With some self-satisfaction, we pat ourselves on the back and recognize the important role that MyLeftNutmeg played in Ned Lamont’s campaign and in shaping the national discussions about Iraq in the 2006 election cycle. Those of us interested in the history of great writers from Connecticut may look back to great writers like Mark Twain or to the present day with writers like Wally Lamb, and several others that participated in Poets and Writers for Avery this past Sunday. Some of us, however, may want to look towards the future.
Nation Magazine recently had its second annual Nation Student Writing Contest. Two of the five finalists came form our fine state. Ned Resinkoff’s essay, Corporations Versus Democracy was one of the finalists. Last year, Ned was a senior at Middletown High School, and also did yeoman’s work helping with Ned Lamont’s campaign.
Jason Kaye wrote A Different Sort of War on Terror, which was also a finalist. Jason is a junior at Weston High School. Let us all congratulate Ned and Jason for their great essays.
(Cross posted at MyLeftNutmeg)
At Poets and Writers for Avery, Andy Thibault described Wally Lamb as an accidental novelist and an accidental activist. In many ways, it seems that Avery is an accidental activist as well.
As Wally spoke about his writing he talked about one writing teacher telling him there are no new stories and it is best to go back to the stories that have lasted through time, myths, because they contain the compelling elements of the stories we still need to hear to today.
Joseph Campbell, borrowing the word ‘Monomyth’ from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, talks about these compelling elements in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. Perhaps that is part of what is so compelling about Avery’s story. It isn’t just an issue about defending our basic freedom of speech, it is following the hero’s journey very nicely.
The monomyth starts with the hero’s call to adventure. The hero perceives a threat to the community, such as the threat to our basic rights, or simply stumbles into the adventure, such as using the word ‘douchebag’ in a personal blog, to set of the whole adventure.
Often, the hero is reluctant to take up the adventure or continue the adventure. The great adventures always seem so improbable. The hero is often asked to do something that seems impossible. This is important. If the hero goes out and wins what appeared to be a sure fire victory in the first place, then it doesn’t seem that heroic. There needs to be the possibility of loss, even significant loss. There needs to be fear of such a loss, but a girding up of the loins and a willingness to take up the challenged based on a belief that what the hero is doing is right.
Another part of the hero’s journey is the supernatural aid that the hero receives. These days that aid might come in the form of a community of supporters gathering around the hero, the way we did at Poets and Writers for Avery. As a community, we do not have any magical amulets to provide. However, with the sense of poetic justice, the Internet, which helped initiate the call to action, is also a tool to gather the community of supporters and I hope will be a sort of magical amulet.
Then, there is the return of the hero. The hero, upon returning from the adventure helps those around her by bestowing knowledge gained from the adventure. This is happening as Avery gets a chance to tell her story to people in schools, in the media and in daily life.
Perhaps this is where the real magic and power of Avery’s hero journey is hidden. We read the myths of old. We see them as they get portrayed today in movies. However, we all, too often forget that the heroes of these stories were regular people just like you and I. We are all potential heroes, waiting for our call to adventure, for our accidents to happen.
As I’ve written about the Avery Doninger case, I always come back to what I’ve been referring to as the teachable moments of the case. Avery Doninger used a derogatory term when she was venting in a blog entry at home one night and has been punished by the school for what she did at home on her own time. A lot has been written since about this, and, I imagine, will continue to be written, yet too little of it is focused on the teachable moments.
The contrast was driven home to me yesterday at the Poets and Writers for Avery fundraiser. Avery told me that she has been invited to speak to yet another school about the case, and I told her about some of my speaking engagements as well. Between us, we’ve been invited to speak to high schools and colleges in Connecticut and Massachusetts on how this case relates to topic from politics to English and anthropology. The contrast between how these other schools approach Avery’s blog post and how Lewis S Mills High School is striking.
Yet learning moments go beyond traditional schools. We are all students in this school of life and we all have so much more to learn. For me, that was part of the wonder of Poets and Writers for Avery. It took the teachable moment beyond the schoolhouse gates and beyond the core issue of freedom of speech.
You see it is finding our voices and exercising our freedom of speech that makes us truly alive and connects us with the people around us. The poets and writers that attended yesterday’s fundraiser seemed to understand that better than just about any reporter or blogger I’ve spoken with about the case.
Wally Lamb spoke about the other Connecticut, the Connecticut he grew up in. Not the gold coast of Fairfield County where fathers commute into New York City while their children study at private schools and then they all cavort at country clubs on the weekends. He spoke about the Connecticut he grew up in, of people struggling to get by. He spoke about growing up in the shadows of the Norwich State Hospital, which in 1950 housed 2,799 mentally ill patients.
After Wally finished speaking, Avery came up and gave him a great hug.
Christine Palm spoke of the lost voice of foghorns along the coast and her experience at an event in Hartford where Cezar Chavez spoke and later danced with volunteers. Chavez, she said, loved to dance, and it wasn’t something you typically found in the accounts of the day.
Jon Andersen spoke about his experiences as a teacher, just as Wally Lamb touched on his teaching experience and Amy Ma spoke about her studies to become a teacher. Jon spoke about trying to dismantle the walls that exist between a student and the student’s voice, erected by fearful administrators, fearful teachers and fearful parents.
Ron Winter spoke about the lessons he learned as a marine in Vietnam and Ravi Shankar talked about being the Indian kid that others picked on, and about learning the importance of protecting freedom of speech as he savored a book on a train through Europe, a book that his traveling companion’s father had been arrested for owning.
I sat there in the corner, taking notes and pictures and thought about my own story, growing up poor in New England, aspiring to be a writer, but always being thwarted by the need to make a living. I thought of the difficult time of my divorce and a friend urging me to read Wally Lamb’s “I know this much is true”.
When Christine Palm spoke about dancing with Cezar Chavez, she described the group as “some well meaning hopeful strangers”. For me, Poets and Writers for Avery was a gathering of well meaning hopeful strangers. Jon Andersen said that he hoped the afternoon would be a catalytic event for many of us. I share that hope to.
I’ve often spoken about the importance of buying locally. We get much of our produce from a farm a few towns over. Our fruit and meat comes from orchards and farms around the state. Yet we are so much more than just what we eat. We are what we do, how we fight for our freedoms. We are how we communicate and the stories we tell.
So, I echo Jon Andersen’s desire that yesterday afternoon might be a catalytic event for all of us, a group of well meaning hopeful strangers. I hope that we learn to savor not only the locally grown foods, but the locally grown voices, that Avery’s voice, my voice, all our voices may grown stronger, clearer, more nuanced and more compassionate.
To return to the legalese for a moment, that is where the true pedagogical interests should be.
Well, I’m home. I’m exhausted. I’m still fighting some virus and this was probably more of a day that I was up for. At the event, Avery gave me a button she had made which says “Blogger and Thinker at orient-lodge.com”. I was proud to wear it during the day. At one point, she was swarmed by the press and when they asked her about the T-shirt that had been banned at Lewis S Mills High school, she asked me to come over and model it for the press.
I took lots of photos and videos, both with my cellphone and my digital camera. The cellphone pictures and videos I sent as the event took place and you should be able to see them on Facebook, Flickr, Blip.TV and YouTube. The cellphone lasted until the last band was on. When I got home, I uploaded the pictures from my digital camera. They are available on Flickr. I have started uploading the videos I shot with my digital camera. They will be on Blip.TV, but may take a little longer to get processed.
Besides the pictures and videos, I have a lot of thoughts and impressions of my own to process. I hope to have a few more posts about the event, but they may have to wait until the morning.
I’m also cleaning up the stories on my front page, so most likely only the most recent story about the Doninger case will appear on the front page. Other stories can be found by checking the Recent Blog posts box on the upper left hand side of the page, or by going to the Connecticut section of the site.
After Young Vick started off the music, Andy Thibault got up and welcomed people and then introduced Avery. They both spoke briefly and Jon Schoenhorn talked a little bit about the current state of the trial. He encouraged us to come down to the arguments in the Second Circuit which are expected to be heard in December of January. I hope I will be able to attend.
Franz Douskey started off reading a great essay about using the word 'douchebag' on the playgrounds of his childhood. It is a word that was bound to start a fight. Franz was followed by Amy Ma, a great young poet who has been learning about blogs and is studying to become a teacher. She read one of her poems. Rand Cooper ended off this section talking more about our dynamic relationship with the words we create and how those words recreate us.
The band adrenaline followed this with an accoustic set. People milled about, drank drinks, ate Hors d'oeuvres and talked. Audrey Blondin showed up and spoke for a while with Jon Schoenhorn. The media mobbed Avery as we took pictures and others of us took pictures of the media photographing Avery. I thought, this is how you treat students that write derogatory criticisms of school administrators online.