I’ve been asked and told many different things by the group I’ve been working with twice a week at Broad Ripple High School. I’ve been told I need to get married, that I’m too old to be in school (my protestations and explanation of graduate school did nothing to sway them), and I’ve even been consulted on my long-term hair plans. But one day, amidst the natural, yet somewhat controlled chaos, one of my students, M—, asked to read something I had written that day. Other members of my group have occasionally asked to read what I have written, and I will inevitably pass them my paper with one actual sentence and three scratched out ones, but this day I had actually written something, so I handed it to him. He intently looked over my paper before handing it back to me and asking, “Why are you angry in this?”
I looked at him in slight disbelief. I didn’t get the sense I felt angry while writing it, sad maybe, but not angry. So I reread it. M— was right. I wouldn’t directly admit he was right, wouldn’t admit it to myself really, but he was.
But this is the thing I am coming to realize working with these young people. They feel things in such a pure and complete way. They have not come face to face with cynicism yet. Their minds have not yet been muddied by adulthood. They do not, on a routine basis, use the words “reductive” or “obtuse.” They can write without the filter, unafraid and frankly unaware of the consequences or potential perceived downfalls of their work (I have tried to embrace this lack of fear in my own work, recently starting a short story about a young man who only speaks in Drake lyrics. I think these students are having more of an influence on me than they realize). And this is the beauty of what we are doing. This time only comes once in every person’s life. They can harness this purity of emotion and write such beautiful and meaningful things. I am not ashamed to admit that I have gotten emotional multiple times during our readings. Every time I’m there, it reminds me what it was to be a young person and feel those things so intensely they just have to come bursting out no matter what. And what better way for these feelings to come bursting out than through a story or a poem?
Daniel Flener is a graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing program.