(inspired by This I Believe series on NPR)
I believe there is a writer in all of us. Sometimes the torrent of words strikes like a bolt of lightning and the thoughts and narratives shift and move so fast and so furious that our pens and keyboards can barely keep up with our ideas. Other times, the writer in us remains hidden, dormant just below the surface, as if waiting for some magical moment to suddenly appear and take shape.
As a sixth grade writing teacher, I have noticed how often it is that my boys, more so than the girls — if I can speak in very general terms here – keep that internal writer removed from the public view, either consciously or unconsciously. The internal voice for many of these 11 and 12 year old boys is locked down and unaccessible. Not just to me, either, but also to them. I tussle with them throughout the year, encouraging them at every step of the way and showing them creative paths they had not seen before, alternatives to expression. I challenge them to move beyond the violence that seems to dominate their writing. I have come to see the death and destruction in their stories as a reflection of the narrative of the video games they play on the televisions in their bedrooms; the online communities they take part in, such as Drunescape; and the movies they watch on the big screen. I wrestle with pop culture, too, and I don’t always seem to be winning that battle.
Perhaps it is the fear of their peers that feeds this reluctance to write anything of deep meaning, even in what I consider — at least — to be a safe classroom where writing and sharing is honored as part of our community. Try as I might, there remains a stereotype of a writer in their young minds — the stranger tinkering with words. The loner. The outsider.
Other times, though, I worry that some of my boys have experienced such deep pain and trauma in their lives already, even at this fragile zone between childhood and adolesence, that they can’t abide by giving up any part of themselves for fear that this emotional release will become ammunition for others. For some, showing interest in anything is a dangerous proposition that has been used against them by adults in their lives. And they learn quickly how to protect themselves, too, as best as they can, and the emotions that form the heart of important, and truthful, personal writing is often on the list of disposable items. Feelings can be dangerous, and writing, after all, is all about feeling.
I often see myself reflected in them, in their downturned heads and distant eyes. It was not until I was in my first year of college — far from home, lonely, with a pencil and a blank notebook in a small dorm room — that I really began to write with anything resembling importance to myself. It was only then that I began to use words to get below the surface of the turmoil that plagued my own childhood. Those poems, some of which later became songs and some of which are stored in a protective case, were a literary lifeline for me. The act of writing became a sort of personal redemption, allowing me to traverse beneath my outer protective layer and get at the small child still living inside me. Writing was important. And this is the writer I try to bring to my classroom each day — the writer with passion for language and expression.
My hope, the guiding belief that remains in me every single day when I walk into my classroom, is that a seed of some sort is being planted in my reluctant writers and that with time, they will eventually find an inward path to their own true selves, no matter what the world outside of my classroom may be telling them. I believe in them, most of all. I believe in them as writers.