is to pay attention. To drink responsibly. To remember that while I can burn the pages of a journal, I cannot burn what I put out into the cloud.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Objectivity Resuscitated

Most of my writing experience is connected to playwriting. I just finished drafting my first novel.

For me, I work on character sketches and conflict in the beginning and gather a rough idea as to plot. Honestly, plot doesn't concern me. I want to know whose story it is, what she wants, and what she's willing to do to get it. I don't care if she's overthrowing the evil empire or navigating through lunch with her mother-in-law.

Once I start writing, I never look back. New characters show up, others are eliminated. Sometimes the conflict changes, and sometimes the storyteller changes. That's really fun!

I move forward even though I'm quite certain the story I began won't be the same one I will finish. Once I'm done the whole thing will sit on the bookshelf for several months while I regain some objectivity. Occasionally my rest and recover time frame is shortened to meet a deadline.

I can't imagine the stress of reading the early chapters 400 times. I would never get anywhere feeling tethered to those first 10,000 words - or first 10 script pages.

The first draft of my novel will percolate on the bookshelf until August 22nd. And no, I really won't open that file or pick up the manuscript ahead of time. Not even once.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hearing the Who!: The Backdoor to Intention

"My friends," cried the elephant. "Tell me! Do tell! Are you safe? Are you sound? Are you whole? Are you well?" -- Horton Hears a Who!

"What's in your medicine cabinet? Your refrigerator? And your wallet?" I ask my new characters when they show up on the page. "Have you experienced grief, envy and joy? What makes you snort, or sneeze, or sigh?"

Once I know what a character does/feels/thinks, I can create all kinds of reasons why they choose those patterns.

I write pages and pages for each character's profile. I love this part of the discovery process. More than once I have learned that a character didn't belong in the story in which she first appeared. This is a great way for me to identify a ghost too - a character I very much want to exist, but one who just won't come. I know then I'm forcing a solution - perhaps walking too closely to a deux ex machina. And twice now I've had characters deliver the mcguffin in a play. Those experiences were a total surprise and so much fun!

Writing characters who listen to each other, or refuse to listen, is important to me. I can't do that unless I hear what they have to tell me. I have to listen to their "Who!"

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Ridiculous Number of Journals

I have eight active journals. Really. Among them are the personal processing journal, the family quotes journal, a reading journal and my five-year journal. I also keep a gratitude journal. This year's journal was made by Ashley Chassé from New York by way of Ottawa, Canada. Much more about Ashley's work in a post later this summer.

As we round second toward the last half of 2010 I thought I'd publish a few snippets from this journal. My journal can be both a list of the obvious and a measure of the quality of the problems.

Some days the best I can do is be grateful that it's nearly over. I'm sure you can relate. For example the entry for June 1st is a good-problem-glad-the-day-is-nearly-over kind of entry:
I am grateful for the gas in my car and the money in my bank account that provided me with the opportunity to be snubbed by five employees at Jerry's Artarama in Tempe, Arizona - to be specific.

The day before (May 31st) I wrote: I'm grateful for misunderstandings and the chance to set them right. For the courage to see the ending and the endurance to see it through. For the heartache and bruised ego wedged in between.

No major revelations; hopefully a little special in the yuck. We as a family are stuck in the yuck. Trudging to be sure, and we've a fair ways to go. Since I drive that train, we seem to share a bit more laughter and shed a few less tears when I pull out Miss Chassé's journal and scribble a couple of sentences. It helps, maybe just because I think it to be so, and that is good enough for me.