Author Ann Elia Stewart blogs about writing
You'll hear people say as they grow older, "My, that was a short week." Or: "Where does the time go?" In my case, six months flew by without a single entry, and here it is, twenty days before Thanksgiving. How can that be?
One way to explain it involves a certain only child who resides three thousand miles away, in Los Angeles, the heart of his soul. It is the only place to try and break into the behind-the-scenes world of fantasy, horror or superhero movies replete with creatures galore. For that is what he does: he is a creature designer first, a special makeup effects artist second. And always, the heart of my soul. His father and I enjoyed two wonderful weeks with our only son back in August, and my only wish is that I could fly out there this weekend to see his sculptures featured in a downtown Los Angeles gallery (The Hive) showing. I'll have to settle for iPhone photos and wait for Christmas to give him a real hug.
I credit him with helping me understand teenagers -- their desire to find themselves, stand out (or blend in), question everything. For five afternoons a week, I have the pleasure (and sometimes, the heartache) of commanding an audience of thirteen bright, talented young writers who soak in, it seems to me by their finished work, every word I say, every experience I share. What to many of us older folk may look like rebellion, I see individuality, speaking up for one's beliefs, trying to set oneself apart from the pressure of having to fit in. But then, I work for the Capital Area School for the Arts in Harrisburg, a school that prides itself on honoring students' individuality, and dedicated to bringing out the best within them.
I may have accepted the position because I missed my son, his vitality, his ambitions, his incredible talent for sculpting and encyclopedic recall of movie trivia. At least, at first. Now, four years into it, I find myself anxious to get to work (isn't that refreshing?), curious to hear and discuss what's on my students' minds, amazed at the material they produce.
I'll let you all know when we produce our first on-line version of our literary magazine, GENRE, coming soon in early December. It will feature thirteen perfectly structured, ten-minute screenplays, five of which will be made by our film/video students. The subject matter provides a window into the mind of our youth, their distillation of world events with which they are continually bombarded, their trying to make sense of life as we know it in 2013.
Teenagers are notoriously brooding, narcissistic creatures. But the subject matter they write about covers the range of topics one finds every day on the front page: domestic violence, school shootings, drugs, religion, bullying, suicide. Some create characters to stand in for reality, others provide chilling stories, unvarnished. No rom-coms among them, all perfectly rendered, and heart-stopping.
Imagine this: over a period of a few days, as I read the screenplays to the film students (I read the student's work to keep it anonymous until the "winners" to be filmed are announced. In my book, for the record, they are all winners), a room of twenty high school students sat without fidgeting or interruptions. In fact, silence reigned: you-could-hear-a-pin-drop silence. Each script demanded their attention, and with some, I detected audible sighs as I signed off with "Fade to Black."
Ten years ago, I couldn't imagine myself teaching teenagers. But what I find more amazing is that ten years have flown by just as these last six months disappeared into the vapor of life. I'm not trying to impart any sort of lesson within this recitation, but I do find myself slowing down more to take in each day, to enjoy the ambitions and viewpoints of my young charges, to revel in my son's successes. It's no longer about me. It's about our youth. Maybe by listening, allowing them the freedom to write what they want (but well!), and sometimes helping them to make sense of a world that seems to be veering out of control, they'll launch themselves into it with a healthy dose of empowerment. And that could only serve to benefit us all.
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