Nothing could have turned my gray, summerdeath frown upside down quicker or better than this wonderful piece of mail from my friends at Young Audiences of Western New York. The organization (whose board—full disclosure—I sit on) brings arts into schools through residency programs, interactive assemblies, and after-school and summer programming. They do incredible, immeasurable work for our youth, and in turn, our whole city.
Block Club was thrilled to host an afternoon with this summer’s Curators of Culture, a day program that brings (the coolest) young minds to arts and creative spaces. They went inside artist’s studios on the East Side, they hung murals with Max Collins, and they visited our studio to learn about publishing.
This year’s group was small but intense, full of thoughtful questions and ideas, some of which have stayed with me. Like when Winter asked me if ideas were hard. “Yes, sometimes they are,” I told him, after contemplating his astuteness, “but a great idea doesn’t let go, and those are the easiest to find.” He smiled. I think he knew he had one.
My friend Colin Dabkowski, the art and theater critic at The Buffalo News, joined me, and we told them about our work. We talked about why magazines and newspapers are important, and how they’re different. We asked them what they liked to read, suggesting that a whole world of written and visual art is available to them, to feed their interests and invite new ones in. Their eyes widened. They wanted to know more. They wanted their own pens. We told them that Buffalo is a rare place to be creative, because it lets you be creative, it implores you to; and that, in so many words, it needs you to.
I’m floored whenever I encounter the brilliance these kids small humans possess. It’s obvious they have needs, doubts, illuminations firing off in the mind. It’s not shocking that they know more than we give them credit for. It’s not shocking that we dumb down our interpretation of the world for their sake, or when they often throw it right back to us with far more clarity and reason. It’s shocking only that we forget to engage.
Ask a small human what they think, and they’ll spill their guts. Ask them what they want, what they need, what they’re dying to tell you—and then let them tell you. Look at them, hear them, trust them. They want—we all want—exactly the same things: answers, relief and validation.
At the program’s conclusion, the group creates a zine full of remarkable poetry. This is always the treasure on my desk. I won’t speak to the surprising quality of it because that would imply I was impressed on account of their age, which we’ve established is not a factor. Instead, I will say that their words move me, they inspire me to re-think what I say, and how I say it. They implore me to think more carefully about my feelings and desires. They encourage me to keep searching, with my pen firmly in my grip.
Their thank-you note, which includes a shout-out to Miles (because of course), and a copy of their zine confirm what I knew all along, and that I hope they now understand, too: that they are not future writers, they are writers.
Two poems jumped out at me, as they each relate to current issues of the magazine.
One is by Elizabeth, and it is short and sweet. “Why do you hate me rainbows? / Why have you forsaken me?” she writes. I don’t know the context of her sadness, and I wouldn’t pretend to, but I understand what she means. I’m writing and reading about the shades of our grayness right now, in preparation for our next issue, Gray, for October. We’re reading each other’s minds.
Another is by Alysia. Her meditation on her troublesome sleep and dreams mirrors many questions I had contemplated when working on my story about nighttime for Stop. I think about these things almost every night. I get what Alysia’s saying.
"I’m bored and tired," she says, emphatically.
"I’m impressed," I say, too.