Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sustaining Your Inner Child

“I have inflammation of the imagination.”
Lera Auerbach, Excess of Being

Nervous energy and excitement filled the room. Kids sat at tables with their parents, siblings and family friends. They were all dressed in nice clothes, and while their parents chatted, the kids were laser-focused on reading the bright-covered books they had just received. Soon pizza was served, and everyone filled their plates with slices of pepperoni and cheese, along with rainbow-sprinkled homemade cupcakes. And then it was Showtime.

"Hi, everyone!" I exclaimed from the front of the room. "I am so pleased to welcome you to our celebration of these amazing young writers who have just been published in our new book, Dancing With The Pen II!"

Everyone applauded, the young writers blushed, and then it was time for them to strut their stuff. One by one, I called them to the front of the room to read from their pieces that were published in the book. One by one, they shyly made their way to the front of the audience, and read their pieces out loud. As they soaked in the audience's enraptured attention, each young writer seemed to visibly grow in size: postures became straighter, voices became louder and more expressive. When they finished, after the audience cheered and I presented each one with a certificate and the parents became paparazzi taking a barrage of flashing photographs, I watched as each young writer walked proudly back to their seat -- walking a little taller, with much more confidence and joy. So different from the nervous, uncertain people who had walked up to the front of the room minutes before.

That is why I work so hard to publish young writers. That is why I believe it is so crucial to help young people discover their own unique voices, and to give them avenues to share their voices with others. That is why I founded my organization Write On! For Literacy fifteen years ago, and why the work grows even more important to me with each year that passes. Because I have seen firsthand the effect that reading and writing and sharing and growing has on young people. On all of us.

In her article "When Writing is Not a Career" Linda Wilson writes:

A woman I once interviewed for an article told me that astute observers can identify a child's interests and talents as early as four years old. At four, asking people questions came naturally to her son. So she went out and bought him a toy microphone. Unleashed was a blossoming reporter, who carried his microphone with him everywhere, asking people, "What do you do?" and, "Do you have a favorite pet?" When it came time for college she offered to help pay for it, but she struck out. He wasn't interested. What he did do was put himself through broadcasting school and upon completion, got a job as a disc jockey. Later, he went on to become a popular sportscaster. He told her he loved his career so much that he wanted to be buried with his microphone (a real one this time). She concluded the interview by saying, all this because I recognized his interest early-on, and directed him toward it during his early, most informative years.

I'm not saying that all of the young people I work with will make careers as writers. (Although I am proud that many of my students and mentees have gone on to study Journalism or Creative Writing in college!) But I do hope that all of them will continue writing throughout their lives. I hope they keep writing to express their own ideas, to share their thoughts with others -- or even just to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with themselves.

Many of the young writers I am honored to work with do have dreams of forging writing careers. I hope to help them build unshakeable confidence in themselves and their unique gifts, confidence that cannot be torn down by the inevitable rejection letters and criticism and disappointments that will come along the way. With all the writers I work with, of all ages, my utmost goal as a teacher is to do for them what the best teachers in my life have down for me: to help them locate that spark of passion they feel deep inside themselves, and to fan it into a roaring flame that will never die out. As Lera Auerbach writers in Excess of Being, "You can only master something by loving it."

In truth, our pizza launch party for Dancing With The Pen II was not just a celebration of a new book being published. It was more than that: more than just a single day, a single book. It was a celebration of a love affair with writing that each of these young writers has embarked upon, and that hopefully will continue throughout their lives -- sustaining their inner children, nurturing their joy in creating, and keeping their imaginations inflamed and vibrantly alive.

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