Friday was my first day with the writing group from VOICES, the youth drop-in center in Santa Rosa. I’ve been around VOICES since they opened a center here. I worked with some of the youth doing farmers’ market events, and I’ve walked for VOICES in the Human Race a couple of times.
Leading a free-writing circle is different though, and I was nervous. I took the indirect approach, just sitting with a pile of journals, some pens, and an open notebook in front of me, in the resource room, a long wood-floored room on the first floor of the Victorian the center is housed in.
It was hard to compete with Facebook, which is what most of the youth were checking on the three PCs that are available there. Jaye (I’m going to call her Jaye) joined me for the first timed writing – five minutes. She made it to four and a half, but Jaye is on staff there, and she got called away to lead a tour for a pair of social workers who had stopped by. A little bit later, Amber, the director, wandered through. She politely but firmly directed one of the boys, Alan, my way. Alan* had already been hovering around the perimeter. He is a writer, he told me, and a science fiction reader. Alan decided he was going to round up a few others (safely in numbers!). He and Amber went after the boys who had finished checking the internet and were hanging out in the hall. “Hey, get in there and do the writing workshop, why don’t you?” Amber said. It was an interesting approach, and apparently successful, because three young men, including Alan, came back.
I thought they might be resentful since Amber ordered them in, but it didn’t seem like it. Lee likes music and writing lyrics. He’s a big fan of rap. He wanted to write lyrics. I said that the point of a timed writing was that you could write anything you wanted. Kyle is a visual artist and “cook,” (not a chef, he was clear he was a cook). He dove right in when I set the timer and wrote away steadily (because, yes, I did cheat and look up now and then to see what they were doing). He didn’t want to share his work, which was fine, but he was willing to talk about the process.
Alan shared a couple of sentences, and so did Lee. Jaye rejoined us for a few minutes before she got pulled away again. I said later joking, that I had three and a half participants, and Jaye was the half, because work obligations kept intruding.
I had printed out five writing prompts, cut up the paper into strips and put the strips out face down. I let the kids chose. Surprisingly, we ended up with all the prompts that are more introspective and philosophical in nature: “In the Next Five Minutes,” (five minutes was the length of the writing); “Why I Write,” and “The Blank Page.”
Jaye’s take on “In the Next Five Minutes,” was about the nature of procrastination. The next five minutes turns into five days, five weeks and so on. As somebody who only completed her tax planner document today, I can relate! Lee took the approach of the number of thoughts and idea that fly in and out of his mind in five minutes, how he can’t keep up with them. Kyle said he imagined five minutes in the future, later in the day. Intriguing!
The timer I bought has a shrill beep that I don’t like. I told them we may have to put up with it for a while, unless I want to use my phone (or just do plain old-fashioned timekeeping). We got two done, and because we’d started late, I was at the end of my time. I said, “Well, that’s when I’m supposed to end, so…”
Lee said, “Can’t we just push through one more? It’s only five minutes.”
So we did.
The professionals at VOICES warned me to expect a slow start. I said I’d be happy with two and thrilled with three, so I think Amber might have taken that to heart when she was rounding up “volunteers.” I hope that they enough of a good time that they come back next week, and talk about it with their friends. It was an exhilarating experience, even if picking prompts is hard!
*All of these names are made up to protect privacy.