Introducing Young Writers Mentor Ryan T. Parker

Introducing Young Writers Mentor Ryan T. Parker

The Pure Imagination Program is honored to celebrate the wonderful work of Ryan T. Parker, Justice Lopez, and the students participating in the Open Mic Movement. Their passion for reading and writing is infectious and an inspiration to teachers in the inner-city and beyond of the power of student-centered learning. By empowering and honoring the voices of students taking part in Open Mic Fridays, you can see how they are inspiring not only more committed students but more committed citizens engaged in their communities.

Ryan T. Parker is a Manchester based poet, teacher of the year recipient artivist. Raised by a strong, single mother in Norwich, Connecticut, he has been penning poems and preaching peace since the age of ten. After graduating from Norwich Free Academy, he went on to receive a degree in English at Eastern Connecticut State University and a Master’s degree in teaching at Sacred Heart University. Influenced by the strength, wisdom and humor of his mom, love for hip hop and people,  his practices with tutoring at ECSU, and his personal frustrations with his own educational experiences and education system as a whole (his 10th grade English teacher had a sign in her classroom which read, “Silence is Golden” –Ahhh! Freaky stuff!), Ryan developed a passion for teaching and promised himself he would break that golden silence and bring golden noise into education! For the last fourteen years, he has kept his promise teaching English in Manchester, CT public schools, coaching youth poets, and performing and presenting on hip hop poetics and the significance of empowering youth. In addition to teaching middle school students, Ryan also consults with educators running workshops and professional developments centered on The Open Mic Movement in Education and teaching educators strategies for establishing and maintaining effective classroom environments.

Ryan has also presented at numerous educational conferences including LID, CONFRATUTE, NYCORE and COESBOC, NEAG, delivered a TEDx Talk titled 'Transforming Struggle into Strength', featured as a guest poet performer along with Pam Nomura in Hartford Connecticut’s Riverwood Poetry Series, starred as the feature poet at Hartford’s RealArtWay’s’ Inescapable Rhythms Poetry Series and is currently writing a Memoir and a guide to The Open Mic Movement in Education. Ryan also devotes time towards traveling to various school communities performing poems, giving motivational talks and training staff and students in igniting open mic movements.   When he’s not teaching or presenting, Ryan loves rapping, laughing, poeming, coaching youth poets, running, snowboarding, kayaking, hiking with his bloodhound, Otter, and eating chocolate chip cookies (preferably organic).
 

On The Art of Teaching

On The Art of Teaching

The following is a series of responses to questions posed by Mia Funk at The Creative Process project in Paris, France. Mia and I have been working collaboratively over the past two years. I serve as faculty adviser for our high school’s Creative Writing Club; my students submit their work to Mia, who publishes their writing in the Young Writers: Pure Imagination section of her website and traveling exhibition, which features over 100 Leading Authors in the world today, as well as creative works by contributors from over countries and testimonials from teachers about the art of their craft. Teaching is indeed primarily an art, the vigorous attempts in U.S. graduate schools to frame it as a science notwithstanding; the most sophisticated and clever “strategies” can never ensure genuine student engagement; only the development of a viable relationship – a bond of trust and mutual regard and respect – between the classroom teacher and individual students can accomplish that.

–VINCENT WALSH

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

When did you realize you wanted to become a teacher? Were you always interested in helping people? Are your parents teachers? 

VINCENT WALSH

I never planned on being a teacher as I was growing up, or even after I entered college. My mother was a homemaker/housekeeper; my father worked as a sales trainer for Big Pharma; I never considered his a teaching position, although looking back now I suppose it was in its own way. I did want to focus on a career where I would be helping people; I thought at first that I wanted to be a medical doctor. During my second year of pre-med, however, I realized that all the science and technology involved was not for me, since I had no real aptitude for it, so I switched majors to philosophy, and then, when the world of abstractions became too taxing, I changed my major to English, thinking I would become a successful writer of high quality literature, a famous novelist like my lodestar, William Faulkner. Teaching had to have been on my mind on some level, however, for I entered the doctoral program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in the fall1969; after the Kent State killings on May 4, 1970, I joined with colleagues in organizing a student strike at UNC, in solidarity with college and graduate students all over the country. Happy to say, our strike was successful, and remained completely peaceful. That summer I traveled all around the country, meeting with various political activists, looking for purpose and direction; I decided to model my life after George Orwell, who insisted that the best writing derives from lived experience. So I took jobs as a cab driver in New York City, then a manual laborer on construction crews in two states, a dish washer/bus boy/waiter/manager at a small restaurant in Chapel Hill, a school bus driver in Connecticut, as well as a third shift factory worker, before finally taking a position as a medical writer for pharmaceutical companies. I made a lot of money in this last position but quit after two years when I realized that these pharmaceutical companies were using peasants throughout the Third World as guinea pigs to test their products for side effects. In 1976, desperate to find work to support myself, I applied for a full-time position as a grade eight and nine English teacher in an elite private school. On the very first day of classes, I realized that I loved teaching; I suddenly felt that I was born to teach. Moving from medical writing to teaching involved a 90% pay cut, but I never looked back.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are some of the most rewarding things about teaching? Do you stay in touch with your students?

WALSH

I still hear fairly often from former students via postings on Facebook as well as occasional emails. It was beyond gratifying in 2013 to see messages from students that I taught in the Bronx back in 1983, citing me as their favorite English teacher ever. It feels good to know I’ve had a positive impact on young people’s lives, especially because the current younger generation faces challenges far more daunting and dangerous than any previous human generation has ever had to confront; the continued survival of our species is literally at stake due to the severe twin threats of climate catastrophe and nuclear war. This burden of the younger generation is only made more onerous by the fact that major media companies in the West are doing all they can to keep young people misinformed about the grave dangers we all face in these deeply troubling times, because presenting an accurate picture of world affairs might interfere with corporate profits. We condemn pagan cultures for practicing human sacrifice, yet we sacrifice millions of human beings on the altar of corporate profits in these so-called “modern” and “enlightened” times. Allen Ginsburg addressed his epic poem “Howl” to the Babylonian idol Moloch for good reason.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Describe an experience which made all the hard work worthwhile.

WALSH

Working in the Bronx from 1981 through 1983 marked my first experience with inner-city teaching, which is vastly different from teaching in elite private schools and public schools in suburbia. One short anecdote should serve to illustrate my meaning. Early in the fall semester of 1981, only weeks into my role as an inner-city teacher, an Hispanic student named Jessica asked to speak with me after dismissal; she told me her African American boyfriend had run afoul of a local gang, and had been forced to move to Miami to get clear of the trouble. Jessica and David, both 17 years-old, were very much in love; David had promised Jessica he would come back home to her as soon as possible. Unfortunately, members of the gang that was after David began stalking Jessica, with the aim of kidnapping her to force David’s return to NYC. Jessica’s parents did not return home from their day jobs until 5 p.m. every evening, so Jessica was fearful of going home before then. So I stayed after school every day for the rest of the school year in order to drive Jessica home at 5; each time I dropped her off in front of her apartment complex, she warned me to make sure all my car doors remained locked and to pull away from the curb immediately after she exited the car and raced for her front door. Jessica was worried that gang members might be lurking nearby; she warned me that I could be shot if I dallied even for a couple of extra seconds. Jessica miraculously escaped several kidnapping attempts between October and June. Then, on the Sunday afternoon prior to final exam week at the end of the spring semester, I received a message from Jessica; David had been ambushed and killed in Miami.

I’ve always thought of Jessica and David’s tragic love story as a twentieth century, an inner-city version of Romeo and Juliet.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are some things you wished you had known as teacher starting out?

WALSH

I wish I had realized how much resistance I would have to face as a teacher who intuitively believes in students’ rights and who espouses student-centered, reciprocal learning as the optimal educational experience. I was young and idealistic when I first entered the classroom; I had been active in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements while in college during the sixties and felt closely connected to the hippie revolution. I did not realize how brutal and destructive the harsh reactions to the liberating tendencies of the sixties would become. Because I was hopeful and naïve, I failed to guard adequately against the relentless criticism and insidious slander from authoritarian colleagues who created obstacles at every step of the way. The drama escalated to absurd extremes from time to time, as when my Reading Department Chairperson would crouch outside my classroom door listening to me teach through the keyhole, and then run to the Headmaster every time I gave an incorrect answer to a student’s atypical grammar question. Sounds ridiculous, yet petty harassment like this occurred on a regular basis.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Which teachers, parents, colleagues have been important to you and your evolution as a teacher? How did their example or advice impact you and the kind of teacher you would become?  What books were important to you growing up or to your formation as a teacher? And which books/creative works do you recommend to your students?

WALSH

Two teachers had a major influence on the teacher I am (and strive to be) today. The first was an English professor at Fordham in the sixties, Dr. Erwin Geissman. Dr. Geissman was almost completely blind, wore dark green glasses, had a hair-lip and broken front teeth; when he paced in front of the classroom he sometimes reminded me of Quasimodo. Yet Dr. Geissman was masterful and emanated pure love for literature. Students from colleges and universities all over New York City would audit his courses just to hear him speak, so the room was always filled to capacity. He would walk in and step in front carrying nothing but a copy of the text we were working on – Faulkner’s Absalom or Joyce’s Ulysses, for example – and then proceed to talk for two or three straight hours, leaving his student audience totally mesmerized, utterly edified. Geissman’s lectures flowed smoothly and eloquently, like the cadence of the magical prose we were reading, evaluating, and celebrating. He was known for reciting page after page of Ulysses from memory. What I learned from Dr. Geissman is that to teach literature effectively one must live it, not simply analyze it. Literature resides in the realm of the ineffable; it combines intellect and intuition into felt perception, which offers a profound if tentative grasp of the reality of our daily experience. It is not enough to read and discuss literature; one must learn to love it, to become it.

The second teacher who has had a profound influence on my teaching is Noam Chomsky. I began corresponding with him in 1994, first by postal letters and eventually via email, and we have been friends ever since. The fact that Noam takes time out of his very demanding schedule to answer individual inquiries like mine continues to amaze me; I’ve met with him several times at talks he’s given and also in his office at MIT. There is so much I could say about this truly wonderful man, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll point to just two major influences he has had on my life as a teacher and mentor, even though I have never formally been registered as a student in any of the courses he has taught. Reading Noam’s books and listening to his lectures provides me with a comprehensive picture of the world; Noam presents an intellectual paradigm which corresponds to and explains what I see in the news every day, as well as what I am learning about contemporary international affairs and global events. Previous to encountering Noam’s comprehensive macrocosmic perspective, I felt hopelessly confused by the news I was gleaning from newspapers and media outlets. Noam’s vision enables one to make coherent sense of the world; very few thinkers or public intellectuals provide a comprehensive intellectual paradigm that can accomplish this. I have often regarded Noam’s lectures as “state of the world” addresses; even now, at age 90, his grasp of and understanding of global events remains unparalleled.

Noam’s second impact on my life has been more personal. I was raised under circumstances of severe child abuse; I never learned what it means to have loving, supportive parents – my early experience was marked by constant (as well as extreme) verbal and physical violence. Over the past twenty-four years, Noam’s consistent kindness and encouragement has been a powerful healing influence. Noam has never once failed to answer my letters and emails; his presence in my life has been continuous – we remain in steady contact. Noam has been the father that I never had before, as well as a lodestar that guides my work and my life. People claim that Noam is an atheist. I’m skeptical, since his answer when asked about this usually entails something like: “First, explain what it is you mean by the term God, and then I’ll tell you whether I accept that or not.Sounds reasonable enough to me. In any case, Noam is surely an outstanding exemplar of what it means to be a humanitarian; he is without doubt the most Christ-like person I’ve ever encountered. His commitment to social justice and his love for people – all the peoples of the world – inspires and informs every aspect of his remarkable life’s work.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Do you think telling stories, engaging students’ imaginations is an important part of the learning process? What do you feel makes your approach to teaching a little different than what educators might find in books on pedagogy?

WALSH

I tell my students stories frequently; it helps them get to know me better, and helps me build relationships with them, both as individuals and as a group. When I tell stories in class, I try to find anecdotes that are interesting, poignant and/or amusing, as well as unusual; these stories make it clear to students that I’m an ordinary person, just like they are. I’m not another faceless representative of “the system,” what Roger Waters would call “just another brick in the wall.” The Dominican novelist Julia Alvarez, whose work in general does not impress me because of her neoliberal complacency, does provide one keen insight that is worth quoting in this context: “the importance of stories, how after food and clothing and shelter, stories is how we take care of each other” (Yo! page 290). Alvarez’s aphorism makes profound sense; I want to share my stories with students, and I encourage them to share theirs with me; this is how we share (and celebrate) our humanity. This is how “we take care of each other.”

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Besides teaching, what other art forms and disciplines interest you? Do you write creative fiction, make visual, music, film…? What makes that discipline distinct from all other art forms?

WALSH

Apart from love for literature and immersion in issues involving social justice and human rights, music is the passion that permeates and informs my daily existence, chiefly the poetry and melodies of classic rock. Every night before retiring I sit at the keyboard and perform covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, and many others. Currently, I am combining that practice with intense interest in the amazing world of hip-hop, into which I am gaining entry through a process of reciprocal learning with my inner-city students, who are the experts in this area, while I am clearly only a neophyte. Music is the universal language, emanating from a place inside us that is deeper than verbal language; I somehow feel the meaning of lyrics that I do not comprehend or understand. In fact, verbal language is really a form of music, for to be effective and compelling language must include the same essential qualities that characterize inspiring music: cadence and rhythm, rhyme, voice, tone, imagery, and so on. Thus, music connects all human hearts everywhere.

I find this phenomenon particularly interesting and significant because it resonates with basic scientific facts: that all of us derive from a single small breeding group in East Africa approximately 50 to 75,000 years go, which means all human beings, despite superficial differences in skin color and facial features, share the same DNA; thus, we are all truly members of a single global human family. There is also emerging evidence that all human beings share the same basic understanding of the difference between right and wrong – in effect, we share a Universal Moral Grammar comparable to our Universal Grammar for language acquisition. Recognition of these facts can provide the basis for a total transformation in how we organize our societies and the global economy: away from an overemphasis on competition, and the false philosophy of social Darwinism, and more in the direction of collaboration and cooperation among peoples for the well-being of all concerned. Reestablishing this crucial balance will enable us to address the dysfunctional disparity between the rich and poor, readjust our relationship with the natural world, so that it is based on harmony and sustainability rather than ruthless exploitation, and establish international harmony and enduring world peace. John Lennon expressed this idea beautifully in his timeless anthem “Imagine”: “Imagine all the people sharing all the earth – you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What is your advice for young teachers and students?

WALSH

My advice to aspiring teachers is to remember that knowledge unfolds from within, so it is essential for learning to become a reciprocal process, an interactive engagement where each person involved brings insight to the ongoing conversation. Students already have expert knowledge of their own that needs to be valued and taken into account in the educational process. The classroom culture must be based on mutual respect, with the explicit understanding that the teacher’s role is that of an expert facilitator who encourages and supports students’ efforts to succeed. The teacher does not have all the answers; instead, truth emerges through a process of collective inquiry that involves full participation and steady contributions from everyone in the room, teacher as well as students. Above all, the teacher should not presume the right to act as the gatekeeper of knowledge, setting a bar at a certain level and insisting that students meet that mark in order to satisfy arbitrarily imposed norms and standards. Students should be free to pursue their unique intellectual interests, and to select their own topics for scholarly research and writing academic papers. Younger students benefit much more from being permitted to write open topic essays than they do from responding to assigned teacher prompts. The goal in every class should be for every student to pass. I recommend arranging the seats in a circle if at all possible, and that the teacher sits in the circle, on the same level as the students, as a participant in a collective learning process. When an adult stands over adolescents and children, the effect can be intimidating; the body language involved implies that knowledge is necessarily imposed by authority in a top-down fashion, which is antithetical to the way young people (all people, in fact) actually learn. I also strongly recommend that classroom management issues be dealt with according to the principles of Restorative Practices, an approach that carefully evaluates antecedents to misconduct, and addresses behavioral issues as teachable moments. What students learn in our classes about socio-emotional and character development, with the ultimate goal of achieving self-regulation and self-management, is just as important as what they learn about subject content.

Having and exercising a healthy sense of humor is very important in working with children and adolescents; it is essential, however, to avoid cynical, satirical comments, which only serve to wound, antagonize, and alienate. Humor has two faces: we can laugh with, or we can laugh at. The latter fragments a learning community (which is what we want our classroom to become), and disrupts the collaboration and cooperation that are intrinsic to growth in human knowledge and understanding. A positive form of humor, which encourages everyone to enjoy the funny side of a situation, can go a long way toward dispelling tension and diffusing mistrust, reinforcing and strengthening positive relationships between the teacher and individual students.

I strongly recommend that prospective teachers who plan to teach in the inner-city learn as much as they can about the socio-economic and cultural norms and traditions of the community they intend to serve. It is harmful for teachers to come into the inner-city with a “missionary” attitude, convinced that their task is to uplift and enlighten the backward and ignorant. Inner-city students typically manifest a verbal facility that is quite remarkable, far beyond my capacity to match or replicate; they memorize endless lines from rap lyrics and popular songs, which they recite spontaneously and joyfully together in a manner that is astonishing to behold. Moreover, many of them can improvise seemingly endless lines and rhymes on the spur of moment, a skill I find impossible to imitate. A new teacher in an inner-city school will immediately notice differences in hair styles, as well as manners of talking, walking, and interacting that are quite distinct from what one typically observes in suburban schools, where demographics tend to be increasingly Caucasian, reflecting the dominant culture. Regarded closely, one soon realizes that these cultural differences are truly creative and distinctive, suggesting an inner vitality that is wonderfully refreshing and invigorating. It is no wonder that Caucasian students from suburban schools typically mimic inner-city styles and fashions in clothing, music, and often even in speech. And it is hardly an accident that hip-hop is now the predominant art form in the United States, as well as all across the world.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What books would you recommend to new teachers?

WALSH

To teach well and effectively in the inner-city, one must understand the traumatic impacts of poverty; I highly recommend Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind as a core text for inner-city teacher preparation. One must also think in terms of culturally relevant pedagogy and culturally relevant curriculum. For insight into culturally relevant pedagogy, I can think of no better resource than Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. With regard to culturally relevant curriculum, the selection of reading materials is especially important. Encouraging young people to read is a problem in all schools today because of the prevalence of smart phones, texting, social media, video gaming and so on. We adults tend to forget that our own reading practice typically involves engagement with highly interesting materials that are relevant to our daily concerns; adolescents are no different. When I invite my inner-city students to become involved with The Great Gatsby, I’m confronted with indifference and apathy, for they have no relevant experience, no ready way to place the text in context; they are being challenged to understand a social and cultural milieu for which they little, if any, background. In sharp contrast, when I present these same students with Richard Wright’s Black Boy, or Nigger by Dick Gregory, Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets, Luis Rodriguez’s La Vida Loca: Always Running, Monster: Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Senyika Shakur, or Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, their response is immediate and compelling. Books like these arouse intense interest, stimulate lively discussions and debates, promote critical thinking as well as writing fluency, and awaken students’ desire to improve their reading fluency and reading comprehension skills. The lesson is clear: we must meet students where they are; we need to provide them with learning materials and lessons that are closely connected to their lived experience, and then gradually expand their awareness and knowledge of broader realms of their literary heritage, including texts like Gatsby. Reading fluency, reading comprehension, and critical thinking are survival skills; we must ensure that our students are acquiring these if we ever hope to see them become successful, fulfilled, happy adults who function productively in our society and contribute to the common good.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

You're currently developing an educational initiative?

WALSH

I’m currently working on developing culturally relevant pedagogy and culturally relevant curriculum in collaboration with a small cadre of colleagues, African American and Hispanic educators who know much more about this field than I do. We’re focusing on encouraging students to become engaged with their own learning process by providing them with texts that reflect and connect to their lived experience. At the inner-city high school where I currently teach, only 38% of our students go on to college or university, so it makes little sense to emphasize academic argumentation and scholarly research with the majority of our students; these are not skills they will be called on to apply after they graduate from high school and seek entry into the job market. My main concern (and worry) for most of my students is that their existential alienation from an educational process that ignores or minimizes their aptitude, cultural background, and socio-economic status causes them to fail to develop job-ready skills; they will therefore end up at risk for becoming homeless, or for being inexorably drawn into illegal activities that suck them into the hopeless void of the school-to-prison pipeline. As Michelle Alexander documents so eloquently and convincingly in her landmark study The New Jim Crow, once minority adolescents become involved in the U.S. criminal justice system, even for misdemeanor offenses, they are likely to remain trapped in a pervasive system of human bondage for the rest of their lives. The racism and economic caste system in this country is a moral blight and an embarrassing disgrace, a scandal internationally; these are issues we must discuss openly and honestly with our students if we hope to rejuvenate our nation’s formal commitment to democracy and fundamental human rights.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?

WALSH

Technology obviously has a huge impact on all our daily lives, for better as well as for worse. Properly and appropriately implemented, technology enhances the quality of our lives immeasurably in a wide variety of domains. Yet insofar as innovations in technology, which was originally developed through R&D funded by taxpayer dollars and then handed over to private companies for profit, remains primarily driven by the profit motive, it is increasingly likely to have harmful consequences on our lives. My chief concern in this regard is the claim made by so-called tech geniuses like Bill Gates and the co-founders of Google, namely, that all human knowledge is quantifiable, which is simply not true. The limitations of what our three dimensional brains can comprehend and understand in an infinite universe are actually quite narrowly constricted; beyond basic facts that have become painstakingly established over centuries in the hard sciences such as physics and chemistry, much of the rest of the reality we confront remains mysterious, ineffable, accessible only through speculation, conjecture, intuition, and imagination. Tech moguls want to believe in quantification because this concept obviously enhances their bottom line: the more their computers can do for us, the more computers these entrepreneurs can sell, adding to their endlessly voracious appetite for personal wealth, as well as for the political power that accompanies wealth in a neoliberal economic order.

There is no doubt in my mind that education is the key for preparing our younger generation to deal with the awesome challenges that are currently facing the human race – chief among them the imminent threats to continued human survival posed by nuclear holocaust and environmental catastrophe. Yet when one examines the effects that tech moguls like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg exercise on educational systems throughout the world, especially in Africa, but also in the United States, one immediately perceives that these tech gurus’ insistence of the quantification of knowledge involves merely the preparation of young people to process data efficiently in whatever corporate niches they are able to access in a job market that is becoming increasingly skewed by disparities between the tiny, elite few who able to make a decent living, and the vast majority who are left to struggle just to make ends meet. Critical thinking clearly has no place in the educational system valorized by the likes of Gates and Zuckerberg, who expect students to perform as efficient cogs in the neoliberal economic machine. Yet critical thinking is the most important skill we can teach young people, not only for negotiating challenges and obstacles in their personal lives, but also for finding solutions to enormously complicated challenges such as healing our environment and establishing harmonious international relations on an enduring basis. We urgently need educators who are willing to confront accepted social and intellectual norms, who do not hesitate to ask difficult questions, who encourage students to thinking outside the box. We need teachers who see young people as far more than just potentially efficient cogs in a corporate machine, who encourage their students to take risks, to be creative, to open realms of exploration and discovery that have never been accessible to human beings before. This planet was once a paradise, yet we continue to abuse and degrade our beautiful home due to an economic system that privileges private acquisition, by means of violence and oppression, at the expense of the common good. This must change if we hope to enjoy a viable future.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are your hopes/concerns for the future of literature?

WALSH

My view of contemporary literature reflects similar concerns. Literary artists can and should serve as the conscience of humanity, calling upon us all to constantly examine the quality of the decisions we make and the consequences they produce in our lives. I’ve always felt that literary artists – all artists, actually – should serve as “canaries in the coal mine” for the rest of humanity, warning and cautioning us when we approach danger, especially the kind of lethal danger we are facing today. The great poets, essayists, and novelists of our time should be directly addressing the threats to human survival embodied in nuclear weapons and global warming, as well as be excoriating us (as Dickens did) to address and correct the rampant injustices precipitated by extreme economic disparity, which is perhaps worse today than ever before in human history. Unfortunately, literary artists and literary scholars in the West have become thrall over the past half century to the false linguistic philosophy postulated by Derrida’s poststructuralism, a philosophy which inevitably leads to moral relativism, undermining core precepts of human rights, denying both Chomsky’s Universal Grammar and John Mikhail’s Universal Moral Grammar. Where there is no clear understanding of how language works (Derrida knew next to nothing about the science of linguistics, preferring theoretical speculation over the scientific method), there can be no definite way of determining what is real and what is not, not to mention what is morally acceptable and what is not. Thanks to the current preponderance of the philosophy of poststructuralism/postmodernism, the contemporary literary artist, conveniently, does not recognize any need to even examine, much less evaluate, the core existential and moral crises of our time, for he or she has become convinced that language is indeterminable and that morality is relative; when nothing can be said that conveys definitely discernible meaning, all that is left is the “playfulness” of words. I have found only one significant exception to this woeful trend among contemporary fiction writers in the West – Junot Diaz’s vivid fiction: his incisive short stories, and his remarkable novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I’ve written about in my doctoral dissertation (and posted on Academia.edu). Diaz confronts neoliberalism, neo-colonialism, and neo-imperialism head-on, and warns explicitly and insistently about the contemporary radical threats to ongoing human survival.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Considering the current state of the world, what are your hopes for our future on this planet? As we face various problems, do you think education should be at the center of a humanistic vision of our world? What do you hope your students take away from your classes?

WALSH

My hope for the future rests on a single simple notion: as conditions on our planet become increasingly desperate and intolerable, ordinary people all over the world will rise up in collective protest against the violence, oppression, and injustice, rejecting the insanity of predatory capitalism’s self-destructive trajectory. We see this beginning to happen all over the world today in the formation of massive grassroots movements in support of human rights, as well as socio-economic and environmental justice. My hope is that we can and will come together as one human family, and adopt universal, enforceable standards of human rights and economic and social justice. We will reestablish a harmonious, sustainable relationship with Nature, for which indigenous peoples will serve as our mentors and guides. We will establish lasting peace – not just the elimination of all nuclear weapons, but the rejection of war itself as a means for settling international disputes. We can build on the model of global governance that already exists in the United Nations and the United Nations Charter, a model that could prove entirely successful if we eliminate the potential for manipulation of UN principles and procedures by powerful states such as the U.S., which currently leads all other nations by a wide margin in the number of vetoes it has cast over Security Council resolutions during the past seventy years. My hope is that we will soon see the emergence of what Meher Baba refers to as “The New Humanity”: according to Meher Baba’s unique formulation, “humanity is now going through the agonizing trial of spiritual rebirth. Great forces of destruction are afoot and seem to be dominant at the moment, but constructive and creative forces that will redeem humanity are also being released through several channels. Although the working of these forces of light is chiefly silent, they are eventually bound to bring about those transformations that will make the further spiritual advance of humanity safe and steady.” (Discourses 3). It is my hope that every student who exits one of my classes will carry forward in the spirit of this hope, and take an active role in working toward its practical realization.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Thank you, Vincent Walsh, for everything you are doing in our inner-cities to celebrate literature, the importance of education, and to help your students achieve lives of meaning and value. We look forward to to continuing our collaboration and, once again, thank you for adding your voice to The Creative Process.


BRIEF BIOGRAPHY - VINCENT WALSH

If I were to describe my background and upbringing by means of a song, it would be John Lennon’s incisive critique of the capitalist system in “Working Class Hero.” I was born in 1946, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. My father eventually took a job with a pharmaceutical company, so we moved to the South Shore of Long Island when I was eight years-old, where I attended Catholic school. I learned firsthand about the violence and hypocrisy inherent in authoritarian systems at home and in the classroom, particularly the violence, hypocrisy, and abuse disguised and protected by clerical garb, and the prevailing dogmas about “sparing the rod.” I had no direct experience of racism in the whites-only suburban town where I grew up, so MLK’s march on Selma and the brutality of Bloody Sunday came as quite a shock during my sophomore year of college. Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights marches, combined with the liberating energies of the rock ‘n’ roll and hippie revolutions, quickly completed my estrangement from the status quo; I carry the same spirit of anti-authoritarianism and a radical critique of prevailing social norms into the classroom every day now, all these many years later, a spirit that resonates strongly with inner-city kids who deal with racism, economic injustice, and police brutality on a daily basis. The need for articulating and disseminating the spirit of rebellion against injustice has never been greater than it is today; if there is hope for humanity’s future, it will come from the younger generation. That realization is what gives purpose to my life, and provides my impetus for stepping into the classroom again every morning. Our children desperately need our honesty, they deserve the truth; we need the promise they embody for a brighter future for all of humanity, and for our beloved Mother Earth. We are highly unlikely to find another suitable home in this universe, and certainly never one that matches or even comes close to this terrestrial paradise. 

Introducing Young Artist Ambassador Alexandra M. Bamberger

Introducing Young Artist Ambassador Alexandra M. Bamberger

Submit Your Creative Work
for inclusion in The Creative Process
traveling exhibition and/or website

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Tell us about yourself.

ALEXANDRA M. BAMBERGER

I am an international student passionate about the arts, with a particular fondness for fiction concerning human relationships.

I am a Young Artist Ambassador for The Creative Process. This means I collect all the submissions from different high-schoolers and make sure they are displayed in The Creative Process exhibitions alongside more well-known artists. I enjoy being involved in the curation process for the traveling exhibition and I also find it very interesting reading the insights of notable artists and creative thinkers because they all have their different approaches to art and different opinions. I find that you can learn quite a lot from them. I feel like it gives learning, a more personal more human touch to find out that they are not just perfect humans who can produce creative work. That they have their own process and  have different techniques and approaches to art. I find it very important for art to reach a wide audience and to be shared as much as possible. With literature, of course, one can always enjoy it for personal pleasure, but I think it is even more crucial when it is shared. It is very interesting for me to be a part of a collaborative educational project. There is so much art being produced right now more than ever, such as photography, artworks, and creative writing. It is a bit overwhelming in itself, yet despite all of this overwhelming information, we seem to be the loneliest generation to have ever lived on the planet. This is because of troubles with communication and talking to each other normally the way one would and one has in past generations. I feel that what is so important for art is for it to be in a way interactive. You go to museums, and you go to an exhibition. You see the artwork, not just on the internet, but in real life. It’s very moving and personal. You really feel live through that, and you can engage with people in real life. I think that art really allows for such things and for like-minded people to meet and share their views.


Growing up quadrilingual (including German and English), I have developed an appreciation for different cultures and their forms of expression. After spending most of my life in Germany, I am currently living in Paris, France. 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What inspires you to write and make art?

BAMBERGER

I feel that what is so important for art is for it to be in a way interactive. You go to museums, and you go to an exhibition. You see the artwork, not just on the internet, but in real life. It’s very moving and personal. You really feel live through that, and you can engage with people in real life. I think that art really allows for such things and for like-minded people to meet and share their views.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I think it's interesting, as I read your writing and look at your artwork, there is a seriousness and courage to look at difficult social issues head on. There is a philosophical aspect to your work. You are writing and making art for a reason. Not just to entertain but to make us think.

Turn to Smoke, Alexandra Bamberger
11th Grade, École Internationale Bilingue - Victor Hugo School, Paris

SUBMISSION FORM - YOUNG ARTISTS & WRITERS

FOR ESSAYS, STORIES, POEMS, VISUAL ART, SHORT FILMS AND OTHER CREATIVE WORKS
Please include Facebook URL, Instagram or Twitter handles to help us share your creative work.
Title Inspiration Why I Make Art?
Writing & Visual Art Submissions should be emailed to youngartists@creativeprocess.info .
Art Please email up to 5 jpegs. Image size < 1MB per file. Writing Please email .doc files to youngartists@creativeprocess.info with your name and title of your piece(s) in the subject line.
Thank you for participating in The Creative Process!
Young Artist Ambassador Basile Guichard

Young Artist Ambassador Basile Guichard

Submit Your Creative Work
for inclusion in The Creative Process
traveling exhibition or website

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Tell us about yourself.

BASILE GUICHARD

Hi! I'm Basile Guichard, I'm currently 16 years old, and I am French native. I am a young ambassador for The Creative Process. My main job is to collect and curate high-schoolers creative works. I think that the most interesting part of being in The Creative Process is definitely to learn how to collaborate and work with people I would never have worked with before. Also, to discover how to curate and do things that are so unique and that I have the privilege and the experience to do. This project is such an interesting and thought-provoking chance for me, and I am really so glad to have this opportunity. Presently, my aims are to collect and curate as many interesting pieces from high-schoolers to add to the exhibition. Hopefully, from all around the world. Once approved these works will be integrated as part of The Creative Process. I think we will always need the arts because, at the core of society, it is what we use to share ideas, concepts, and emotions. I think these are vital and will never go away. 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

We've been delighted with the works you have curated so far in the projection elements of our traveling exhibition. It's quite an international collection. And you have lived all over the world. How has shaped that your view of art?

GUICHARD

Although I now live in Paris, I have lived all over the world and have grown up in an international environment. I have lived in Uganda, Nigeria, Jordan and most recently Vietnam. I have studied both in the French and British schooling systems, and I am now enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at the EiB The Victor Hugo School. In my free time, I like going out with friends, spending time with my family and watching shows I love on YouTube or Netflix. In life, I strive to be an actor and enter a known drama school. I find all facets to theatre exceptionally interesting and enjoy watching or working on any piece, although I have a penchant for more modern performances, such as Peter Shaffer's "Equus", or the works of Sarah Kane. I also sometimes write poems or doodle in my art journal.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What inspires you to write?

GUICHARD

I mostly tend to write about my feelings or emotions and use what I see, both on social media and in real life, whether in Paris, Saigon or anywhere else in the world, to create a story and hopefully something interesting and captivating. I usually tend to write from a theatrical perspective, as if these poems were to be read on stage or with a musical background.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Yes, you wrote a moving poem, "Hibiscus Heart", full of this sense of lost innocence, lost time and memories of Vietnam. 

GUICHARD

I think the main reason for which I write poems is to lift the weight off my shoulders and put pen on paper to get rid of negative emotions or thoughts that have been bothering me. I also think that throughout my poems I use a lot of inspiration from things I found beautiful, and in a way, I feel like I celebrate those inspirations. These range from an Instagram post, to a music video or simply somewhere I visited.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What are some of your formative influences? When did you develop your love for the arts? Do you come from a family of artists?

GUICHARD

Although my family loves reading and encourages to read as much as possible, the only artist I have in my family is my grandmother. She paints. Apart from that, my other grandmother has translated a few books from Hungarian into French, but I can't characterize my family as a hugely artistic family. They do however wholeheartedly encourage me in my goal of becoming an actor, which I am grateful for.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

What other art forms interest you?

GUICHARD

Well, as I said, my passion is theatre but I also quite enjoy movies, modern art, music, and dance.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

As our one of our Young Artist Ambassadors, you will be reading and inviting submissions across a variety of disciplines–writing, art, short films, academic essays, music... Is there anything, in particular, you are looking for from a work of art? Is there anything a young artist should know before they send their work to you?

GUICHARD

I think that I’m going to be mainly looking for truth. I’m not interested in fake feelings or written works that have been created just for the sake of having been written. I want to know that someone poured in their all, their raw emotions into a piece. I just want to see the authenticity of that particular piece.

 

SUBMISSION FORM - YOUNG ARTISTS & WRITERS

FOR ESSAYS, STORIES, POEMS, VISUAL ART, SHORT FILMS AND OTHER CREATIVE WORKS
Please include Facebook URL, Instagram or Twitter handles to help us share your creative work.
Title Inspiration Why I Make Art?
Writing & Visual Art Submissions should be emailed to youngartists@creativeprocess.info .
Art Please email up to 5 jpegs. Image size < 1MB per file. Writing Please email .doc files to youngartists@creativeprocess.info with your name and title of your piece(s) in the subject line.
Thank you for participating in The Creative Process!
T.S. Eliot – Creative Writing by Mira Martini

T.S. Eliot – Creative Writing by Mira Martini

PARIS STORIES
 

The following is a work of creative writing adapted from original historical documents.

 

For those who wish to know, the walls were grey. Thinking back to the beginning of my life with Vivienne Haigh-Wood, however, I’m certain that they used to be in fact something closer a Lily's pure white.

Why the current wallpaper bore such a faded look eluded me, it could be just dust or a cheap print. Sometimes I think of Hera, and the way her lilies used to grow… were the walls always this grey?

The light of my oil lamp only revealed so much, I suppose.

Darkness does not bother me, in fact it lets me wander curiously through my thoughts. The bothersome defect to the common man in fact cast quite the interesting mood in my study. Shadows brought life to the walls, twitching uncontrollably and staining black over grey in spurts. Naturally these walls were not truly alive. They could not breath the stale air I never clear out.

It was suffocating at times, sitting in a room so bleak, living such a life, but it bred exactly the poems I wanted. And so, to keep it that way the lumpy, uneven windows remained closed; their tall gothic look veiled at all times by bulky drapes. The shut windows and curtains didn’t sadden me quite as much as I’d previously expected, and if I were to question this, I could suppose that it was the idea that the outside never elated me. The majority of my life was spent bent over books, or watching my classmates engage in the physical activities I was incapable of doing.

The pen in my grip slipped out and rapped onto the wooden desk. My fingers quivered, forcing my hand to clench in an attempt to ebb away the pain in my abdomen. It was too painful to sit any more. My heavy body surged upwards, sending my chair grinding across the hardwood. I lumbered over to the dent in the wall where a couch awaited me, carrying my yellowed pages along. The writing was broken apart by thick black streaks, removing entire sentences and paragraphs then rewriting them in the margins. It was messy.

Poems in the right hands can be the finest of puzzles: a brilliant enigma who’s sole purpose is to entice the unsuspecting into a world they don’t understand. To call it an art is almost the wrong word. It’s a skillful challenge for both the reader and I.

My body is rot, my home a dusty grave. My wife is Erebus, the twitching shadow that adorns the grey and traps me in this half-life. All that’s left of me is my mind; it ponders and deciphers and knows how to make a poem great. This is why I now lay on the couch, the position that does the best job relieving me of the pain my illness brings, and think of the shadows and the grey as I write and rewrite my next best.

A loud sigh broke the silence.

I’d like to say it was my wife’s, but it was my own. It just had to be done, the room was so quiet and numbing. She was not here. Her brother did what I was unable to do, because it was something I didn’t bother to do. So now she sits alone, surrounded by big white walls and spiraling down the only path she'll ever have.

I now live with the shadows, where Erebus consumes. I wouldn’t say I missed her, or that I wished I visited her more than I did, because that isn’t what brings such melancholy to my tone. I don’t visit her at all. I just need the right atmosphere, and I know I need more than dancing shadows to fully complete my work.

Once more the sigh filled the room, it was just too quiet, and I rose slowly to get on with my day, and finish the preparations for my departure.

The only place where I will find what I need is Paris.

The Pure Imagination Program for Young Writers

The Pure Imagination Program for Young Writers

"Vincent Walsh has been a friend for many years.
It was evident when I first met him that he was talented
and a person of deep compassion, with real promise. [...]
In Vincent’s classes, and among these students individually,
one can easily see the impact of his creative and stimulating approach.
[The Pure Imagination] students are enthusiastic, energized, and eager to pursue
their own paths; they have been reading widely and carefully
under his guidance. It’s a truly impressive achievement. He’s established
an education model that should prove extremely valuable." 
–NOAM CHOMSKY

Vincent Walsh is our Pure Imagination Young Writers Mentor. Having been an educator for almost fifty years, he is advising on our inner-city and after school creative writing program. It is our aim to bring this education model to high schools across the country.

WRITING AS EXPLORATION AND DISCOVERY

I usually tell my beginning writing students that the hardest part about composing an essay is coming up with the opening line; what I don’t say is that the hardest part is actually coming up with a topic to write about, and doing all the necessary brainstorming and possible background reading necessary as preparation before sitting down to begin work. I don’t explain my thoughts on this because I am about to tell them that all their essays will be on topics of their own choosing. I guess I don’t want to discourage them at the very outset by making them feel that the task will be too daunting.

A great deal of research and publication has been focused on the problem of ascertaining the most effective approaches to teaching writing, or “composition and rhetoric,” as it is referred to in more formal circles. A major academic industry has emerged since World War II devoted to the subject, and countless books and articles continue to pour forth, with endless arguments and counter arguments, laundry lists of teaching strategies, and various and sundry speculations and theories. In a sense, all of this can be quite helpful, for writing hasn’t really been formally studied prior to the last sixty years or so, even though the Greeks recognized rhetoric as the most fundamental and important of all intellectual and academic skills. But as a teacher of writing perusing the vast array of printed materials devoted to the topic, I often feel overwhelmed and discouraged; it seems ironic that one could begin to feel lost in a labyrinth of words focused on how to use words effectively and meaningfully. One begins to fear that we are all just bricklayers working on the Tower of Babel.  

As with other complex and crucial subjects, my own sense is that it is imperative to break the issue down into a few fundamental notions, and simply begin from there. This is how I have approach the task: I assume that the best way to learn how to write well is to do a lot of it, and to get some expert guidance along the way. I also assume that students are going to feel more enthusiastic about writing when they are choosing what they want to write about, instead of just responding to topics (or “prompts,” as they are commonly called) provided or assigned by me. I believe this to be true even if it requires more thought and effort on their part, more independent work, to come up with their own subjects for essays; Ithink young people welcome this challenge; they do not automatically follow the line of least resistance, nor always seek the easiest way to accomplish a task. I believe we are all innately curious about the world, that we possess bodies and minds and spirits that have a built-in need to grow. The problem comes when we are frustrated in that desire because someone else is standing over us with a whip telling us how we must grow, and in what direction. 

Of course, I’m not inferring that writing prompts are whips, or that students don’t require some guidance and direction in their writing process. Assigned topics are helpful, appropriate, and even necessary in some cases; a specified topic can help elicit a student’s best effort, and the most satisfying result, for student and teacher alike. But I think it is just as true to say that the best way to get students interested in writing is to allow them to write for themselves, that is, to choose subjects that they have a personal investment in, that they can write about with feeling, conviction, and perhaps even passion. This is especially true, I suspect, for beginning writing courses, ones designed as a general introduction to the subject in freshman year in college, for example. We cannot assume that all freshman students are really interested in writing, any more than we can that they are all already accomplished writers. And we cannot assume that they will all learn how to write effectively under our direction simply because we tell them what good writing is and how to do it. 

So my approach is to allow students to identify their own interests, and to explore the inner workings of their own hearts and minds; I want them to feel that writing is something that concerns them personally on the deepest levels, that it is not just a task they have to perform to meet the demands of an instructor in order to obtain a satisfactory grade.  I want them to understand that there are many different types of writing, each suited for the particular task or requirement at hand, and that formal academic writing is only one kind of writing, one dimension of a vast and varied field. I want them to know that writing is just another means of communication, like talking or shouting or singing, and that it has unique possibilities as such, for it involves a kind of premeditation, and provides the possibility of revision and refinement, something that can never happen in the domain of ordinary spoken language. Spoken words disappear as soon as their sound dies out, and linger only in memory that clouds and fades with each passing second. Written words remain, visible on the open page, and can be re-read and pondered -- savored like fine wine. Hearing a song once in a concert is never quite as satisfying as being able to play the CD over and over again to allow it to absorb slowly into one’s mind and soul.

Students understand that they are going to be required to write papers for academic subjects, but I want them to realize also that the kind of writing they do in composing a letter or email to a family member or friend is just as important. I want them to know that there is a kind of writing called the personal essay that is informal and open-ended, that it allows for the expression of one’s own perceptions and thoughts and feelings about the world, independent of what a teacher might think or expect, and that it allows for a kind of communication that is creative and free, like the sounds of words they hear ringing through their favorite rock’n’roll or rap song on the radio. I want them to know that writing is a form of learning, and that we often don’t really know what we think or how we feel about a given subject until we sit down and try to put it into words. I want them to experience for themselves how sharing their essays and poems and letters with others is one of the best ways of learning about themselves and about the people around them, one of the surest ways of creating a sense of community among those with whom one works and lives. I want them to find out that sitting down to write can be one of the best methods of dealing with painful experiences and feelings, that it is possible to find a kind of release, what Aristotle called “catharsis,” through the process of transcribing one’s inner pain onto the written page.

So far, in the past four years, among the more than 250 students who have taken my writing course at Lehigh, I’ve received essays on a wide variety of topics, from how unsuspected anemia almost destroyed a promising high school track career, to a critical evaluation of Ebonics, the debate about Affirmative Action, the misuse of religious dogma as a justification for war, personal memoirs related to the tragic events of 9/11, narratives about growing up in the inner city, the tribulations of athletic boot camps in the midst of sweltering heat in late August, family tragedies, the drinking age for teenagers, the blurring of lines between church and state, car breakdowns in the mountains, identity crises over being caught between races, and the painful transition from home to college, with its attendant separation from family and lifelong friends. In a few cases, students have requested help in coming up with topics for their next essay, but they usually were asking for guidance in choosing among subjects they were already considering; even when a student seemed clearly at a loss, I always took care to provide several alternatives, so that personal preference was still involved. No student has felt compelled to write strictly according to requirements stipulated by me.

I know that responding to specified prompts is a skill my students are going to need to develop, but my focus for now is to encourage them to become involved in the process of writing for its own sake, and help them realize that writing is first and foremost a matter of personal expression, not just an activity one engages in to satisfy teachers and pass classes in school. I run my classes as a workshop; we sit in a circle while students read their work aloud, and we discuss issues that emerge in seminar style. I never ask students to write during class, and I never break them into small groups. We all work together as a unit, emphasizing the need for collective awareness, for building relationships among members of our group, for supporting and encouraging each other, for providing constructive criticism and feedback in response to each other’s efforts. Generally, most of each class is taken up with students reading their essays out loud; I feel it’s very important for us all to understand that good writing involves considerations of cadence and rhythm and tone and style, that language is rhythmical, and that meaning is conveyed through harmony of expression and clarity of form. Hearing sentences sounded out through the reading aloud helps students understand what’s at stake. Reading aloud helps students get to know each other; it also develops self-confidence and improves public speaking skills. 

Students quickly begin to develop a better understanding of what they want to say and how they want to say it as they read their work and receive positive feedback. My students are expected to compose a minimum of 750 words each week. Every fourth week that minimum length is doubled. We follow a two step process: when the rough draft is ready, students email it to me. I edit it carefully, and return it the next class, often suggesting that we set up a time to meet and go over the corrections and suggestions I’ve indicated. Then students transcribe the first draft into a final draft, which they add to their writing portfolio. At the end of the semester, each student will bring the portfolio for a final conference, where we discuss the work that has been accomplished for the semester, and determine the final grade they will receive for the course.

I’m not claiming that my approach to teaching writing is sophisticated or profound; in fact, I feel a need to keep things simple, and stick to the basics. I believe that one learns how to write by doing a lot of writing, and that one writes best about topics that hold an intrinsic interest for the individual. I think lively brainstorming through stimulating class discussions is essential for generating topics, and for teaching crucial critical thinking skills. I also think it is helpful to post sample essays from members of the group on some kind of class bulletin board -- via an email distribution list, for example -- for all to see, consider, and evaluate. I think it is useful for the instructor to provide examples of his own writing to serve as a model of what effective writing can be, and to demonstrate the fact that nobody’s writing is ever perfect. I think careful editing, individual conferencing, and preparation of final drafts from edited copies are all essential aspects of the writing process. I believe that learning how to write effective personal essays on topics they choose themselves will enable my students to perform well on assignments that require them to do formal academic writing, as well, because they will have mastered strong critical thinking skills, and become competent and fluent in written expression.

As a writing teacher, I’m constantly feeling my way around in the dark, trying to read and understand as much as I can, trying to benefit from the experience and insights of my colleagues, and from feedback offered by my students. In the end, I won’t be able to really tell if any of my strategies have been successful, except insofar as my students feel able to tackle writing assignments with more confidence and competence in the future. Maybe that is something I’ll never really know about for sure, unless perhaps I run into a few of them down the road and they say to me, “Walsh, I sure am glad I took your course, because it helped me become a better writer.” If that should ever happen, I hope they also convey that they learned how to appreciate and enjoy writing in my class, andthat they now incorporate it more fully into all aspects of their lives. I believe that we’re all here on earth to learn how to cooperate and work together in community with each other in pursuit of commonly desired goals, creating happy, fulfilling, satisfying lives for ourselves and our children. I’m the kind of dreamer John Lennon was talking about, I suppose. I see my role as a teacher as a privileged one, where I am able to work with and for the young, contributing to a cooperative process, one where we are all engaged together in helping to build abetter world, a world we can share and celebrate.

I feel sometimes like I want to apologize to my students for not being as fully effective a teacher as I’d like to be, and at such moments I think of lines from a favorite songwriter, Neil Young, an old friend of mine I’ve never met, but one who has, through the transformative power of his words, played an important role in enabling me to understand the world we all live in and share. Perhaps these words I borrow from him here will help my students comprehend more fully what it is I am hoping we can accomplish as we continue in this reciprocal process of learning how to write together:

 

“Sometimes I ramble on and on

Repeat myself till all my friends are gone

Get lost in snow and drown in rain

And never feel the same again;

But I remember the ocean from where I came

Just one of millions – all the same.

I’ve got the will to love,

Never going to lose the will to love;

It’s like something from up above

I’ll never lose the will to love.”

When all is said and done, effective teaching is just one more manifestation of human love, among many.

Vincent Walsh was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1946. He graduated from Fordham University in 1969, and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship from 1969-1970. He earned his Masters in Education in 1987, in the midst of a career as a secondary school English teacher, a career that has included many years of teaching in the inner-city. Vincent taught graduate courses in the Education Department at DeSales University from 2005 – 2012; he entered the doctoral program in English at Lehigh University in 2006, and graduated from Lehigh with a Ph.D. in Postcolonial Literature in 2014. He is currently teaching English at New Britain High School in New Britain, CT, where he is conducting action research on incorporating the principles and practices of Restorative Discipline for the inner-city students he is currently teaching, while simultaneously aligning this disciplinary approach with the scholarly work of Eric Jensen.

My Name is LIE by Victoria Velez

My Name is LIE by Victoria Velez

“In the months that follow you bend to the work,
because it feels like hope, like grace–and because you know
in your lying cheater's heart that sometimes a start is all we ever get.”

― JUNOT DÍAZ, This Is How You Lose Her

INNER CITY STORIES



Hello everyone, my name is LIE 

I live the average life

I hide

I strive in people’s lives

But I can’t survive

Eventually I become some kind of escape 

That people depend on to look and feel great

That kills me because I was only meant to be some little game

To evade an unpleasant situation

An uncomfortable emotion

Until they realize life can’t be placed on slow motion

 

My name is LIE

I’m the fastest in the race

The race to the end

Where people can no longer pretend

When they think they’ve forgotten me

I make amends

Teaching them that I am no friend

You can’t get away from me

Even if you try

I’ll drag you right back in

With me you just can’t win

 

My name is LIE 

I started off so innocent,

So small, so trivial

That’s what happened

I never intended to be so mistaken

But it’s too late now 

No one will listen

Because of me, you won’t be forgiven 

There’s no explaining

So stop the complaining

About what I did wrong

You accepted me

You used me

You abused me

 

What? 

And now you want to lose me? 

It’s too late now

You spoke me 

You breathed me 

You lived me

It’s too late now to get rid of me

 

But what you can get rid of now

Are those tears 

Lose them

Because they cost years of my precious time

Time wasted

Time invested in you

You told the lie

It was you who didn’t want to acknowledge the truth

If you could have borne it

I would have set you free

But you held on to me

Because you couldn’t handle seeing what was left of you without me

 

What? 

Now you need some victory?

To think you’ve outreached me? 

To think you’ve conquered me?

Sorry, but that’s where your mistaken

Until you forgive yourself

I’ll continue to be your misfortune

You don’t want me in your life anymore? 

Fine, but I want you to pull the plug

Tell me when you’re ready to stop feeling so smug

 

My name is LIE

Do you think I want to be used by you

To cover up the truth

That you don’t want people to use against you?

No, I hate this  

And I hate me

Because every time people use me

They hate themselves

I hate myself, you hate me

Once you are done with me

You’ll quickly see

That no matter what you do

You will hate you

For using me, like a fool

 

But don’t you worry

It’s all cool

This is what I live for

This is what I do over and over

When you’re finally done with me 

I’ll just keep moving forward

Because if it’s not you

There’s always a number two

Someone else who will let me in their life

To use me any way they think is right

 

But they’ll soon learn a lesson

The same lesson you’re getting from me now

So listen:

If you don’t want long term commitment with me

Just stay away from me

Because once I’m in it 

I’ll always be with it

And you’ll be wishing 

You never spoke those words that can’t be forgiven

 

So keep on walking

Keep on moving 

For I’ll always be three short steps behind you

Waiting for the moment you lose it

 

My name is LIE 

My best wishes to you

I hope you really try this time

To finally make things right

For unfortunately, if you don’t change your tune

I’ll be seeing you again, real soon                         

My Favorite Teacher by Carmen Nieves

My Favorite Teacher by Carmen Nieves

INNER CITY STORIES

Where do I start? Well, I only remember a little bit of my Freshman year. I really didn’t like my teachers. I remember walking into Dr. Walsh’s classroom thinking, “Shit! This old guy looks mad strict – ugh!” I must admit, when I heard him say that we had to write a 500 word essay every week, I was mad! I was like, “Woah woah woah, hold up!!!! What the hell I can’t even do a 290 word essay!” For a while I didn't really like Dr. Walsh; he was always, as I put it, “on my ass.” He would always tell me to stay on task and put my phone away; for a while I would even argue with him. Dr. Walsh and I would really go at it, engaged in full blown arguments -- all just because I was lazy and didn't want to do my work. I hated writing, I really didn't think I was any good at it, but he knew, he knew that I was a good writer, he believed in me. Dr. Walsh had the hope for me that I myself didn't have. He never gave up on me no matter how badly I treated him. 

I can tell that this is a real teacher, he really cares. I have no doubt in my mind that this man cares; it took me a while to realize it, though. Dr. Walsh is very chill, he never tells you that your work sucks; he is such a reasonable person. There’s really no reason for people to dislike him. He taught me so many things, like how to really write. He told me that even if you think your work is bad, believe in yourself. Dr. Walsh is really trying to make a difference; he is trying to make the school actually come together. Dr. Walsh is a man of his word. I remember the day he told me that he was trying to get my essay published; man, to be honest I didn't think he was serious, until he told me it was actually getting published. His style of teaching is really extraordinary; he is very non-judgmental and surprisingly mellow, but he still pushes his students to be the best they can be. He really opens new doors for his students. He wants to see his students succeed. To tell the truth, I hated reading and writing while I was growing up. I just felt like I wasn't good at these things; I was a child who always struggled with those two assignments in school. I thank Dr. Walsh for opening my eyes and making me realize that I'm better than I thought I was; he is such a great teacher.

On Creative Literary Engagement

On Creative Literary Engagement

YOUNG WRITERS MENTOR
Literature & Theater Teacher
École Internationale Bilingue
The Victor Hugo School, Paris

Exploring literature and creativity at the EIB Victor Hugo, Paris.

Literary analysis, close reading, literary criticism, discussion and presentation; though all big words that require much more than a minimum of intellectual effort to put into proper practice, this daunting list is literally all in a days work for any literature high school student worth his or her salt. Students practice for hours, reading and writing with skill and rigour to master the art of unravelling, interpreting and sharing their most precise of arguments and observations on the literary greats of past centuries and contemporary writers. Yet, though our students rise to this challenge with passion and commitment, they are always in danger of falling into a very natural trap all young ambitious minds are susceptible to experience. After spending hours of reading and analysing a literary text, and on most occasions becoming quite fascinated by the ingenuity of the writing, the creative strategies and methods with which writers and poets employ language and words so effectively, students tend to forget or lose sight of the fact that these literary giants were and are human beings of flesh and blood, with families and friends, pains and desires, and challenges and difficulties like all the rest of us. Even though some texts might seem so perfect, resonating both emotionally and intellectually at such a universal level beyond the scope of their own day and age that we might be forgiven for imagining how they might have been produced by some divine mind, there's actually much more hope and promise to be found in the notion that this beauty has in fact been created by other people, sometimes even other contemporaries we may meet and have a coffee with. 

It is for this very reason, to somehow explore new possibilities for engaging with the very human reality of literary creation, that in our school at EIB Victor Hugo, we're experimenting with a creative literary approach to literature in parallel with the more conventional analytical and discursive methodologies all literature students should be familiar with. As part of their coursework students are tasked with presenting their own understanding of a writer's work or influences or motivations through their own creative writing. Based upon the knowledge already gained through research and analysis the student is given free reign to build a new personal perspective on this particular writer by producing an original work of fiction or poetry that brings the student to another level of understanding, a more creative and hopefully more personal awareness to who was or is this writer and how come this work has the strength or beauty or meaning that it does. The students may write creative works that are inspired by the work of their writers or poets of choice, they may write fictional memoirs or narratives that would involve the writers themselves or even adapt historical documents or publications into new forms or genres. This form of creative engagement not only gives the students a novel experience for using research and analysis in a creative initiative rather than a strictly academic context, but also helps in fostering an open and embracing attitude towards literature and writing, where even the greatest of literary masterpieces are perceived as not something divine or holy or alien but as very human creative products crafted by beautiful people that have given the world beautiful work.

A.Bonnici
IB English A Literature
IB Theatre

Good Enough, by Gina Derasmo, English Teacher

Good Enough, by Gina Derasmo, English Teacher

English Teacher, Freshman Academy
New Britain High School
& Pure Imagination Mentor


To get it right every time
That is a secret downfall of mine.

Never fail, I tell myself,
They've all put you high on that shelf.

A charmed life, they say,
To be so lucky everyday.

But this charm is a curse,
And each day I fear the worst,
That I will never be good enough for you.

The struggle is real
As I try to deal with all that is thrown my way.
I say yes without knowing, but inside I'm growing
Weaker day by day.

I'm losing myself in all that I do
When I give my all trying to please you.

To make you happy is my quest
And I push my limits to the test.

I put myself aside
Trying to prove how hard I've tried.

I never say no,
Because that'll show,
That I want to be good enough for you.

The Past by Oliwia Dabrowska

The Past by Oliwia Dabrowska

“And that's when I know it's over.
As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it's the end.”
–JUNOT DÍAZ, 
This is How You Lose Her
 

INNER CITY STORIES

 OLIWIA DABROWSKA

OLIWIA DABROWSKA

Middle school was horrible. Everything I did was “wrong.” Everything I said was stupid and people kept repeating it as a joke. Maybe they weren’t making fun of me but that’s what it felt like. I felt alone. I lost my friends because of that. They were fake. They were nice when they needed stuff. When they needed the homework or they needed help with it, of course, they asked nicely and were nice the day after. I was always afraid and too shy to stand up for myself. I kept thinking bad stuff about myself. I kept trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I could never figure it out. I was lonely. I felt like the world was crashing down and I had no one. My best friend started going to another school at the beginning of 7th grade. I missed her. She was the only one I could trust, the only one who was there for me.  I acted tough. I didn’t let anyone see my true feelings. I hid my hurt. I still hung out with my so-called friends because I didn’t want to seem different. I didn’t want them talking behind my back.

A boy started going to our school in 7th grade.  I thought he was annoying and always ignored him. I just thought, oh great, another new kid I will have to teach English to. Then one of the girls I hung out with wanted his number just because she wanted to have everyone’s phone number.  I asked him for it and gave it to her. I thought nothing about it. Later that week we decided to pull a prank on him because everyone always said he had a crush on me. He didn’t say anything back to them when they asked, so the both of us decided to figure out if he really did. I texted him, asking him out. I wrote a big paragraph of lies about how I really wanted to be with him. So we started going out. I didn’t break up with him because I knew it would hurt him. I started catching feelings that I didn’t realize I could have. They weren’t huge feelings, so that summer I left him for a guy I thought would be better. The relationship with him didn’t even last a week, so I was alone again. 

When summer started I realized I missed the boy I’d gone out with earlier that year. I started talking to him again and started having feelings that were stronger. For that whole time he thought I still had a boyfriend. Even though I had feelings for him, I didn’t show them because I was too afraid. It took about a month and a half for us to get back together. That day was October 12, 2014. We stayed together a long time. We went through fights but we were mature enough to get over them. Some people say your first love is the worst, and I can see why, but for me it was really pretty good. He was there for me through everything. He made me feel more confident. He made me show my emotions more, but only to him. I trusted him enough. He knew how to make me feel better and how to make me feel good about everything that I do and everything that I am. He made me feel proud of my work and proud of my mind. He was the one that made my confidence go up and my bravery rise. He was the one that showed me when to be tough and when to show my emotions. I’m tough around people so they don’t and can’t hurt me, and I showed my emotions only around him. 

Because of my past, though, my confidence and bravery isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. I wish I could be proud of my work around everyone. I wish I could show people what I can do and not be afraid of getting made fun of. Just because of everything that happened in my past I am now afraid of everything. I can’t talk in front of the class, I can’t say answers in front of the class, and I can’t even talk about my talents to people because I think I’ll get made fun of. I want to be able to talk to people and be loud and express myself, but I can’t. My past ruined everything for me and I can’t change that. I’ve tried to change it and change myself, but it never worked. Every time I do something, I think it will be in my head forever, because it will. Others will forget it but I never will. I’ll always remember it and always be afraid because of it. I hope that the people I love will never have to go through what I’ve gone through. 

At the beginning of 2016 I wasn’t very happy and I was still in a relationship. Most of you might think, how that can be? -- a relationship should make you happier.  It didn’t for me. It put stress and pressure in my life. It made me blind. Love does that sometimes. I never noticed anything was really wrong. We argued a lot and I wanted to fix it, but it couldn’t be fixed. I tried my hardest. Love can hurt you and harm you without you even noticing. I loved and I got hurt. I gave everything, but I never got as much back. The relationship ended during the summer. We fell apart, became distant, and said some stuff that we probably both regret. You might think, wow, she’s heartbroken and she can’t move on. You’re wrong. I’m trying and I’m much happier than I’ve ever been before.  When you’re hurt you realize who will be there for you through everything and anything. A few people were there for me. They helped me become happier and helped me realize stuff that I never thought I would ever realize. They were there and for that I love them. Some people think I regret being in the relationship or I wish it never happened. I am so happy it happened the way it did. I accepted my mistakes this time.  I learned from the mistakes I’ve made during the last nearly two years of the relationship. I learned that I’ll go through heartbreak and that people break their promises, but you have to move on and try again. People say I’m happier and more confident in myself. I am. I feel better about myself now than I ever have before. I just have to keep trying and not give up. I’ll get through anything and I won’t let my past affect me anymore. It took me nearly two years to realize it, but I was in a bad relationship. The truth comes out at the end and it hurts, but it’ll change you for the better. I’ve changed.  I am a completely different person and it’s a good thing. And to the person who hurt me I just want to say, thanks, but also I guess now we know who loved who more.

Heartbreak by Tiajah Boyce

Heartbreak by Tiajah Boyce

INNER CITY STORIES

She just can’t take it, her heart is breaking

She cannot simply fake it

And continue to take it

Her love is badly shaken

Her precious lifetime is wasting

 

She’s rollin’, she’s smokin’

Her life slowly overdosing

She’s trying to hold on but the handle is broken

Nobody hears the soft words she’s spoken

Like a baby bird fallen in the dirt

No one sees how badly she’s been hurt

 

She’s tryin’ to ease the pain

‘Cause now her story has gotten fame

And it’s so sad, it’s such a shame

She says she’ll never feel the same

 

Quick! She’s going insane

Quick! She's losing her brains

She wonders who’s to blame

But just keeps playing the game

She sits on the throne yet still remains

Under a dark cloud of feeling called pain

Holding her head up to the rain

Never ceasing to wonder

Never ceasing to pray

Inspiration by Robert Zapor

Inspiration by Robert Zapor

My mother owned a fabric store and she would work very hard
and she would close the store in the afternoon to make us food,
and then she would return from the store at 7 p.m. And when she
would come she would wash the floor, she would do things in the house,
and then I remember it would be like around 8:30 or nine when
she would finish everything and she would sit on a chair on the balcony
and smoke a cigarette. And when you would look at her doing it, you would feel
such an upward a feeling of joy. Like she said, “Wow, life is so amazing.”

–ETGAR KERET

INNER CITY STORIES

I believe that inspiration is one of the most important things to have in life. In my eyes inspiration is the key to everything. Now there are two types of inspiration, there’s positive inspiration and there’s negative inspiration. What I mean is that people have inspiration to do positive things and people have inspiration to do negative things. I myself have lots of positive inspiration to reach my goals, something I think everyone in this world should have.

The first thing is you need goals. My main goals in life are to make my family proud, finish high school, go to college, get a good job, and eventually start my own family. I find inspiration for my goals everywhere, whether it be looking up to my parents or maybe even just watching TV -- inspiration for me is everywhere. I also find inspiration from my grandparents. My grandparents lived in a small poverty stricken farm town and worked from before sunrise until after sunset in the sugarcane fields trying to make a living. Once they had saved up enough money they had the courage to leave their gigantic family behind and move themselves, my mom, and my aunt all the way to New Britain. After they arrived my grandfather began working 2-3 jobs and my grandmother worked at a factory with horrible working conditions just so they could provide for my mom and my aunt. My mom says the reason they worked so hard was because they refused to go on welfare or receive help from the state. This allowed both my mom and aunt to get college degrees later on and both get good paying jobs. It just amazes me how my grandparents did all that while facing a language barrier, no other family members, and trouble with finances -- they were still able to persevere and provide for their family. I am thankful for that because without them I probably wouldn’t be here right now and probably wouldn’t be living this good of a life. So whenever I feel like giving up or feel like I can’t do something I just think about them and all the things they had to go through; it just inspires me and gives me the push to achieve my goals.

Inspiration is also a big part of me playing sports. Inspiration allows me to get better every day. I get inspiration from everything; one main source of inspiration for me is my dad. He played varsity football for NBHS back in the day and my goal next year is to start on varsity as well. I also get inspiration from watching professional athletes on TV, or just seeing other varsity players or even coaches. One varsity player that inspired me is Zach Connolly because he is in my opinion the best linebacker in our school; he received a season ending injury his senior year but was still on the sidelines being a leader. This helped me realize that even though I might not be on the field with my teammates due to an injury I can still help my team from the sidelines. All these people and things inspire me every day to be the best at every sport and every position I play. My overall goal in playing sports is to be able to get a partial or maybe even a full scholarship to college.

The problem with our world today is that people have little or no inspiration, and there are a lot of people with negative inspiration. What I mean by negative inspiration is that people are inspired by negative people. For example, there are kids who feel more inspired to have all the girls or be known as the “bad ass” rather than being inspired to get an education and set up a life for themselves. That is just one example of having negative inspiration; there are a whole lot of people inspired to do negative things. Another huge issue is that people who have no inspiration at all have almost no goals in life. Now this kills me because I see kids every day and it sucks knowing that in four years these same kids probably won’t be walking the stage with everyone else. This might sound crazy but I believe it's not completely their fault. The main reason for their lack of inspiration is they constantly get put down by lots of people; sometimes even teachers do it to kids. Another major problem is that there is no support coming from home. In my opinion if the parents don't care why should the kids? And that's the way some of these kids think. Due to this I think it's society's obligation to help push these kids, give them that support, and inspire these kids to do well and make a life for themselves. I believe that if you're inspired anything is possible.

Religion: A Topic I Refused to Discuss Until Now by Greta Alvarez Cano

Religion: A Topic I Refused to Discuss Until Now by Greta Alvarez Cano

“Maybe in the general scheme of things he couldn't find
any meaning in life, but on a smaller scale it was okay.
Not always, but a lot of the time.”
― ETGAR KERET, 

“The Real Winner of the Preliminary Games"

INNER CITY STORIES

Something I refuse to talk about a lot is religion. I think it comes from the reactions I’ve had from people when I tell them that I don’t believe in God; I don’t believe in anything. That includes me, but that’s beside the point. What most people don’t know when I talk about it is that I’ve had a lot of bad experiences at the church, and most of them had to do with my mom.

When I was born, I was not immediately baptized or anything. I spent the first 10 years of my life without going to church, only going once a year for Easter. Even when I went once a year, I hated it because it just seemed like a huge waste of time for me. I did find joy out of dressing up really nicely, but this did not make up for it. When I was ten, my mom talked to one of her friends; I respect my mom's friends in every way, but I nearly threw a fit right in front of this lady after that. This lady explained that she had signed her kids up for religion classes, despite her kids pleading with her not to, and they were now on their way to being baptized. My mom decided to take this as an opportunity to sign us up for religion classes. However, there was a huge hole in her plan; she did not ask for my opinion, or consent, on the subject.

On August 4th, 2011, my mom signed me up for religion classes. I remember that day specifically because I remember sitting in the car in the church parking lot, refusing to get out. I kept arguing that I just wasn’t interested in it and that I wanted my Saturdays to myself, as these classes mainly took place on Saturdays from nine in the morning until eleven. Despite my protests, my mom dragged me inside and made me sign the papers. She paid $25 for the books used in the class, and we were on our way. My mom kept trying to convince me that it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought, and that God was the way of life. By now, to say the least, I was really angry. My mom had gone past my boundary and was forcing me into a religion I wanted no part of. She was not going to change her mind anytime soon, so I was forced to deal with this for the next two years.

My first class was not terrible, but it was full of miserable Latino kids who felt exactly like me; they did not want to be there, but they had been forced by their moms to come and take the class. My teacher was a young lady by the name of Colleen who was recently out of college. She was supposed to teach us the prayers, how to use the rosary, the ten commandments, you know, all the things I did not care about. I spent the first year hiding in the corner because I was eleven, not very pretty looking, and extremely short. Most of the kids in my class were a few years older than me. Colleen would often talk to me about how I should learn to pray and do the things a good Catholic should do, but I would always protest. I did, however, end up memorizing the prayers needed to pass my class. I was baptized by force; I regarded the whole ceremony as some dude dressed in white saying stuff while pouring water over my head, which, in actuality, was exactly what it was. I didn’t see any significance in it; the only reason I did it was to keep tensions in my household at a low.

Something that pissed me off throughout this whole thing was church. No, not the classes, but the actual masses. A requirement of the class in order to pass was to go to church every Sunday, either the English or Spanish mass. My mom always choose the Spanish mass, despite her knowing that I didn’t understand a lot of the Spanish words in the Bible. Yes, I speak Spanish fluently, but some words were just not in my vocabulary, and I therefore had a very difficult time understanding and finding meaning in the mass sessions. My mom would sit next to me, and made sure I paid attention, a job she was terrible at. I would space out a good 90 percent of the time, stand when I needed to, pretend to pray when I needed to, and then sit back down. This obviously caused my mom to get angry, because after the mass, we would go to the car, sit down, and she would ask me what the sermon was about. Most of the time, I answered some bullshit answer and said that I didn’t understand it. I was lying, obviously, but she only believed that sometimes. Other times, it would turn into heated arguments about how I spoke Spanish fluently, I was smart, and that I should pay attention more. A lot of the reason why my mom and I argued was because of this -- my unwillingness to go to church.

I was baptized, but then I was forced to go to Confirmation classes. These classes were the exact same as the ones I took for baptism, except Colleen was an even worse teacher than before and the classes were stupider. I still saw my Saturdays being wasted, as this class lasted two hours. I hated every single moment I was in that room, with the same miserable kids, with the same mindset as before. Most of the time Colleen didn’t even teach; she was usually fighting with one of the kids in the room, while I spaced out. I again memorized the prayers I needed to know, and I was again forced to go through something I didn’t want to. However, this time, it was a lot different. My parents gave me a choice of either going through with this or not. I obviously did not want to, but my brain was telling me to do it anyway. Why? My parents were peer pressuring me into doing it. I knew that deep down, my parents would be annoyed if I just decided not to. They would have made me do another year of religion school, and I honestly wasn’t up for that. Throughout this whole adventure, my voice of reason was my dad. I thought that he was on my side, since he usually agreed with the things that I said about myself. I told my dad, “I’m not religious,” several times. I never did imply that I was an atheist, I simply told him that I wasn’t very religious. One day, he sat down on my bed. He was serious. It was a few days before the ceremony and I hadn’t made my decision. My dad sat down and firmly said, “You are a Catholic. Just do the ceremony and get it over with.” From then on, I hated the church. I had just been named something that I obviously was not. How dare he? He had given me a title that was a lie. My mom ended up fighting with me anyway, calling me a selfish child for waiting till the last minute to make my decision.

The day came, and I had a lot of family come over. I didn’t see it as anything serious, so being the clever jokester I am, I kept cracking jokes and whatnot to lighten the mood. My mom, again, got mad at me because this was a “serious event” that, “I should take seriously.” Throughout the whole ceremony, I was furious. I cannot word it another way, you could see it by the way my face was all scrunched up. No one asked if I was alright, but it was obvious that I was not. When I went up there to receive “God,” I told myself that it was nothing other than some dude dressed in white, the same dude as before, giving me a soggy wafer cracker. Again, that’s exactly what it is. The day ended, my mom forced me to go to church a few times after that, but after seeing how I reacted to it, she finally stopped making me go. She finally realized that this was hurting me and that she had been hurting me. She didn’t apologize or anything like that, she didn’t have to, but she finally stopped making me go.

Earlier this past March, my mom held a small ceremony for her father, who passed away a year ago. My mom said that I had to attend mass with the rest of my family, and I simply said, “Alright.” I’m not a completely terrible person; she was doing this for her dad, my grandfather, and it would be considered extremely rude not to attend the ceremony. At the ceremony, for once, I listened in on what the priest was saying. Then I remembered why I hated the church so much, why I was completely against it. The man in white basically said that anyone who doesn’t believe in God is empty, dead on the inside, and doesn’t have a heart. He then proceeded to tell us how the kids of today are growing up without God and that God should be forced on everyone. I slowly felt myself growing angrier and angrier. Sure, I’m empty and dead on the inside, but it’s not because I don’t believe in God. It is because of life, and all the terrible things that come with it. If God is so great, why do I feel the way I do? If he’s real, explain to me the many wars we’ve had, explain to me why there are children in Africa starving, explain to me why Donald Trump is running for president. Seriously? You're saying that some dude on a cross can save everyone, and is the Lord and Savior? Are you kidding me? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but humans cause everything. Humans are humans, the sun is the sun, and grass grows. There isn’t anything special. Obviously, this is my personal opinion. I respect people who believe in different religions, but if you saw the world the way I do, then it really would be difficult to see light in the situation. I try my best to stay away from religious conversations because I will be put down with false claims about atheists. I’m an atheist because I simply see religion as a waste of time, and I also don’t see evidence of there being a “Lord Savior Jesus Christ.” I’m terribly sorry if my opinion is different than other people’s, but that is what I’ve come up with from years of experience.

So This Is Love by Carmen Nieves

So This Is Love by Carmen Nieves

“She wonders if this is what people call falling in love,
the desire to be with someone for every minute of the rest of
her life so strong that sometimes she is frightened of herself.” 
― YIYUN LI, 
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

INNER CITY STORIES

You don't really know what love is until you meet that one person whom you cannot be without, that one person who suddenly just became your entire world. You don't know how, but it just happened. Honestly, I didn't know what love was at all until I met this one special person. Then I realized, woah . . . THIS is it! This is that feeling everyone talks about, the feeling that everyone wants to feel forever. I just want to make him happy, make sure he's okay. I just want to make him smile, and when I see him everything feels all right. Every time I look into those light brown eyes of his, I feel like every problem I have doesn't matter because . . . He loves me . . .

Now . . . I'm finally happy. When he holds me tightly it feels like I'm home, somewhere I belong.

 Is It Really for Peace? by Aroosha Tabb

Is It Really for Peace? by Aroosha Tabb

"My son, he asked us during the last war not to tell people that
we want to peace. [...] He said, 'They told me at school that it’s not safe
to wish for peace. They told us that the Israeli Prime Minister wanted
peace and they assassinated him. They told me that Anwar Sadat, president
of Egypt, was assassinated.' And he said, 'I know how to make a deduction.
And I realize that all the people that openly say they want peace,
they get killed, so I don’t want you to say that you want it. [...]
Because I want peace, but more than that, I don’t want to be an orphan.”
–ETGAR KERET

INNER CITY STORIES

People always say they fight for peace,

Yet all they do is wage war!

They swear and scream at each other!

They strike fear and sap innocence!

They use bombs and explosives to kill people!

They make families lose members!

They make citizens worried and bring them harm!

They keep people hostage!

 

They claim they want peace and love,

with the absence of hate and harm,

but all they do is cause war!

 

All they do is destroy peace!

So what do they really fight for!?

 

Peace?

Ha! Please don’t make me laugh!

 

My New Life by Guillermo Burgos III

My New Life by Guillermo Burgos III

“For three months,
a person sits and looks at you, 
imagining a kiss.” 
― ETGAR KERET
"One Kiss on the Mouth in Mombasa"

INNER CITY STORIES

Her love enveloped me as I fell deep into her arms. The ache of my loneliness had taken its near deadly toll on my heart for what appeared to be the last time. For the first time in what felt like forever, I could feel the burdens of depression and despair being lifted off my soul. Utter despair that one can only know by becoming familiar with the terms, “Read at 5:18” and, “Delivered” on a frequent basis from the ones we crave attention from the most. But this was the beginning of a new age in my life, a new chapter. As we walked and talked for hours, I was became more and more enamored of her smile, a smile that I knew would have an everlasting effect on my heart, whether or not she loved me back. See, when she smiled, it was as if God himself was extending his mending hands to my soul, repairing any previous damages that had been hanging around from the past. It was like listening to a thousand of the most tantalizing tunes, tearing through the silence that was idle in my body when she spoke my name. When I’m near her, I become unfocused and distracted by her sheer beauty, to the point where I can’t help myself, but just smile and laugh. Her soft and kind words are all I’ll ever want or need for motivation, because she is all I'll ever need for eternity.

The Gardner by Victoria Velez

The Gardner by Victoria Velez

INNER CITY STORIES

She’s a young woman, trapped by vines

Rooted in uncertainty

A woman planted in the wrong soil

Over watered with judgement, causing her to drown in doubt

Her chief desire is finally to bloom

But she’s always been refused the chance to

A young woman neglected by sunlight

Surviving on the pity of others

Her talent and beauty withering away with no one to notice

Or care

 

Yet suddenly she found herself tended by a planter

A planter who is appreciative

So innocently, he recognizes her aptitude

The ability this young woman has to create and produce

With words like maximize your potential

Always remain humble

He opened a crack of light through the dark clouds

And in so little time, the sky that used to smother her now is shining

 

This gardener grabbed his tools

And began tugging

Pulling out the weeds of hesitation

He dug into her dried up roots

Plucked her out of acidic soil and potted her in something new

And finally this young woman has begun to bloom

 

With words like creativity and intuition

This planter so easily

Began to encourage the young woman

Urging her to blossom, to share her talent with other delicate flowers in the garden

Without even knowing how much it means to her

He continues to mentor her

She doesn’t know how to express all the gratitude she has for her gardener

 

All the young woman can tell her gardener is this:

You reap what you sow

And you have reaped a rose

A rose who will always continue with the lessons you teach her

Along with all the other roses, sunflowers, and orchids in the garden

And she wants you to know, you will be a gardener who is never forgotten

 

Dedicated to Dr. Walsh,

Thank you so much for helping me find my talent. Even in just the short time that you have become my writing mentor and teacher, I have seen big changes in myself, which means I have even better things to look forward to in the future.

Victoria Velez

Never Going Back by Destiney Texidor aka Baby Joker

Never Going Back by Destiney Texidor aka Baby Joker

INNER CITY STORIES

Said you was never going back, ha-ha

But I’m left alone, pickin’ up the slack

Funny how truth soon turns into lies

Lovin’ can hurt, and sometimes demands sacrifice

 

Every time you told me you was gonna change

But that was never the stage you played

So it’s probably best I go my separate way

If you look in my eyes you gotta know it’s true

Told me a million lies, but I still try to make do

 

Baby, I gave you time and always more

Baby, you got what you wanted, now you headin’ out the door

You supposed to be by my side, but who you kidding?

Talking all that shit don’t mean run around and go missing

 

No, and don’t try to be here cuz I’m fine

Cuz you nobody now in my eyes

I’m a be ok, I know this can only get clearer

Livin’ my moments, leaving you in my rearview mirror

 

What you gonna do when I’m not there no more?

You should’ve thought of that when you did me so cold

You were gonna be by my side, so who you kidding?

Talking all that shit don’t mean run around and go missing

 

Don’t try to be here cuz I’m a be fine

Now you nobody in my eyes

Nobody in my – yeaaa . . . !

 

My Hometown by Jennifer Mol

My Hometown by Jennifer Mol

"My mother owned a fabric store and she would work very hard
and she would close the store in the afternoon to make us food,
and then she would return from the store at 7 p.m. And when she
would come she would wash the floor, she would do things in the house,
and then I remember it would be like around 8:30 or nine when
she would finish everything and she would sit on a chair on the balcony
and smoke a cigarette. And when you would look at her doing it, you would feel
such an upward a feeling of joy. Like she said, “Wow, life is so amazing.”

–ETGAR KERET

INNER CITY STORIES

My name is Jennifer. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My birthday is on February 23. I am 16 years old. I moved to New Britain around 8th grade. It was extremely rough growing up in Philly. It was a blessing every day just to be alive. It was also a blessing for some people to make it to the age of 18. Some teenagers end up being 6 foot under at the age of 16. The youngest can be up to 4-6 years old.

One of my favorite lines in a song from a Philly rap artist is, “I was raised by the stop sign, no religion I was getting saved by the glock nine, by the minute I was getting paid like a hotline.” What this line tells you is the streets raised him and the only way to survive is to shoot. I know from experience growing up in a rough city that you are never exposed to anything else but what's in the “hood.” Even kids know how the drug dealing system works because they watch their family members do it. You see young girls lose themselves and having babies from left to right. I don't blame them though. You also see young kids out in the streets because they don't have a support system. So basically they raise themselves and the streets raise them. The only future for them is being 6 foot under or in jail.

It’s a struggle every day. It’s normal to hear gunshots every night in my neighborhood. You can even walk outside and see bullet shells and blood stains on the concrete. You walk around and see bullet holes through doors, windows, and walls. I witnessed mothers having to bury their own sons. I witnessed young kids dead on the streets because of drugs and being in gangs.

But now I'm here in New Britain for the better, even though I do miss my birth city sometimes and my family there. I just want to graduate and be the first in my family to go to college. And to make enough money so my family is comfortable and doesn't have to worry about struggling anymore. I also want to show my family in Philly that there's more out there than the “hood.”

In addition, I want to give back and help the city that raised me. I understand the youth out there having to live without electricity, and feeling embarrassed to have guest over their house because the house gives off a nasty aroma in the air and has roaches crawling on the walls. I understand having no water, waiting for the bucket to fill up as little droplets of water drip down from the faucet one at a time. I know how it feels to be embarrassed about not having fresh sneakers or decent clothes for school.

My little brother and I have better opportunities here in New Britain, and a safer environment. My main goal is to be a good role model for my little brother. My second goal is to graduate and make my mom proud. And to one day give back to my city and to the youth in need. I am proud to say I'm from the city of Philadelphia because it made me the person I am today.