A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit schools across the state through a program called “Poetry Out Loud,” a national organization that our state arts organization facilitates.
I spoke to the students in a few different formats, gave them writing prompts, talked music and road time and tried my best to give them a chance to share their stories too. Because really, these kids, they’re more interesting than I ever will be.
Things like this make me more nervous than some of my biggest performances. Because I remember a time when I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t forget what it was like to be young. And nothing reminds me of the ways in which I’ve failed that promise than standing in a gym full of young people.
I can’t remember the context in which the promise was made, but I do remember a time in my life when I was jumping into the big lake, the cool summer temperature creating goose bumps out of my skin, the freezing water closing in over my head no match for my desire to swim and dive and splash. I came up for air to catch a glimpse of the grownups sitting in lawn chairs and long sleeves on the shoreline and wondered when it happens. Do we just wake up one day more likely to choose the comfort of the shore over jumping off the rocks?
I couldn’t imagine it and didn’t want to believe it. At a young age, I was unusually aware of fleeting moments, and I think writing was my way of capturing time and holding on to it for dear life.
That might be why I’ve never thrown out a thing I’ve written on paper since I started, a little tidbit I shared with the students hoping to remind them that what they have to say is valuable.
I keep those books on a shelf next to my bed and hardly ever open them up. But every once in a while I’ll be looking for something, shifting things in my home and I’ll pull one out and thumb through the scribbles, the unfinished lines, the clichés and imagery and self portraits and I’ll be shot back in time — to the rushing heart beats and confusion of falling in love with a boy, to the pressure of a future undecided, to the failings of a friendship or the frustrations of a family — and I’m so happy for the gift of these unpublished, private words.
Because they remind me of what it looked, felt and sounded like to come into this flawed and hopeful version of myself — what it was like to be young and raw and true.
Kids, you know more about who you are than they’ll ever give you credit for.
And as you grow up, don’t discount the power of the kid who chose to swim no matter the weather. She knows some good and true things about what you want out of this one short and precious life.