I remember being 13 like it was just yesterday. It was the hardest year of my life. Hormones at their highest. Starting a new school. Constantly judging my self-worth against others. My parents not listening to me, or at least feeling that way. Not quite an adult; not quite a kid. Like many 13-year-olds, I thought I was lost. I thought I was alone.
I wasn’t, but I didn’t know that until a long time later. I dealt with my feelings by pouring them into art. (I still deal with my feelings this way.) I’d always kept a journal, but at 13, it became my best friend. Open the journal. Write my truth. Breathe. Close the journal. No one there to argue with. No one to make me feel small.
When I wasn’t writing, I was drawing, reading (Go Ask Alice, The Outsiders, The Goats …), painting, beading. I covered every inch of my wall and ceiling in collage: cut-outs from magazines and books and newspapers and candy wrappers. I surrounded myself with words and pictures that felt comfortable to me: words I could relate to, pictures I wanted to touch.
What I wasn’t doing was sharing my feelings and connecting with other people.
Art is a form of escape. It’s therapy. If it wasn’t for my writing, I’m not sure how I might have handled my emotions at 13. But I needed a community to share that art with.
This is what helps me connect with middle schoolers. I know that they are struggling. I struggled, too. I know that they need art. I need it, too. I know that they just want someone who will listen, so that is what we offer.
A community that listens.
One of my students confided in me that she suffers from severe anxiety. I remember feeling similar at her age, and adults saying things like, “how hard can your life really be?” Of course, that didn’t help. So I encouraged that student to channel her emotions into writing.
Embrace the things you feel; don’t stuff them away.
I want her to feel safe here, and to find a community that can support and nurture her in the ways that I needed at her age.
That student now writes some of the most beautiful, raw poetry I’ve ever seen. She turns her anxiety into a character she can talk to, manipulate, control, and in that way, she is taking control of her life.
I asked her why she enjoys coming to Project Write Now, and she said, “It has brought me closer to new people and myself.” This is why Project Write Now is so important: it’s for the voices of the in-between. The voices of the rarely heard, but so desperately needed.
Another one of my students told me she struggles with her classmates–that she doesn’t have many friends at her school. She doubts herself. She lacks confidence, especially when it comes to sharing her work.
After one week of classes at Project Write Now, though, I was happy to hear that she and a few of my other students had begun getting together in their free time. She found friends outside of school. We helped her find the community she was missing. And after two weeks of classes, she felt comfortable sharing what she was writing in our group and never asked for a “pass” again.
What she was writing, by the way, was brilliant pictures of friendships torn apart, of characters made entirely out of needles, of feelings she didn’t know how to express in ways other than fiction.
Students have told me that sometimes they just want a break. They don’t always want something to do. Too much activity can be overwhelming, but still, they come to Project Write Now, because they know they’ll never regret it. It’s is just the break they need, a place that nurtures their souls.
I give my students my full attention because believe me, I get it. I know these “kids” have a lot to say. And when I acknowledge that and give them this space to do it, I’m giving them a chance to feel human (which, of course, they are).
Project Write Now offers a safe space that is hard to find anywhere else. This is a place to be yourself, at any age and anytime in your life. This is a space to both learn how to speak, and to be heard. It’s a place that recognizes that life is hard, yet embraces and nurtures that pain so you can shape it into something beautiful. Yes, even if you are “only 13.”
We all have our stories to tell.