Old Moon

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Cry of Anguish

A friend has just passed on to me some work by a fifteen-year-old girl with a request for comments. It consists of part of a "story" (unfinished, according to its author) and two poems. Whatever an older generation may think when faced with extreme psychological pain and general teen angst, it seems to me that we shouldn't ignore what are so often cries in the wilderness.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the role of self-expression on paper as therapy. What becomes less clear to me rather than more, is how much of such material is worthy of dissemination. I have never had the money or privilege of psychiatry to help in difficulties, and my sense is that some of our most emotionally charged and passionate utterances most likely belong in the offices of practitioners. What I'm not mentioning is the legion of artists whose productions have become part of the literary, musical, and artistic canon. The point seems to be that to be an artist of whatever medium and still be able to evaluate these outpourings for their intrinsic value is perhaps the greatest talent of all.

What can I say to this young person (or should I say anything at all) that is honest without being yet another layer of misery to pile on what she has already revealed? Not only is the material "dark," it has no appeal to an outsider. The characters are two-dimensional: the author is a victim with no other revealed characteristics; her teacher and classmates are cruel bullies. There is no context or back-story to illuminate the positions assigned to the characters, yet the reader can't escape the pain of the writer who seems to have no outlet and no hope.

I'm no longer a teacher, but there may be a reader of this blog who is, and who might have a comment on this kind of "creative writing." Is it best to read, use a platitude for response, and duck the issue? Should a reader assume the writer is honestly interested in comment on literary value? I know better than to correct the grammar and punctuation and spelling, but what should my position be?


Tipper said...

Maybe the writer is really making an attempt to ask for help? I doubt she has access to therapy either-and even if she did she might not be able to ask for it herself. It's hard for grownups to ask for help-I can only imagine it would be much harder for her.

I'm not sure how you should respond-but I do believe you should at least acknowlege her pain and maybe point her to someone who could help. Yikes-a tough issue for you to face.

JLC said...

Thanks for feedback, Tipper. The person who gave me this girl's work to comment on is in touch with her, knowledgable about the family, and if anyone might have tried to direct her to therapy, she would be the person. I agree with you completely.

I think what I'm going to do is to comment as sympathetically as I can on paper, return the writing with the comment and leave it all in my friend's hands to decide how to proceed. Hope it's not a cop-out. Funny, it's almost 30m years since I taught in high school and faced kids like this, and here's another one.