Dear Raif Badawi- A Letter Written on The Day of the Imprisoned Writer

I am writing this letter to you so that you know that you have not been forgotten. I am writing this letter to you to tell you that because of you, and what has happened to you, that I have started up a creative writing club at my school. Article 19 was created as a response to your imprisonment. I want my students to recognize that the rights and freedoms that we take for granted are rights and freedoms that are denied to others around the world. I want to them to recognize how important it is in this day and age of mass surveillance and rampant censorship that it is important for them to tell their stories, share their stories because we are our stories. Most importantly, I want them to see that the most powerful weapon of all is not a gun, bomb or imprisonment. The most powerful weapon available to all of us is words. Raif, even though you are locked up, your story is free. Your story has galvanized a community to write, share and stand up for the right to free expression. I applaud your courage.

Saying Goodbye the Write Way.

Tonight, Story451 celebrated the conclusion of our five-week creative writing workshop with the kids from Kerry’s Place Autism Services. We said goodbye the same way we said hello: with plenty of activities, discussion, art, laughter and hugs.

The kids were in full-on creative mode throughout the session. Initially, we thought they might be reluctant to share and participate with their parents in the room. But as has been the case the whole time we were together, they defied expectations and even managed to inspire their family to participate and share in the activities as well.

The past five weeks have been a trip. As a collective, we traveled beyond the reach of the human eye, to settle on a new planet and build something from the ground up. We wrote about character and conflict and discussed what the perfect world could look like. We read some Ray Bradbury, short stories, poetry, watched videos and even sang a couple of songs. We created a new planet with new laws, where all would be equal, where outsiders would be insiders, and strangers would be friends.

The kids were happy to have place where they could be safe and respected. We were happy to have space where we could try different things and learn something new. So much of what we did over the past five weeks was about exploring far away places, but what we were really doing was exploring our inner selves.

Personally, the biggest lesson I took away from all of this was this: I learned that we didn’t have to use our imaginations to create a world filled with respect, dignity, magic and art. All we had to do was meet the kids from Kerry’s Place in the basement of the Tweedsmuir United Church.

I’ll miss the kids.

 

 

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Captain’s Log: Week Two

Creative Writing Workshop with Kerry’s Place Autism Services.

We’ve landed and hit the floor running. This afternoon’s workshop was a whirlwind of ideas, readings, blasts (prompts), games of catch, newcomers, outsiders and cupcakes. I was so proud of our group today. We welcomed two new members into the fold, and both were willing to work and share from the get-go. As a group, we managed to come up with a name for our ship (101X). We also agreed upon a name for our planet (Upotia) and a name for the city that we will inhabit and populate (Atleor).

Maybe it was the smell of spring in the air, or maybe it was the fact that the writing group was starting to feel like more than just a group of people that got together to write- either way, something special happened today. Great things happen when you get a group of young people together and give them a chance to speak, to listen, to think and to share. These kids have so much to say, and I’m humbled in their presence. The focus of today’s group was ‘character’ and these kids have plenty of it.

When we talked about how they wanted things to be run on the new planet, they wrote about wanting a place where bullying didn’t exist, where everybody was equal, where people had to write at least one thing everyday. One girl wanted it to be a place where she “could be thirteen years old forever.” Another one wanted it to be a place where “everybody gets a chance to be themselves.” They were writing about what they wanted to see on Upotia, but you know they were writing about what they wanted to see right here on planet Earth.

(I’d like to think we can offer these things- if only for an hour and a half each week)

At the end of today’s workshop, we discovered that we may not be the only species on the planet. Things are going to get real hectic.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Captain’s Log: Week One

We had a great first shift with our creative writing group from Kerry’s Place Autism Services. My partner, Harry Posner, and I had the privilege of meeting five very talented young girls, each with their own unique talents and interests. One girl admitted that she liked “to draw pink hearts, black hearts and broken hearts.” Another girl couldn’t get enough of her grandfather’s homemade English crumpets.

The theme of our workshop is space exploration. Our goal is to find a place where we can make a new start, to take some of the things we have learned in our lives and apply them to a new planet, a new home. By the end, we’ll take what we learned and share it with others.

Admittedly, getting the kids to focus was a bit struggle. You could tell that they were with us, but not fully. When they did settle, they participated and enjoyed writing about friends, high school and food. They wrote goodbye letters and told us what they would miss and what they couldn’t wait to get away from. They wrote about simple things, and abstract things. We asked them: “What does home taste like? What does home feel like? If you’re home could say something what would it say?” Most shared, and those that didn’t looked to be getting a little closer to sharing.

The kids brought plenty of energy to this afternoon’s meet. I was exhausted when I first walked in; I was ‘over the moon’ when I left.

I look forward to hearing from them all next week.

 

Just Ask

Ask      the girl crying in the washroom.

Ask      the custodian with a twisted back.

Ask      the boy with a fresh bruise.

Ask      the two kids holding hands.

Ask      the boy praying for his life in the stairwell.

Ask       the new kid.

Ask      the girl giving a blowjob in the washroom.

Ask      the boy doodling dragons in class.

Ask       the Principal (but only if she knows your name).

Ask      the supply teacher that doesn’t know who to call for help.

Ask      Gregory Doucette.

Ask      the VP that doesn’t know how to say ‘no’.

Ask      the attendance secretary.

Ask      the kid waiting for the library to open.

Ask      the teachers in the staffroom, workroom and book room.

Ask      the kid that just signed out.

Ask      the history teacher just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Ask      the school nurse.

Ask      the young girl that wishes she were invisible.

Ask      the young boy that forgot to gel his hair.

Ask      the boy that forgot his lunch.

Ask       the kid with Tourette’s.

Ask       the mouse that only comes out at night.

Ask       the boy who needs a bath.

Ask       Mr. Bukowski.

Ask       the school social worker.

Ask      the girl that was just called a ‘slut’.

Ask       the kid that changes his route everyday.

Ask      the kid losing his hair.

Ask       Jordan Manners.

Ask      the boy that just found a knife.

Ask      the girl that carved ‘fuck life’ on the back of her hand.

Ask      the boy that wants to be a girl.

Ask      they’ll all tell you: the hallways at school can be a terrifying place.

How to Find Out What’s Really Happening in Schools

  1. If you want to know just how serious your child’s school takes literacy, don’t use the province wide test as a marker- visit the school’s library.
  2. If you want to know how your child’s school values their health, visit the school cafeteria.
  3. If you want to know just how serious your child’s school values their ability to think, ask them how many multiple choice questions made up their final exam.
  4. If you want to see how your child is really doing in math, give them the grocery money and let them do the shopping. NOTE: They can’t spend a penny more or less. They are not allowed to use a calculator.
  5. If you want to see if your child’s school values differentiated instruction, ask them about their most recent assignment and how it was different from the last one that they handed in.
  6. If you want to see if your child really is information literate, ask them to search for something without using Google.
  7. If you want to see if your child cheats on assignments for school, ask them to write their next essay, in front of you, without using a computer.
  8. If you want to see how serious your child’s school values history, social justice and empathy, visit in February and ask about what’s scheduled for Black History Month. 
  9. If you want to know how safe your child’s school is don’t just ask the Principal – speak to the social worker, youth worker and the custodian.
  10. If you want to see if your child is learning anything at school, don’t look at their report cards- just ask them.
  11. If you really want to see if your child is prepared for the future, take a look at how much the education system has changed since you were in school.
  12. If you want your child to succeed, don’t put your failures in life on them. Let them choose their path; choice is everything (unless, of course, it comes in the form of a multiple choice question).