Every week at work we go into the juvenile detention center and do a one hour art or writing workshop with youth there. It’s a great way to briefly spare them from boredom and recruit kids that are interested in participating in our programs once they’re out of detention. Sometimes it’s fantastic. The kids are engaged and happy to be there. Other weeks feel like disasters. The past couple weeks we’ve been expanding on the idea of home. We’ve encouraged them to come up with similes and metaphors for home. To think about what home is or where home is. To explore unique ways of describing where they come from. For one person it’s grandma’s house. For another it’s the basketball court. Or Chester’s Chicken. Or the neighborhood park. Or Liberia. After hearing/reading what emerged, it felt good to know that everyone could at least think of some place or someone that felt like home, even if the connotations weren’t great. On the other hand, my heart still sank into my gut. It’s hard to wrap my head around these homes I’ve never entered. But I think what they write exposes a lot. I learn a lot about them and where their heads are at without having to outright ask them and without them having to outright tell me. There’s this strange paradox I see of kids having to grow up way too fast, but never actually growing up. I’m not sure if that came out right or makes sense. Anyway…here’s an example (from a kid who wouldn’t perform his rap in front of me because he said my ears were too precious):
I come from a broken home, shattered dreams and stained mildew floors
Crawling around on all fours in my drawers
My dad always high like my ambitions to grow and survive
I went from not knowing when I’d eat to having so much, I’d throw away half my plate
I went from a rental property to a place I’d learn to call home
My dad smoked so much meth, he done lost his dome
But my mom, cold as stone, took me away and said he’d have to live on his own
Not always the best, my whole life’s been a test
I’d have to learn a lot of things on my own because my dad left me
On Father’s Day I used to cry
I’d wish death upon my dad in my own eyes
Through all the deception, all the lies, he left a son who would have to find his own will to strive and survive
This post is dedicated to Vivian, (age 4) who before taking afternoon naps will ask you to tell a story from your brain. Its best if these stories involve Vivian as a princess and her dog Lola. Sometimes she interrupts to correct your story and tailor it to her liking. Sometimes she stares at you in awe as if what you just said really, surely, truly happened. Vivian, never stop asking for brain stories.
I listen to The Moth podcast at work a lot. If you’ve never heard of The Moth before, it started as a story-telling night conducted by an author and poet who gathered his friends on his porch (like moths drawn to a porch light) for spellbinding tales. It grew into a non-profit dedicated to the art of storytelling. Anyone can pitch a story and be selected to share it on stage. There are Moth storytelling events hosted all over the country and the storytellers are recorded and put on the podcast. Collections of Moth stories have been made into books. It’s a really beautiful thing in my opinion. I find myself laughing and crying and getting swept up in other people’s worlds. I love that they’re real, you know? These are your average people and their sad/happy/funny/crazy/meaningful/terrific life experiences.
So I started thinking about if I were on The Moth…what story would I tell? Obviously by now I should have a plethora of moving, witty, exciting tales of my own, right? So I went into a mild panic because nothing came immediately to mind. My thought process was something like this: NOOOOOOOOOOOO! My life is boring. I haven’t done enough interesting things. What kind of life am I living if I don’t have engaging stories? TAYLOR, YOU NEED A LEGACY! Judging by the popular personal memoirs I’ve read in the last few years I should probably wait until something tragic happens in my life like death or divorce and then do something spontaneous and spiritual to find myself. Something with traveling and/or strenuous physical activity. I must accomplish a feat. I’ve always wanted to be fluent in French. Maybe I should just stop everything and devote years of my life to that. I’ll go live on a farm in the French countryside and a sweet old French grandpere will teach me the language while do stable chores in exchange for rent. I could go on a quest to learn the lost art of…something. Maybe I need to hang out with stranger people. Am I too cautious? Do I just come to terms with my very average, normal upbringing in a place where nothing too exciting happens?
Then I began to scale back when I considered the fact that the majority of Moth stories do not involve any of the things I just mentioned. In fact a lot of them are really average, every day occurrences but they’re presented in an enticing way because of the teller’s perspective. They aren’t stories chased after or forced, they’re experiences well-reflected upon. So maybe I’ll learn French from hypothetical farmer grandpere but I won’t put it at the top of my priority list. Instead I’m making it a goal to live life in a way that encourages storytelling. I’m going to be on the look out for life lessons. I’m going to be intentional about doing things that challenge me and embrace opportunities to do something unexpected. I’m going to write more things down. I’m going to live life so it’s a story to tell. I’m going to foster a creative existence, one that puts the little things on a pedestal because life is one ever-evolving work of art.