Leading another writing workshop with the high school students. I’ve come to realize that this project may not materialize in the way I had envisioned. There are a number of reasons leading me to this conclusion, but primarily I credit a lack of enthusiasm for already tired youth and lack of leadership from the adult mentors.
When I arrived, I brought with me copies of a poem, “I Am Joaquin,” the Chicano anthem of the movement, and one that I hope will excite the students, and also give the something to work with/model for their own writing. While waiting my turn, I realize that the students had met the previous week for a workshop about how to organize themselves more efficiently.
“The workshop was really helpful, and it opened up my eyes to a few things we’re not doing here,” said the club president Maria.
“We need groundrules” a voice chimed in.
“We need a lot of things. I feel like we have a lot of ideas, but we just don’t finish anything.”
I head this and I sensed some despair. This project with the book might be one of these.
As she was speaking, Jesus sat next to me. “Yeah, you know about how you asked us to write ten pages last time? Well, the next week not that many people showed up because they thought it was homework. It’s not a good idea to do this that way, or else we won’t get people.”
“Well how else is it supposed to get done if folks don’t write?” I was on the defensive. I quickly checked my tone. Perhaps I should ask everyone to bring in a poem, something short we can all work with.
When they finished their discussion, I took over. I had just under an hour to win them on the project. I told them I understood their frustration as an organization. I admitted that I sensed the disorganized nature of their club, and that potentially the book project would help them not only to draft a narrative of their club, but also complete a project, as I would work as much as necessary to get the thing done. I mentioned that I wanted to send the book to independent stores.
“That’s a lot of pressure,” said one student.
“You just have to write,” I said. “But if we get this thing going, people will want to read your stories. I’ll edit things to help you along, give you comments, make suggestions. That’s my job, but I want to help you guys earn some money for college, and also give you something you can take away from your experience.”
So much for the pep talk. I don’t think anyone was flagging. I had extra notebooks which I distributed, as only one student, Jesus, brought his from last time. I decided I would join the club’s Facebook page and try to elicit writing in this way. I hoped that I would be able to capture some of their writing from online and ask them to collect in this way. So much for the notebooks I thought.
The students took another notebook each, and I asked them to free-write: who am I? I let them write for five minutes, then we stopped to speak about “I Am Joaquin.” As we read the poem together, I could tell I was winning their approval again, as I was able to break the poem down, as well as some Mexican history, for them this might have been something new. It was exhilarating to speak of the poem, one of my favorites. They could sense my energy, but I still had doubts these students would be able to produce sixty pages of material for a book.
Later that evening, three students friended me on Facebook, and I was added to the club page.