Saturday, November 26, 2022

Children at Risk

Here I am in my Girl Scout uniform, posing on the front lawn at our home in Stamford Connecticut. I am ten years old here. It's 1964. Just a few years before this photo was taken, my mother spent the summer at Fairfield Hills Mental Hospital. And then, the following summer the two of us were in a car accident on the Connecticut Turnpike. My mother nearly lost her leg. There was a lot of surgery.  For a long time, she was confined to a wheelchair, and once she recovered, she would be forever disabled.

But in this picture--don't I look happy?!

Actually, I was happy. I liked being a Girl Scout. And I liked earning merit badges for things like feeding my cat and learning to use my camera and camping out and building a fire and even for writing. Yes, you could get a merit badge for writing stories!

The Girl Scouts taught me to be kind and generous and to help people without making judgements. I learned to be gentle and always caring. After all, you never know what someone is going through or what they've just gone through or if their mother is at home in a wheelchair.

I've taught creative writing in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, at N.Y.U., Yale University, Fairfield University, U.C.L.A. and Wesleyan University, to seniors and to gifted high school student and to children-at-risk. 

It was the children at risk that taught me that every single one of us is "a child at risk." Maybe we don't see ourselves that way. Maybe we think, no I'm a grown-up and my life is fine and dandy.  But what I've learned from nearly fifty years of teaching writing is that we are all at risk.

And this is a good thing--at least when it comes to creativity. Our creativity is born out of that vulnerable place within us--the place that holds our unfinished business, our secrets and confusion. It's the part of us that is still the girl with the mother in the wheelchair.

Creative friends--your assignment for this week is to find the Girl Scout within you and sit down and have a good talk. Ask her a few questions. Listen. Be still. And then, wait for a message. Something slightly strange and meaningful only to you. A secret.

Hold this secret close to your heart. And then, let it bloom--but only when it's ready.

Oh, and have fun.



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