Maybe this post is for teachers. Or maybe it’s for someone out there who now and then feels the urge to write, even if just a few scribbled words in a journal. All I want to say about it is this: Take the time, make the time.
What prompted me to think along these lines were some treasures I unearthed while searching bravely for something else among the papers piled in crates in my garage. There was a stack of kids’ “literary journals” going all the way back to Laguna Beach, 1994, when I started an after-school writers’ club for children in the library of El Morro Elementary School. It seems odd, but I did that, and I wasn’t even a teacher yet, and kids showed up, and they wrote. They wrote about soccer and cycles of life, about home and homelessness, about forests and fear, seashells and rain, anxiety and laughter. We put together a handsome book of their poems, complete with tiny footprints on the cover, and we called it Small Journeys. A little girl in the writing club named Erica had an epiphany afterwards: “You can write about what you have seen, what the world is like.” Small Journeys is filled with what these now grown-up children saw and what their world was like, and it was a pleasure to sit in the garage and flip through it. I hope Erica kept up her writing.
I also found simple stories in my garage written in fledgling English by the kids from Mexico and El Salvador that I knew in my student teaching days in Laguna Hills, and I still remember how proud they were to present these to their parents. There were delightful booklets of poems and copies of Insight from Vista de las Cruces here in Gaviota, and a dazzling stack of Meridians from nearby Dunn Middle School, one of them subtitled “Glittering with Possibilities” and literally adorned with glitter, a speck of which is still sparkling on my hand at this moment.
The content? Glimpses of moments and meaning in the lives of kids, sometimes frivolous, often deeply moving, things that needed to be said whether they knew it or not. Maybe a few of these kids were taking their first wobbly steps onto a lifelong pathway of expression, and maybe some of them never wrote again if not forced, but all of them at least had these focused opportunities to craft words and even see them in print. And here they are, exquisitely preserved as if in amber.
Sitting in the garage by the bicycles and surfboards, I smiled as I read a first grade girl’s image of sky horses who come out in the night, leaping and playing until morning, and another’s armadillo sittin’ on his porch gettin’ a daily scorch. I read about fears of falling with no arms to catch you, a backyard that was a boy’s entire world, fog that blocked the path to noon. A middle school girl remembered her grandfather teaching her how to fish (putting his “rusty calloused hands on top of mine”) and only later understood what he really meant when he told her to throw herself out into the real world and see what she could catch. Another kid remembered his great-grandmother, who smelled of sherry and always told him that raspberries were the best food in the world.
Beloved dogs romp across these pages, dancers dance, campfires flicker, gum sticks on the soles of shoes. One boy wrote about sketching a meticulous portrait in pencil of his school principal, wrinkles and all, as a gift for her. It was the best drawing he ever did, but when he saw her reaction, he crumpled it up and threw it away and learned that even a loving gesture can be misunderstood. Tears are shed here, trees are climbed, and bright Saturday mornings keep on coming, promising anything.
Thank God we took the time. And if you’re a teacher or a parent, please make sure you do, no matter what the big shots are telling you these days. Let kids write freely now and then to voice their feelings and fantasies, to explore an event and discover the learning lodged within it, to experience the sheer pleasure of language. Let them see the page as a space where they can be silly or serious, defiant or heartbroken, connected or alone. They may find a lifelong refuge.
As for me, I don’t know what I’m going to do with all the gorgeous and heart-rending student publications sitting in my garage. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with my own journals, a far scarier prospect. I just know to the core of me that they needed to happen, and I’m really glad they did.