Sunday, February 21, 2010

The kids are all right

I know I’m a hack.

I work with a fistful of writers who are better than me, know several more personally and seem to be reading them all the time.

But it’s humbling to find a slew of middle schoolers more creative than me.

I covered the Power of the Pen competition Saturday in Painesville. Some of these seventh and eighth graders are fantastic writers. I don’t mean “fantastic for their age.” I mean they are better than me now.

Yes, some of them spend of the bulk of their time writing about “princesses and butterflies,” as one competitor put it. But they also tackle some issues I wouldn’t have considered until I was about a decade older.

They wrote about loss, regret and suicide — not in a maudlin or tactless way either. And they weren’t just creative in what stories they told, they found unusual ways to tell them. When prompted with the theme of “summer camp,” one teen narrated her story from the perspective of a filthy mattress lying on the ground.

I loved talking to the kids too. In general, writers are fun to interview because they tend to have unique perspectives and a way with language. Moreover, kids are the best interview subjects, because they haven’t learned how to speak in cliches yet.

For example, take this chestnut from eighth grader Megan Cerbin. She said this when I asked her what her favorite thing about writing was.

“I like that I can be myself. I can’t always be myself with people in real life. There are a lot of things in life that get in the way, a lot of everyday things. With writing — I can be real. I can be myself. I can write about whatever I want, and I don’t have to worry about what other people are going to think of me. I can just write.”

For someone who said she has trouble being herself, that’s raw honesty.
I think a lot of writers feel like Megan. We’re always restraining the crazy or the funny or the sad, because we think someone might not get it. But when we write, we can let our freak flag fly.

Thank you, Megan. Thank you to all of the kids who wrote Saturday. Thank you for being yourself. Thank you falettinmebemiceelfagin. Thank you for keeping me humble.

-Jason Lea,



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