Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Writing

Horrible, horrible, horrible. That was my reaction to the Connecticut school shooting. I don't want to imagine the devastation of the families of the people who were killed. I can't help but cry when I think of twenty children who were sent off to school yesterday morning, but never made it home to be tucked into bed last night. I feel for the children who survived the shooting, but saw things that no one should have to witness. It will be a long and difficult journey for them to come to terms with the trauma they experienced.

I made the conscious choice to shelter my own children from any news of this horror. I don't want them to think that everything in life is sunshine and roses, but this is not the event to use as a teachable moment. The location of the crime and the fact that the majority of victims were children makes it too relatable and imaginable to them. They don't need to think that this might happen to them in our little neighborhood school.

When the time comes that the children learn about Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or 9/11, I want them to have a way to process their thoughts and feeling about these events. Of course if they want to talk about their fears and concerns, I will be there to listen. If they need to talk to someone else, a therapist or counselor, that will be absolutely fine. But, I will also encourage them to write about their feelings.

Ever since I was little, I loved to write. Writing pretty much got me through high school. You know those, "It gets better" videos that have been made to convince gay teens to hang on, that there is life after high school? Well, honestly, I think that that message is true for a lot of teenagers, gay and straight. I can't really explain the sources of my high school angst, I just remember spending the better part of four years feeling like I wasn't participating in my own life. Things were happening over which I no control and I was just going through the motions each day, marking time until I could get out.

Writing did several important things for me. First, it gave me control. When real life went awry and things didn't turn out the way I wanted, I could plot true life events into a fictional story and change the outcome. Of course my reality didn't change, but in some alternative universe, all was right. I was lucky to have a wonderful teacher who encouraged me to write (shout out to Carol Lefelt) and forced me to submit my short stories to contests. For someone like me who has a massive fear that I totally suck and no one is telling me, it was a pretty hard sell. When I won first place for a story I wrote my junior year, it was the first time I felt like I was really good at something. Success in writing gave me some much-needed confidence.

The Boy inherited a lot of my personality traits, so I've encouraged him to start writing. I bought him a notebook, zipped off a very official looking label for the front, and instructed the girls to keep away: This is the Boy's property, his thoughts, and they are not to defile it with pictures of flowers and ponies. The Boy can also have problems expressing his anger and frustration (hello, me again!) and writing can help him to make sense of these feelings.

Our wonderful babysitter, Tara came yesterday to watch the Girl because she was still home sick from school. I was desperate to get a little bit of Christmas shopping accomplished, and frankly, just needed to be away from the house for a while. While I was out, Tara showed the kids this great writing website called Storybird.

If your kid is a little more visual and won't go for the notebook writing, this might be a good alternative. The website features series of pictures by different artists that could tell different stories. You just go in and supply the text for the pictures. It's not just for kids, either. If you've always wanted to write a children's book, this would be a great resource. There are also a lot of websites that cater to kid writers in the tween and teen age groups.  

For adults, my friend Erica posted about the website Cowbird (oddly, I don't think that it's related to Storybird). The website encourages people to share stories with a goal to create a "public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on," available for others to look to for guidance. A great goal. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, right?

Obviously, writing isn't going to save us from random violent acts. But, if it lets one confused kid find peace in our crazy world, that's a good thing.  

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