After wrapping up another Lighthouse Young Writers workshop in Denver, I’m again struck by how much the young generation understands about the meanings, intentions, and motivations that lie under the surface of our lives. Maybe you wonder whether teens really get it when adults tell them that choices have consequences. If the short stories I see in my classes are any indication, they do. Choice and consequence are what their stories are all about, whatever walk of life or level of academic achievement they come from.
The stories by my recent group from Denver Online High School seem to weave two primary threads: love and violence.
In their writing about love, they speak about the generosity of sacrifice and the cruelty of betrayal in voices that reveal experience and empathy. They understand what it is to receive both the rewards and the wounds that trust can bring, to decide whether trust is worth it, and to chose it again and again in a spirit of hope.
When they write about violence, they speak about the natural urge to survive, to defend the people and ideals we hold dear, to fortify and defend the private walls we’ve built against rejection. They understand that love and violence are sometimes related. They recognize that sometimes we get fooled into leaping into one or the other, because people and events are not always what they seem.
It is in their metaphors that I feel the strongest connection with young writers, metaphors sometimes more profound and illuminating than they realize. Their subconscious is already working out answers that may not rise to the surface until they step into full adulthood. Yet the direction of their thoughts gives me hope.
A few of their ideas may well stick with me for the rest of my life:
– Destiny’s take on a homeless Iraq War veteran, who wonders, “What if I could go back to the day my caring mother and sister waved their soft, worry-less hands at me saying, ‘Goodbye, son. I love you,’ and, ‘See you later big brother.’”
– Jemma’s teen assassin who quits that life, knowing the move will likely lead to her own death, and who later tells her sister: “You don’t think I have the guts? I have the guts, but what’s more important is I have the compassion and the ability not to kill!”
– Cody’s young schizophrenic, who takes on violent criminals that don’t exist, wondering why one of them “laughs as I touch the barrel of the pistol to his mouth like a kiss.” Cody’s story reminds me that sometimes the harm we think we do to others ends up only harming ourselves.
– Then there’s the girl in Maddison’s story, whose boyfriend has cheated on her. The problem may sound ordinary, but the consequence is not: a series of earthquakes that tear her world apart, but leave unharmed the roses her boyfriend gave her. “I walk away from him through the debris, the bodies, and then I see those damn roses.” As the roses turn brown and lose their petals, the girl must decide if holding onto them is worth the price.
I’ve heard it said that the Millennial Generation lacks motivation and doesn’t value effort. Although some studies appear to support that idea, the latest studies suggest that this is simply a generation that approaches purpose and effort differently than the rest of us do. All I know is that I keep meeting young people who seem to care deeply about those around them and what is happening in our world. Perhaps when someone truly cares about a world beset by constant wars, a shrinking economy, and global warming, it makes sense to feel overwhelmed, to feel tempted to inaction. But I believe young minds are already working tomorrow’s problems. As tempted as they may be to hide, their stories tell me they won’t hide for long. They have too much to offer. They just need encouragement to offer it.
I encourage you to pop over to the Lighthouse Young Writers Online blog and take a look at a couple of their stories. I trust you’ll find, not typical teen angst, but flashes of insight worthy of a future.