YOUTH IN FOCUS BLOG
April 20, 2020
A Melted Walkman and a Brave Space
In the winter of 1995 I packed a small bag of clothes, contact solution, a walkman, tapes and my skateboard and I left home. There were multiple factors involved--much of it disputed now if you ask everyone who was there. Regardless, at 16 years old I moved into an anarchist collective in Memphis, Tennessee, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to live at home anymore. My highschool experience had been rocky before and with the exception of a few teachers it remained that way. I powered through the rest of my junior year and because I had an extra 1.5 credit hours tucked away I was able to take two classes over the summer and skip my senior year altogether.
It was an incredibly trying time. As I retell the story now, at 41, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it fully. My teachers had no idea and I was the object of harassment from some of the admin. I was slowly losing school friends because there was such a gulf between our lived experiences. There were trips to juvenile hall and therapy and suspensions and on and on and on. The Walkman I’d taken from home had melted. Sleeping on the floor in someone’s living room I’d left it on top of a floor furnace. Those days were rough.
I had no words for it then but I was treating myself with art therapy. Charcoal and paper were easy to come by and the physical act of drawing big was soothing. My friends and I formed a band and we practiced in every spare minute I had between school and work. There were nearly spiritual, sweaty late-night sessions in poorly lit basements filled with cigarette smoke. Me, shirt plastered to my body, just destroying a drum kit. I would stay in bands for the next 10 years, sometimes on the drums and then later, screaming, shouting, yelling out all the yuck that had gotten stored inside. Along the way I’d find photography, drawing, some (truly bad) watercolors, body piercing and scarification, and even tattooing, before I went back to school at almost 30 to pursue photography as a career.
The lingering effects of running away still find me now and again. It expresses itself in different ways now, though, as I work with teenagers on a daily basis. Around a year ago I had a 17 year old student who’d told me she’d moved nine times in the last year and was living away from her family with a guardian. She made a joke in our class one day, a goofy, teenaged kind of joke, and I made the connection. I was that age when I’d left home. A kid, fighting all the fights at once, reaching out for any kind of comfort and stability in all the chaos. Looking back I’d never really seen myself as a child who ran away. I’d imagined myself as an adult once I’d taken on all the adult-world duties of rent and bills and jobs, but the reality was I was just a dorky kid trying to survive.
Art is still the therapy I choose. Whether it’s finding flow in drawing or creating a photo series about my helplessness and frustration with the mass shootings--one way or another it comes out in the creation of something new. I cannot imagine my life without the opportunities the arts have given me. Whether it was processing trauma or just the way a camera acts as a passport to new experiences, art has and continues to inform nearly all aspects in my life. That includes working for Youth in Focus.
Join me and #GiveBIGforArts to continue providing arts access for any teen, no matter what the situation. As Coronavirus changes the way we live it is especially important to continue to create brave spaces for teens where they can explore, express themselves and be heard.