Not to jump on the “Thankful” bandwagon that happens every time this year, but hey, why not. It’s good to jump, make those leaps, and reflect. Sharing what we are thankful for helps others to remember to be thankful too.
If you are reading this post you are blessed – you either have a phone or laptop or desktop to access it. Maybe you’re at a library reading it and even then, are we not blessed to have libraries? We can read, we have outlets – creative ones – for motivation, inspiration, to jolt, provoke, and give us what we need.
We, dear reader, are blessed –
Last week I taught on behalf of Café Cultura at a second chance school for students who were kicked out of their schools for behavioral problems or bringing guns, knives, and drugs to school. I’ll admit as I sat outside in my car before I went in that part of me was afraid thinking what did I get myself into? What kind of neighborhood am I in? What if these kids are rugged? I had to stop and think why am I even thinking these ridiculous thoughts? Why am I judging these kids when I grew up on a reservation and have worked with youth from so many different backgrounds and home lives that are similar to these students. Even in my limited-still-learning experiences working with youth I know that behavior is tied to other circumstances, that sometimes people just make mistakes, get caught up in the wrong crowd, and most of the time… their behavior is just them reaching out, to be seen, acknowledged. They, like many of us, just want to be heard.
So rather than be afraid, I remember how I was raised. I prayed. I prayed that the students would have open hearts and minds and be receptive to what I was going to teach. I prayed that someone would hear the words they needed to hear that day. I must say all my teaching experience at the University of New Mexico and from working with my Upward Bound program kids helped me stay on my toes and keep the students engaged. Who would’ve thought years of teaching gave you prompts in your back pocket to pull out when students seemed to be losing interest. It’s amazing how things just come to you in the moment. Some students weren’t as serious about writing as others but I could tell most of the students were hungry for writing and words. I’d seen that hunger before working with people, recognized the desire to put pen to paper in my own life.
I wanted to teach them about image. A former professor of mine used “a wedding cake in the middle of the road” as a prompt for a central image, one where some object was out of place, an image that begged for a story to be given to it. So I told the students to write the story to go with the cake. Some students wrote stories meant to be funny about prostitutes causing a wreck and the cake came out of the van, or someone running late and hitting a pothole, or crazy bridesmaids fighting over it. But, one student wrote about a crack addict who stole the cake from a delivery van and was so shaky from withdrawals that he dropped it. He sat in the middle of the street and ate the cake anyway.
Part of me knows students will test you with their behavior or even subject matter in things they bring up. But I didn’t want to dismiss anything any student said; as teachers our job is to help build students up not bring them down, especially at that age. So…I just rolled with it and was surprised that the words came to me. I said something constructive and something positive about each story, but I remember most strongly my response to the crack addict story. As the class giggled when he read aloud, I let him finish then said, “you know, that is an excellent example of a character driven story in the making. I mean, what kind of person would sit there and eat a cake in the middle of the road besides a crack addict? Good job.”
After an hour long workshop, I left. Who knows if that one time experience made any difference in anyone’s lives. Honestly, it probably didn’t. Change takes time and forming bonds with students so they’ll open up about the real gritty tough stuff that writing is made of sometimes…takes time. There are no quick fixes and when it comes to writing and making an impact, it definitely takes more than one class visit.
Café Cultura does good work by teaching at schools like this and others. They don’t get paid much if anything and in order for more of the programming the organization does like open mics, workshops, community performances, etc., they need funds. So I am reaching out to you, dear Reader because this is so important to me and working with youth is a vital part of my life. I am passionate about youth who need words they way we all may have needed (and perhaps still do) in our lives. We are blessed with words and should share those gifts with others who may not have the same access we do.
I’m hoping I can raise at least $1,000 for the organization. I know many of you don’t have a lot or even anything to spare, but even if its just $5-$10, it adds up. Every bit helps, so you have until December 31st to donate. Here is the link and click on the DONATE next to my name
I hope we can keep teaching writing because I do and will always believe, writing saves lives. If you learn about craft you learn about character. You’ll learn about the difference between a plot-driven story and a character-driven story, and once you have that maybe you can realize you are the protagonist in your own life. You are the good guy, the one being rooted for, the one we all want to succeed in your own life story. Yes, writing teaches character, you are a flawed, beautiful, and relatable person who desires something in life. But like any story there will be moments of connection and disconnection, there will be rises and falls in action and when you feel off-track you’ll know your character strengths to change the course of your story.
We, dear reader, are blessed – so, please, make the jump, be thankful, and donate. I have no way of thanking those of you who do, maybe I can write a poem for or about you, but either way, at the end of the day – I’ll say a little prayer for you.