Weekly Teen Voice: LISTEN TO US

Every week I try to feature a teen voice on my blog.  This week we’re hearing from I. Objio.  Please feel free to comment on his piece.

LISTEN TO US

by I. Objio

When people talk to you, do you listen to their opinions?  If you do, good.  If not, let me present you with a different scenario.

When you talk to people, do they ignore you?  It doesn’t seem fair, does it?  This is why I think kids and teens should be allowed to express their ideas or opinions without being ignored or accused of “talking back.”

Here’s something most adults don’t seem to understand: kids understand more than you think we do.

 Yes. 

Believe it. 

Kids and teens aren’t just pieces of hollow, dumb driftwood that float along the river of life.  We understand when you say “We can’t afford this,” or “I’m so stressed.”  But yet, when we try to comfort or help you, we get “Go away” or “Be quiet” in return.

Also, when adults tell us to do things their way and we respond, “But, what if…” we’re not trying to annoy you.  Yes, I admit, sometimes we do try to rile you up, and I’m not saying it’s okay to disrespect you;  nevertheless, think of the stuff we’re going through: peer pressure, trying to find out who we are, puberty (which is a horror story all by itself).  Back to the point.  If you guys don’t want our help, fine.  But, please don’t punish us for trying.

If we do talk back, you don’t have to scream and shout the cliché “Go to your room.” You should still show your kid it’s wrong but don’t stop there.  Try to get us to explain why we think the way we do.

Kids and teens will try to mouth off and get fresh with you and, again, I’m not saying it’s okay, but don’t always treat us like a pest that must be squashed.  Kids and teens are like poems and books: they always have another meaning underneath.

How Can You Love ___ So Much?

           I had already begun to close the human-sized windows in my classroom, certain that non of my club attendees were coming, when Derrick strolled in.  “No club today?” 

           I shrugged my shoulders, “No one else showed up except you.”

          He set his sports equipment down. “Good, let’s work on my essay.”

          I sat at one of the front desks, taking out my correcting pens. “Alright, lets make this into something awesome.”

          Derrick sat across from me, his blue eyes sparkling out of his light brown face. “Ms J?”

          “Mmm hmm?”

         “Why do you love kids so much?”

          The question completely took me aback.  I didn’t know how to answer it.  Doesn’t everyone love kids? , I wanted to ask.  But, I already knew the answer to that. I looked out my window at the Bavarian forests in the distance. 

           “Because you guys deserve to be loved.  Every kid ought to know they’re loved every minute of everyday, regardless of what you do.  There’s enough heartbreak in life when you get older,” I finally responded, not looking at him, in fear of choking up.

           Derrick nodded his head and started rearranging his loose-leaf paper and pencils.

           This conversation made me think about a book I discussed with Derrick and some classmates in my creative writing class earlier.  I was reading The One Plus One by JoJo Moyes out loud (certain pertinent sections) that I thought would be great for showing character thoughts and feelings.  However, there were deeper reasons for sharing this book: I wanted them to hear how I felt about them, through the voice of Jess, without being weird or too sentimental.

           There’s this touching part of the book that so perfectly mirrors my feelings about kids whose parents I can tell aren’t giving them the kind of attention and listening that their kids really need:

            “when Nicky had turned up two years later, and everyone had told her she was mad to take on someone else’s child…she                    ignored them.  Because she could see instantly in the wary little shadow who had stood a minimum twelve inches away from                  anyone, from his father even, a little of what happened to you when your mother didn’t hold you close, or tell you all the time                 that you were the best thing ever, or even notice when you  were home: a little part of you sealed over.” (Jojo Moyes, The                     One Plus  One, p. 245)

             Moyes captures so perfectly what I’ve experienced as a teacher for the past nine years of my experience working with kids ages 11-20.  I’ve battled with parents about what their kids need emotionally and how no matter what I do in the classroom if they aren’t giving their kids what they need emotionally (time + love) whatever I did was only a drop in the bucket, really.

             When my wonderful friends talk about their kids (be it positive or negative) I hear the love in their voices, the struggle and I’m so proud of them that my eyes tear up.  I’ve heard my adult friends talk about the struggles with their own parents and then see how they are with their kids and how they’ve broken the cycle of whatever bad they grew up with. 

             One of the reasons I love the novel The One Plus One is because Jess’s feeling mirror mine so perfectly in her love of both of her children, including Nicky, who biologically isn’t “hers”.  I don’t have any kids “of my own” but I have taught over 900 kids who “belong” to others.  Gosh I love those kids.  With every particle of my being.  I love their stories, drawings, cool hairdos, pet rocks, stuffed animals, diverse handwriting, and the varieties of their laughter. 

             I love Derrick’s funky handwriting, how he has to have a conversation in order to really understand something and I especially like going to his basketball games, even though I’m such a sports ignoramus. The feeling of being enmeshed in others lives and being a part of a greater whole: that’s what makes me love kids.  They see the world from an innocent perspective.  They are beautiful, untainted, willing to try-out new ideas, apologize for things that aren’t their fault, and deal with a lot of adult failings with grace I rarely see adults exhibit.

             Some people tell me I’m crazy for teaching middle-school.  It’s  my favourite age.   I relish in teens like Nicky in Moyes’ novel, who wear weird clothes and try to overcome a rocky personal history.  I enjoy watching math wizards like Tanzie talk about algebraic expressions with the same joy I like to talk about my latest favourite book.

             I love how literature connects us together and makes us feel less alone.  It makes me sad when I see adults burned out and unable to see the suffering of kids around them.  I wonder what has made them so hard and unyielding.  And I wonder what made Derrick ask me that question a week ago.  It is a question that has haunted me everyday since he asked it.

             I’ve started another Jojo Moyes book. I can already tell it isn’t as wonderful (to me) as The One Plus One, because Jess, Ed, Tanzie and Nicky were characters I feel already exist in my world.  If you also love kids and believe that things eventually turn out alright (even when it feels like your world has fallen apart) you must read this book.

Walk & Write Retreats by Retreats West

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imagine sleeping in a cozy former railway car? (It was the best sleep of my life that I can remember).

I had the opportunity to attend a Walk & Write Retreat held in The Dodo in West Wittering.  We were blessed with perfect weather, excellent company and a wonderful workshop by Isabel Ashdown, concentrating on how to utilise the details of place in our fiction writing.  

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I could see the ocean from my window and the sounds of the sea lulled me to sleep. Divine!

The location could not be more ideal for concentrating on place, especially for a daughter of a naval officer.  Prior to Isabel’s arrival all retreat attenders were able to work on their own projects, discuss them at length with each other–which was extremely valuable.  

The Dodo was situated a few skips and jumps from the ocean.  Although it was too cold for swimming, the ambience was divine, and the sounds of the ocean calming as I tried to tease out difficult  parts of the two manuscripts I’m trying to prioritise.

Isabel Ashdown’s workshop helped me to recall wonderful and “exotic” locations I have felt at home from my life as a nomad.  It was especially soothing to discover I wasn’t the only one: there were other writers at the retreat who had also lived unconventional lives and it was delightful to be in good company!

Overall, I thoroughly recommend attending a Walk & Write Retreat before word spreads and they get booked up for the rest of 2014.  Amanda has retreats in a variety of genres, so you can explore various locales while working on your writing away from the normal stresses of daily life.  It helps that Amanda is a genius in the kitchen.

(Also, if you can, do book a manuscript critique with Amanda, I cannot speak enough how much she has helped my first novel, a YA fantasy novel, hopefully to be finished & ready for agent submission by the end of summer 2014).

I hope you’ll enjoy photos of the retreat below:Image

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Walk & Write Retreat

Living in the Dark

Eight years ago I suffered a devastating health crisis.  My life in New York City morphed into a reality I didn’t want to accept.  As a result, I pulled inward, shut people out, and allowed myself to suffer in semi-silence.  When I was communicating it was generally in rants, crying fits (that no one witnessed and were fairly scary to behold anyhow), or terse truncated sentences to friends helping me to hold on.  The unknown of why my body had decided to utterly shut down (from multiple vantage points) and the fact I didn’t have an explanation for anyone like “I have cancer,” or “my colon needs replacing” or something else logical and explainable only made it worse.

Luckily, we found out I have this “little” thing called endometriosis and this other “little” thing called “coeliac’s disease” and the two like to feed on each other like piranha’s to unsuspecting guppies. Once the health crisis was sorted and I moved back abroad– to a much better standard of living and lower stress levels than New York City could offer– and I was left to try and wade through the emotional impact this crisis had on my overall relationships and desires for my future.  I had a hard time confronting the fact that I had never been able to get back to the energy levels I once had. I believed that if I pretended this episode of poor health, despite physician warnings, was just a one-time thing, I could ascend back to juggling multiple theatre projects, a full-time job, and volunteer work.

THE RELAPSE
It is amazing how people treat you when you do have a rare condition that they know nothing about.  It is also incredible how good you get at pretending that everything is okay when you know it’s not.  Seven years later, five years after surgery, the old body is having loads of trouble.  In a nutshell, twelve hours of a sleep a day doesn’t seem enough and I’m constantly in pain.  I feel like crawling into a cave and giving up until it is all over.  However, I know that isn’t an option: because that’s what I tried before and it made me a complete emotional wreck.

I have actively had to fight against the instinct to sleep away every waking hour and instead pour my time into continuing to write, read and even clean. (Cleaning is one of the easiest ways of feeling productive, I’ve realised, when I can stand upright long enough to do it). I have fought to be social and to tell people what’s going on and admit I don’t feel good.  I even had to break down and hire someone to help me from time to time with simple things like grocery shopping and helping me to clean my house while I work side by side with them.  I don’t want to give in to my body, I want to try to work with it and try to live as normal a life as I can.  This has meant letting my pride go and admitting I will never be “super-woman”.  (Why do we even try to do something so impossible anyhow?)

Sometimes I am really annoyed with the timing of this latest outbreak. I can’t help asking “Why me?  Just when I’m ready to really do some serious work on manuscript # 1 and launch into finishing the second edit of manuscript # 2 this happens…what the hellllllllllll?”  It’s okay to let myself rant, then, I try to remind myself that because I’m not feeling well I have much more time for reading on days when I have to stay in bed after work, or on days when I just can’t move because it hurts too much.  Sure my house is not the world’s cleanest, but I’m trying to focus on the things I’m doing right so that I don’t end up in a downward spiral of “I’m just not doing enough”.  Additionally, it isn’t helpful to compare to how things used to be, because that just isn’t my reality any more.

I’m really thankful to all of the friends, fellow-writers, retreat attenders, and fellow-church goers who have boosted my spirits during this time.  I think when things are bad, you can’t hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. You have to strike up the band and try and do a little merry jig, while your friends prop you up because your legs might not be working so well that day.

I can only imagine that I am not the only person who suffers from a malicious, pain rendering condition.  There must be tons of other artists out there who suffer in silence.  I respect that some people feel more comfortable doing this.  However, I felt it was important to share a small section of my story, because I think it’s possible to pursue your dreams even when your corporeal reality isn’t working in the way you want it to.  Through listening to each other’s successes and pitfalls, I can’t help believing that our writing world will continue to be a place where people can feel listened to and supported.

A shout-out to Writer’s Workshop Word Cloud and Retreats West is in order because without both of these fine organisations, I know that I wouldn’t have been able to press on through the clouds of darkness that threaten to prevail over my daily struggle.  I have met some of the greatest, most supportive, and kind-hearted people of my life.  These friends and acquaintances have inspired me to keep going.  I am most grateful to Tom who is always making me laugh & sharing delicious cheeses amongst his other great human tricks.  I cherish my Nurnberg Stake church family: they are forever some of the best people I know and love.

I hope that others who experience either dark periods of health, family crisis, financial upsets, or other hard times will know that in sharing your story it helps others to know they aren’t alone.  There’s nothing wrong with sharing.  It isn’t whining, it’s letting others know they need to give a helping hand.  Nothing makes me feel more loved than knowing my efforts have helped someone else who’s having a hard time.  Being on the receiving end is just as nice.