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6527212 July 05, 2009

I'm Stubborn: A Teen Aberration Story

... people view this trait of mine as a bad thing, as a flaw on my part.

Stubbornness can be described as refusal to adapt one's perspective, or being reluctant to cave in to the views of others. It's having a concrete standing on a topic, and not letting anything stop you from thinking that way. And by most, stubbornness is viewed negatively, as an obstacle that prevents us from moving forward with our goals, our relationships, and our lives.

Stubbornness is my aberration.

I am hesitant to admit another person is right and even when the majority of proof shows me that I'm wrong, I argue to defend my point, no matter how hopeless of a cause. When working with others on a task, I push my own ideas forward, dismissing the thoughts of others. And when arguing with accomplices, I don't give up until I win. And thus, people view this trait of mine as a bad thing, as a flaw on my part.

But though my stubbornness appears to be a hindrance to myself and others, it is something that helps me succeed beyond the expectations of all others. My stubbornness helps me earn high grades in my classes, as with my persistence, I never settle for anything less than a perfect score. In group-work, I always push work on people, thus resulting in a better job done overall. And by always questioning views that are different than my own, I learn more about the topic I am inquiring about.

I have grown to level out my stubbornness. I attempt to listen to the opinions of others completely before immediately declaring them as wrong. During group-work, I try to have others assigned to specific tasks, and only focus on my own job. And in general, I listen to people before spontaneously jumping to conclusions and making judgments. While I tone down the negative sides of my aberration, I attempt to enhance the positive. I aim higher in grades and overall goals, always trying to surpass what I previously accomplished. I form a concrete code of values by sticking to my ideals and points. Thus, I have come to balance my aberration.

One specific case of my stubbornness dates back to fourth grade when I felt a certain answer to a math problem my teacher gave was incorrect. I forced my explanation on the teacher, insisting my solution was the correct one. Eventually, the teacher brought over the head of the math department, who confirmed my solution. Though I was right, the stubbornness I used to convey my opinion was uncalled for. I acted in an obnoxious manner, not letting the teacher skip the problem and move on to another. I was so rude that even my classmates were angered with me. The next day, students kept on showing me the golden rule of the classroom: “listen to the teacher”. However, I did develop a reputation of always having to be right. In this way, stubbornness is both something positive and negative in regard to my life. Yet I have come to accept it as a definite part of my life--a part of me that will stick to me no matter what happens, no matter how much time passes, and no matter what type of person I develop into. Stubbornness will always be my aberration.

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6527212 July 01, 2009

I Did Not Cause 9/11: A Teen Aberration Story

... who people are should not be based on where they are from ...

As a kid, I didn’t see the supposed differences in people. Race, religion, and ethnicity never really mattered to me; I don’t even think I realized that they were there. But when I walked into school one day, a week after 9/11, my best friend also happened to enter, as he always did, at the same time as me. Instead of greeting me as he normally did, he told me that we were different, simply because I was Muslim. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t even religious; the only thing that mattered was that I was technically a Muslim, and Muslims had killed all of those innocent civilians and heroic rescue workers at the Twin Towers.

Over the years, I came to realize that my religion seemed more important to other people than to me. I realized that it wasn’t the smartest thing to reveal that I was Muslim. Others tended to be overrun by prejudice. They seemed to feel that the nation’s biggest tragedy was my fault, or that I seemed to cause 9/11. But in truth, every Muslim is not a terrorist. I began to withdraw, and even my parents started to tell me, “You don’t have to tell others what your religion is. If they ask, ask them back. Why does it matter?” For years, I didn’t understand why my religion mattered at all.

Then, one day, I walked down the street and I saw hundreds of people, all walking together. Nobody seemed to care who was what; they just minded their own business and kept on walking. I noticed that people only see what they choose to see. If they want to see a Muslim, then that’s what they’ll see. If they want to see a black, a Hispanic, a white kid, or anything else, then that’s what they will notice.

People still scream “Allah” at me at times, as if because Allah means God to Muslim people, it’s mean-spirited, but it doesn’t matter to me anymore. If people ask me what I am, I’ll tell them, “I’m Muslim,” with no regrets and I feel perfectly fine about it. If people want to see me as a possible threat to national security, too bad for them. I know that I’m just like everyone else, and who people are should not be based on where they are from, what they believe in, or any hereditary trait.

People should be judged by their decisions, and the actions they take. I am myself, and will be accepted as myself.

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6527212 June 29, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 2)


...awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents.



Welcome back to the ongoing story of Lisa Morguess. Go here for Part 1 of Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story.
Your first marriage resulted in an abusive situation. How old were you when you married? Were the issues in the marriage, or the dynamic that developed, related to the those that led you to runaway from home as a teen?

I was 19 when I married my first husband, and he was 21. He was the boyfriend I had run away with. The abuse actually started pretty soon after we began living together, but by then I felt pretty trapped; I was far away from a home I couldn’t bear to return to anyway. It is pretty typical, too, for people who grow up in abusive families to see abuse as normal. I grew up watching my father abuse my mother, and being abused myself by both of my parents as well as my mother’s boyfriends and my older brother, so abuse seemed like a normal part of existence, sadly.

When you are in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend/husband, the dynamic is a little different, though. There tend to be enough periods of calm that you hang on to this hope, this belief, that the periods of calm are reality, and the awful periods are aberrations, if you will. Every time he smacked me around, I tried to believe that it would never happen again.

Then, too, there is the typical modus operandi of the abuser: to slowly but surely take away just about every bit of self-esteem and self-respect of their abused. The physical abuse is horrible, but the emotional abuse is more insidious and has much deeper and longer-lasting effects.

My husband was a drug addict and an alcoholic. When we were teenagers, we partied together. I did my share of drinking and getting high. . .but by the time we got married (even before I turned 19) I got to a point where I realized how dangerously we were living and I wanted no part of the drugs and partying anymore (and, in fact, I haven’t touched an illicit drug since then, in over 23 years). He led me to believe that he felt the same way, but it wasn’t long before I realized that he was still doing all of it on the sly, and it became a recurring nightmare of an issue throughout our 12-year marriage. He would tell me that I was the one with the problem. “My drinking wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t have a problem with it,” he would tell me. “It’s your fault I hit you,” he would tell me. “You bring out the worst in me, you make me do that,” he would say.” “Nobody else would ever put up with you. Nobody even likes you. Everyone says behind your back that you’re nothing but a bitch,” he would say to me. “You’re crazy,” he would tell me. “YOU need help,” he would say. After you’ve heard those things enough times, you begin to believe them.

So, in a nutshell, I would say that his alcohol and drug addiction played a big part in the abuse and the general issues in our marriage. I think he was just naturally a very controlling person, too, and I think now, looking back, that he would have been abusive to anybody he was in a relationship with--not just me. When he and I got together, I was so young and needy, and he clearly wanted somebody to rescue. I think he got off on that whole damsel in distress thing. So he saved me from my family and then his own demons took over. And although I was victimized by him, I grew up, and he never really did--when he died at the age of 33, he was the same exact person he had been at 18. And I think the more I “grew up,” the more determined he was to keep me under his thumb.

How did you find the courage to leave such a destructive relationship and move on?

There are a couple factors that came into play in my finally getting out of the relationship. The first one was our son. We struggled with infertility for the better part of our marriage, and didn’t end up having a child until we had been married for 10 years. After Kevin was born, I realized that it was one thing to put up with that kind of destructive life when it was just me, but it’s a whole different story when there is a child involved. And having grown up watching the horrors of abuse and alcoholism with my own parents, I didn’t want my son to grow up with that. To my knowledge, my husband never abused Kevin, but Kevin certainly witnessed a lot of ugliness. By the time Kevin was born, I think I knew in my heart that the marriage was never going to make it. . .but it’s another matter to find one’s way out of something like that. I tried to get my husband to go to counseling with me--he refused, time and time again (after all, I was the one with the problems, according to him). I begged him to enter rehab--he wouldn’t, even after he finally admitted to me that he was addicted to cocaine. I gave him ultimatums, even leaving him once, only to be coaxed back with empty promises.

The impetus for my finally leaving for good was two-fold: the friendship I had with a guy I worked with at a law firm began to develop into something more than a friendship. I was committed to making my marriage work for far longer than I ever should have; the marriage was over--in every aspect--long before I actually filed papers. Without going into a lot of detail for the sake of privacy, I’ll just say that Michael allowed me to believe, finally, that somebody actually could not only put up with me, but love me, and treat me with kindness, respect, and dignity. That’s an incredibly strong motivator.

The final straw came one evening when my husband grabbed our two-year-old son and disappeared with him overnight. He was clearly on a binge. I was frantic all night, not having any idea where they were. My husband called me from payphones throughout the night, screaming obscenities at me. He returned home with our son the following morning, and I went to see an attorney that day to draw up divorce papers.

What did you learn about yourself though the ordeal? Looking back, do you believe it was part of a unique circuitous path you had to follow to find the great place where you eventually landed?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself throughout everything is that I am strong. I feel weak at times--who doesn’t? But I’m a survivor. I’ve survived some really terrible things, and I am not only here, but thriving and happy. At the risk of tempting fate by saying so, I feel like I can survive just about anything.

As far as it all being a circuitous path I had to follow to get to where I am now. . . I’m not so sure. I’m sure under different circumstances and with different choices, I could have landed in a good place much sooner than I did. But I will say that the struggles I’ve faced and overcome have certainly made me more appreciative and grateful for my life as it is now. Not a day goes by that I don’t consciously take a moment to reflect and acknowledge how fortunate I am.

How did you meet your current husband? Was it difficult to trust again after such a devastating first marriage?

As I said, I met Michael at work. I had been working as a paralegal for a small law firm for several years, and we hired this guy as a law clerk who was awaiting his bar results. He passed the bar and was given an associate attorney position with the firm. He and I hit it off immediately and became friends--just friends. We were friends for a year and a half before it developed into something more than that.
Yes, it was very difficult to trust again after my first marriage. I had been lied to so much, for so long, and in so many ways. . .yeah, trust was a big issue for a long time when Michael and I got together. And the first couple years of our marriage were rough, in large part because of my “baggage.” We’ve worked very hard to make this marriage work, and it’s all paid off a hundred times over. Michael is my best friend in the world, and in spite of the challenges our family is now facing, I love my life, and I feel like this is the happiness I was waiting for for so long.

You have six kids now! Did you always want to have such a large family?

I never dreamed I would have this many kids! I will say, though, that I loved being pregnant so much the first time, that when Kevin was born I instantly decided that I’d love to have ten kids! With my first marriage falling apart the way it did, though, I got to a point where I had to accept that I might never have another child. Then Michael and I got married, and he was eager to be a dad (and he took on the role of dad to Kevin from the get-go, even making vows to Kevin at our wedding).

We never set out to have six kids. I think early on, we talked about having a total of three kids (including Kevin). By the time Michael and I got married, we were both already approaching our mid-thirties, so we didn’t feel we should wait too long to get started on expanding our family. So Joey was born a couple weeks shy of our first wedding anniversary. When Joey was about 18 months old, we were ready to try for a third, and we got one of the biggest surprises of our lives: twins! Even after four kids, we weren’t sure if we felt “done,” and it’s funny because I still remember having this long, serious discussion when the twins were about 16 months old: should we have another, or shouldn’t we? We agreed to wait until the twins turned two to make a decision, but a couple weeks later I found out that I was already pregnant. So Lilah was born shortly after the twins turned two, and then when Lilah was a year old, I became pregnant again, with Finn (so obviously we were still open to having another, although he was a surprise, in more ways than one).

Your youngest son has Down syndrome. How has your family had to adjust to ensure he is well cared for and given the attention he needs?

We did not find out that Finn has Down syndrome until after he was born, and it was quite a devastating shock, probably made worse by the fact that he was a planned home birth and had to be rushed to the hospital when he was less than a day old and had major surgery the day after he was born and then spent two weeks in the NICU. I think the adjustment our family has had to make concerning Finn has been much more of an emotional adjustment than a logistical one. When you are expecting a baby, you have expectations of what that baby is going to be like, and on some level, you map out his life even before he’s born - you imagine him learning to walk, talk, going to school, playing baseball, learning to drive a car, growing up, going to college, getting married, and having children of his own. When you receive a diagnosis like Down syndrome, a lot of your dreams and expectations are shattered . . . and a lot of them you might think are shattered but really aren’t at all. So there was a whole grief process that I went through; I grieved for the baby I thought I was going to have. It never interfered with my love for and acceptance of Finn - I’ve felt this fierce love and protection for him since he was born - but it’s a process of accepting a new reality. My husband didn’t have as tough a time as I did with the diagnosis - maybe because he worked with people with various disabilities for many years, so it didn’t seem so foreign and frightening to him, maybe because he’s just a much more laid back, accepting person, I don’t know. The kids have been very accepting, and honestly, the youngest kids still don’t really understand what Down syndrome is, and I don’t think they feel like Finn is “different” in any way - he’s just their baby brother.

Practically speaking, there haven’t been a whole lot of adjustments to be made. Finn’s a baby - not even a year old yet, so for the most part, he just does what babies do. He’s had a couple of surgeries, and he has a physical therapist who comes over once a week to help him achieve his gross motor skills, but other than that, he doesn’t require any more specialized care or attention than any other baby. I’m sure that as he gets older, we’ll have to make more adjustments as his needs change, but it’s a gradual process.

How did your experiences as a runaway, and as a partner in an abusive marriage, prepare you for the stress involved in having such a large family, including a set of twins and a child with a disability?

Like I said: I’m a survivor. Every challenge I’ve overcome and every heartbreak I’ve lived through has shown me that I’m made of pretty tough stuff. Having a large family, having twins, having a child with a disability. . . those are all big challenges, but they’re also things that enrich my life to a much greater degree than the challenges they present.

Do you believe that your teen and young adult experiences will help you be a better parent to your kids, particularly as teens?

I think those experiences have definitely made me more aware--and awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents. That said, I fail sometimes. I fall short of being the parent I want to be, the parent my kids deserve. And at those times when I know I’ve failed, I think about what my experiences as a young person were, and how I felt, and I endeavor to be accountable, make amends to my kids, and purposefully parent them in a positive manner.

When you ran away from home as a teen, did you ever imagine that your life would one day be filled with so much love?

No, I never imagined it. I spent the better part of my life--into my thirties, waiting for happiness to find me, and believing it never would. And it wasn’t until my first marriage fell apart that I realized that happiness doesn’t find anyone, you have to make your own happiness.

Now, I truly feel like I’m living the life I always wanted to have, even with all the challenges we face as a family.
_______________________
Come back on July 3rd for Part 3 of Lisa's story.

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6527212 June 27, 2009

I Lost My Leg: A Teen Aberration Story

It was so strange to look down and have that empty space.


The following Aberration Nation interview of a teenage amputee was conducted by a teen:

Of the many struggles life brings about, I find physical strains to be the biggest nuisance. I have a slight case of juvenile arthritis, and I hardly manage. Ordinary pain fills most days: walking up the stairs, running down the street, participating in gym class. Every day is a hassle on bones and muscles, especially those of the legs. Disease or not, everyone experiences some sort of relief when getting a chance to sit down, when getting the ability to relieve the pain that overtakes our knees, ankles, toes. We all complain, and we have both legs in tact.

Josh isn’t so lucky. After having his right leg amputated, this seventeen year old is faced every day with a challenge most can’t even begin to imagine. I wanted to ask him just how the amputation has affected his life, and what he has learned from it.


How long has it been since the amputation?


It’s been about two years.

What was the cause for your amputation?

Peripheral arterial disease. My arteries hardened so my limbs were injured, and my leg had to be amputated.

What was the hardest part about losing your leg?

The phantom pains were really bad, but I guess just getting used to the idea of my leg not being there was worse. It was so strange to look down and have that empty space.

How did you manage with the emotional pain?

It was really difficult to cope. But I just had to let out the things I built up inside. Talking to my family really helped, and my friends were supportive, so slowly I started to accept my situation.

Have any positives come from this experience?

It’s taught me many things. I learned how to face fear, since I know what it’s like to be scared for my life. I also learned to be optimistic, to find the bright side. I could have lost more than a leg.

I’ve learned to be thankful for the leg and arms I still have.

Have you emotionally recovered fully? Is there another step to the rehabilitation?

I think I’m pretty close to getting over it. I’m hoping to get a prosthetic leg, though. It would be amazing to walk again.

Any advice to fellow amputees?

Just not to dwell on the negative in the past. That’s a waste of time. It’s better to move on and look towards the future. That’s where you can actually change something, because the past is done with.

________________________________________


This brief but powerful interview is a fantastic avenue for also considering the unseen missing pieces some of us recognize, yet fail to understand, at an early age.

If you've been following the Pieces of Penelope posts, consider that up through age 17 (tomorrow's post), I lacked the insight to connect my loss and loneliness with family dynamics. I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I was too close and too young, brainwashed, in a way, by the dysfunction. Instead, I looked to my social environment for reasons and answers, and in the end always blamed myself.

Just as Josh can never grow back a missing leg, I suspect Lisa and I will never fully replace or replenish the lack of love and acceptance we felt as children. But we can all find positive avenues that enable us to live productive, happy lives. After all, life isn't about what you've lost, it's about what you find.

The book trailer for my novel Aberrations asks, Are you missing pieces of yourself? This seems like a good time to share it again. If you haven't seen it yet, I hope you'll take a look.






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6527212 June 22, 2009

Selective Mutism: A Teen Aberration Story

Most people think I’m just shy. They’re not wrong; not really. It’s just that there’s more to it than simply being shy. At age 4, I was diagnosed with Selective Mutism. I didn’t really know what it meant back then, only that it was difficult for me to make friends every time I moved to a new environment.

Selective Mutism (SM) is a little known mental disorder similar to autism. Children affected by SM have an extreme fear of speaking in public places, reaching the point where it becomes physically impossible for them to utter a simple string of words. Many parents of children with SM aren’t even aware of their child’s condition. There isn’t much information on the subject, so most people just dismiss their behavior as shyness. Often, children with SM are thought to be stubborn, misbehaving kids who refuse to speak on purpose. It’s not that we choose to remain quiet, however. Children diagnosed with SM are actually physically unable to speak. The success rate for SM is low, and many of the affected never really grow out of their fear.

Selective Mutism is, in a way, my aberration. Throughout my whole life, I’ve struggled with communicating with others and making new friends. Signs of my SM started showing up when I first started preschool. While the other kids liked to play on the monkey bars during recess, I would sit on a bench in the corner and draw lions. I was fascinated with their silky coats, dagger-like fangs, and majestic manes; no other animal was quite the same.

I remained the typical, sugar-fueled preschooler at home, however. My mother didn’t notice a thing until our school’s Parent-Teacher Conferences came around.

“All the child does is sit in the corner and draw. She doesn’t talk to the other children,” Ms. Wahn said, sniffing as she shuffled her papers around and crossed her legs. “We have a guidance counselor. I’m sure you two can swing by anytime you’d like,” she added, pushing the bridge of her glasses up her nose.

To be honest, I don’t remember my sessions with Cathy very well. I’d get pulled out of class every week on the same day, at the same time and we’d play a game of Monopoly Junior or UNO. She also had this little dollhouse stacked under a box of memory cards of Winnie the Pooh characters and a chessboard in her closet of games. She may have asked me a few questions about school or what I was doing on the weekend. I felt comfortable around Cathy. She was quiet, like me, and when she smiled her eyes would sparkle and the creases around her eyes would show.

In third grade, I stopped going to see my psychiatrist. People were asking why I kept leaving during class, and for some reason, I felt embarrassed to tell them. Deciding that I no longer needed therapy, I told Cathy and my mother that I was better and that I didn’t want to go anymore. They accepted my decision and I didn’t see her again. I vaguely remember feeling both sad and relieved, knowing that I wouldn’t ever see Cathy’s tiny, lavender-colored room again as I walked down the hallway back to my classroom.

Luckily, third grade was the year that Myra came to our class. Myra and I were complete opposites. Bubbly and energetic, Myra approached me in her color-coordinated outfit on that first day during lunch: green T-shirt, green sweater, green skirt, green headband, green socks.

“Hi. What’s your name?”
I looked up from Harry Potter.
“Hi, I’m Myra. Whatcha reading?”
Slightly annoyed, I looked up, yet again, and closed the book. “Harry Potter.”
“Oh. Cool.”
I could tell she didn’t know what I was talking about.
“I like Nancy Drew.”
My eyes brightened. “Me, too!” I liked all books back then.
“Mysteries are fun.”
“Yeah. Harry Potter’s kind of a mystery.”
“Really?”
“Sorta.”
She examined the school’s copy, slightly worn with years of use. “It’s kinda thick.”
I took it back from her. “It’s not that bad.”
“Oh. Okay.”
We sat in silence for a while, not knowing what to say. I smiled awkwardly and eyed the book, wishing I could get back to it.
“You can keep reading and stuff if you want,” she finally said.
“Okay,” I said, relieved. “See you later.” I picked up the book, flipped back to the page I had dog-eared, and waved.
Smiling politely, she left the table and headed to the next one, her wispy, platinum blond ponytail swinging behind her as she sat down and introduced herself to another of my classmates.

We ended up becoming best friends. That year, I had my first sleepover at her house, where we gossiped about our teachers and classmates. She liked to lie, probably for the attention. I could always tell whenever she was making something up, but I listened to her anyway and went along with her stories. Gradually, I pushed myself away from Myra. Finally, in fifth grade, I heard that she’d started to talk behind my back. I was too timid to approach her about it, but our friendship was never quite the same after that. I still haven’t seen her in two years.

Although SM has been tough on me, both Cathy and Myra helped me greatly. Cathy was my confidante. She was probably 50, maybe even 60, but she was my friend. As for Myra, I was definitely hurt to hear that she would say anything bad about me, but eventually, I realized that she couldn’t change her personality and that it would’ve happened sooner or later. Besides, she helped me learn how to make many of the friends I have today. I don’t know if I’ve completely gotten over what happened with Myra, but I think, overall, I’ve gained more than I’ve lost.

I used to think of my SM as a burden. Of course, I’m not always glad to have SM, but it’s taught me to value friendship and family even more than I normally would. And that’s what keeps me going.

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6527212 June 21, 2009

Why I Care About Teens

Who blew out the candle?

There are multiple ways to run away. When I was nineteen, my attempt to run bought a three-day stay in intensive care. On the third day, one of my high school teachers happened to walk past the large, rectangular window of my room. I hid my face under the sheet. I hid my real face under all kinds of sheets for a long time. Lisa, who is highlighted in the Aberration Nation Teen Event (that starts today), ran away, too. We both survived. While the lives we enjoy today are certainly not perfect, they are much more than we ever imagined remotely possible once upon a teenage time.

A lot of the people in my young, lonely life wondered what in the Sam Hill I had to be so upset about. "She's a smart, tall blond. Her mom is such a strong Christian. Her dad is a high school guidance counselor. Her smile lights up a room; she's always has a date. She made straight A's last semester. Blah, blah, blah, blah." Some of those same people may now ask themselves, "Why in the Sam Hill would she share something like that on the Internet?"

You know who you are. Go ahead!

I've shared my secret because it's the most provocative and honest way I can explain the deep soft spot I have for teenagers.

Many teenagers have wonderful, functional families that help them successfully navigate their way through the ups and downs of those years. Others, despite great environments, struggle. Then there are those who don't seem to stand a chance in hell, and yet, they sail through. Some don't make it. Many do but then think about the desperate actions they took for many years, trying to understand what happened and why. Others separate out the early parts of their lives as if they're merely photographs of someone they used to be. The album snaps shut and that is that. As teens and as adults, we're all different.

During my mid-to-late twenties, I wrote a novel called Boundaries based the culminating struggle I went through to finally emerge on the other side of all the painful, lonely experiences I had as a child and teenager. It was a painstaking project that took many years. When I finally finished, I wasn't sure if I'd said all I could, or if I'd properly explained the complex situation, and how I felt about it. At thirty years old, I still wasn't sure if I fully understood it all, or if I ever would. Part of me wished I could be the type of person who closes the album, stuffs it in a box, and skips away.

I began trying to express myself through writing at a very young age. In recent years, I spent hours reading my old journals and stacks of poetry. What struck me is the phenomenal growth, and expanded contemplation and insight that evolved over the years between 12 and 21.

Here's a journal entry I wrote at 14, the age of most of my guest bloggers for this special teen event:

Some people live to make others die inside. They laugh at you and your feelings. Never think this is because they're older than you. It's not. It's because they're cruel, and anyone can be that way. (1980, 14 years old)

And here's a poem from the same year:


Loneliness


Who blew out the candle?
Burning, burning,
Did you?
I didn't.
I still want to see beauty,
When the flame is gone,
It's lonely in the dark,
I can't see,
Help,
Light a candle,
Hurry,
Time,
Running out ...

(1980, 14 years old)

At 14, my voice was young although my emotions ran deep. Life was confusing and I attempted to make sense of it with a beginner's toolkit. In reading the teen stories submitted for this event, I realized again why writers are so often drawn to their youth. Even the brightest or most talented teens can't always understand, describe, and fully express their experiences and emotions. The ability to do so can significantly increase as each year passes on that reckless highway between childhood and adulthood--and then continue ... The aberrations stories shared with you in the coming days were written by teens just completing the 8th grade. They're on the sharp edge of high school, where, in many ways, it all begins.

As you read their stories, I ask that you not only consider the words provided, but also imagine the words that may be missing. The voices you'll hear were our voices years ago. I wonder what these young people will say about their aberrations next year, or at 19, 30, or 43? They'll have seen adventure, accomplishment, and perhaps tragedy they can't imagine today. Yet at the core, at least in part, they will still be the selective mute, the amputee, the Muslim, and the stubborn boy who visited Aberration Nation in 2009.

Interspersed in their stories, you'll hear from Lisa, an adult who was once a teen runaway. Consider how she might have described her life at 14. What would she have shared and how would she have said it? Would she have understood her situation, emotions, and actions so well? What type of lens did she peer through all those years ago?

So what's the point of all this?

Well, I'm not a teacher, psychologist, physician, Oprah, or Dr. Phil, but I have a feeling we can all do a better job of listening to the teens in our lives. We could try just a little harder to remember what it was like once upon a teenage time. It's so easy to look into a bright, young smile, shrug off any doubts, and say, "She's fine. She's a beautiful, smart cheerleader," or drive the kid who wants purple hair and five piercings crazy although he's actually got a great head on his shoulders.

Through out this event, I'll also post brief excerpts from my journals, as well as some of the poetry I wrote between the ages of 14 and 21. Don't expect award winning writing, but you will find honesty. My aim is to use my early content to further support the idea that our understanding, and the ability to express ourselves matures dramatically during those years. I believe this is important because the depth of my emotions never changed. They were as strong and real at 14 as they are today.

The recognition of this disconnect seems important. I hope you'll agree.

Come back Tuesday for our first teen aberration story: Selective Mutism.

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