September 6, 2008
We have moved one last time.
You will always be able to find The Can I Sit With You? Project at www.canisitwithyou.org.
Keep reading, keep the stories coming.
March 26, 2008
We are moving to WordPress. You can find us at canisitwithyou.wordpress.com.
March 12, 2008
17 years old at the time
I was an average student who enjoyed school most of the time, except for my problem of "shyness". What brought about my being shy I still don't really know, but in those special years at school, it was a thorn in my side and certainly kept me from fully expressing myself, as so many others did so very well.
We were blessed by a most gifted teacher in Grade 12, and it wasn't until that year that I felt a teacher's kindness in understanding and trying to lift me up.
One instance of her unique way of communicating with me was when she abruptly said "all right class, put everything away and write a 3000 word essay, you have half an hour." Well, I knew this particular essay was an important one, but my head wouldn't cooperate for a few minutes. Luckily I enjoyed fantasy books, so when I looked at the blackboard (Colin usually wiped it clean for the teacher, but it was still a chalky mess) I saw interesting formations and I had my story. Something about a moon-faced man with a scimitar of a grin, inviting me to enter and join him in an adventure. Sister gave me an A (unheard of for me) and we began a dialogue of little written notes in my Composition book.
Another instance of her kindness was when she read us the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg, and asked the class, "Now class, what is the Poet actually saying"? Without thinking I half put up my hand (I had situated myself in the center of the middle row so I couldn't be seen well by the teacher, and felt protected from her scrutiny). So when she noticed my half-hearted hand up, she ignored the flapping hands of her more promising students and quickly said, "Yes, Kathy, give us your opinion." Well, in a low choking voice (I remember having to force myself to speak up properly, as this shyness manifested itself in total abject fear) I gave her my opinion.
And this is where my teacher won a medal -- there was a pregnant silence, then she continued to say something like, "Class, every now and then there is a student who truly understands the deeper message of a poem, and Kathy has grasped the significance of the poet's strong words in explaining the city that is Chicago." Well, all my schoolmates made faces at me because of such an accolade, and they couldn't know how much I would later dissect this day and see it as, perhaps, my only academic achievement in my full 12 years.
Today, as an adult of 67 years, I have overcome my shyness for the most part (there are those that actually think of me as ostentatious), and I have no trouble in expressing myself fully when required, but I will always remember my Grade 12 teacher, for being instrumental in promoting my fuller personality, with humour and kindness.
March 6, 2008
By Amy Looper
First published online at the MindOH! Blog
Reprinted with permission from the author
When I first heard about Ryan Halligan, a 13 year old boy who committed suicide a few years ago, I was sad to hear of yet another child taking their life due to bullying. While watching the recent Frontline show “Growing Up Online”, I was particularly struck by new information his parents shared after establishing contact with some of his friends in an effort to get answers to so many unanswered questions about their son’s suicide.
I was completely horrified to hear his parents talk about a web site Ryan had visited that teaches kids the best way for them to commit suicide based on taking a personality test offered there.
A few days after watching the Frontline special I just couldn’t shake this profound sadness out of my head. I had a rush of vivid and unexpected memories about a kid I knew in elementary school back in the 60’s who had repeated first and third grade. Everyone knew who she was and teased her relentlessly calling her stupid, retard, dummy, the usual hurtful stuff some kids will say to those they see as different, or as lower on the proverbial playground food chain. Even more abusive and shocking, some of the teachers chimed in on this ridicule. Calling her out in the classroom with snide comments and making her stand out in the hall. This kid couldn’t catch a break.
She was out for a week one semester because her father had died. Kids and teachers were nice to her for a few days but eventually the usual taunting picked right back up. Then one day while we were at recess, one of the bully boys came over and took the girl’s jump rope and quickly fashioned a hangman’s noose over a tree branch. He grabbed this picked-on girl by the arm, threw the noose around her neck and gave a big tug with all of his weight. Easily twice her size, he jerked her up and she was swinging in a matter of seconds. I mean, being hung right there in front of everyone. Not one kid moved to help. I think we were all stunned.
Grabbing her neck with her hands, choking and struggling to get free, the bell rang to end recess and the bully boy let go of the rope. She fell to the ground. The teacher was coming toward the big tree, but when she saw the girl fall to the ground, the teacher turned around and left her to pick herself up. No one helped her. We all just filed back into class like nothing had happened.
That little girl was me.
What I realized about Ryan Halligan’s suicide was if the bullying I endured as a child was complemented by the resources of a 21st century online world, I too could have easily opted to check out the suicide web site and -- even worse -- acted on it.
It shook me to my core.
Even though I was very lucky to have loving parents guide me through my trying times as a child and see me into successful adulthood, they still had no idea of the many sad and lonely days I spent because I couldn’t articulate the full extent of what was happening, much less even understand what I needed.
This is why I’ve dedicated the rest of my life’s work to meet kids in their technology-based culture, leveraging technology in every way possible, to create positive content options, a lifeline to life skills for all kids to learn how to confidently navigate the fast paced world and myriad of negative influences they’re faced with daily.
If you’re a parent, teacher or simply care about youth watch Frontline’s “Growing Up Online.” Even though the show could have used more coverage about the positive things happening online for kids, it is still an important eye opener for offline adults.
March 3, 2008
Again, a suspicious lack of posts. Again, a really good reason: We've been busy being gobsmacked by Seattle's Annex Theatre's generosity: they're donating their space for a Can I Sit With You? performance on Friday, April 25th, at 8 PM.
February 20, 2008
*UPDATE* Unrelated to the following italicized hissy fit, we have been reinvited to the literary festival to do a panel on blogging and self-publishing for middle schoolers, perhaps featuring some of our less incendiary CISWY stories.
Apologies as always for the lack of posting. The reason is not lack of stories; we've several in the chute (and still we crave more...).
No. We've not posted anything because it took me a while to get over the shock and disappointment from a recent CISWY turn of events: we were asked to do a panel at a local middle school's literary festival, and then -- once said festival's organizer actually read the book -- disinvited due to CISWY's "mature" subject matter.
Am I really that naive, in thinking that the organizer overreacted, made a huge mistake, or at least an unnecessary and pre-emptive concession? CISWY is about the things that actually happened to us in grade and middle school, and how we actually felt at the time. Parents might like to imagine that their grade- and middle school children ponder nothing but fluffy unicorn manes, enrolling at Hogwarts, and scoring winning soccer goals, but IT IS NOT TRUE. And these kids need to know that other people, other kids feel the same way, and that they are neither warped nor alone.
Here are a few of the things I did as a relatively sheltered, somewhat dutiful Catholic girl from a well-adjusted suburban family, two full years before I went into middle school. First read, and then consider: Do you think it would have been a good idea, possibly even therapeutic and healthy, for me to feel comfortable talking about mature themes with adults and other peers?
Years Before I Was Allowed to See R-Rated Movies
by S. D. Rosa
Age Ten at the Time
I spent fifth grade in a segregated geek/G.A.T.E. class on a regular elementary school campus. We were quite sheltered compared to our "regular" campus peers, which meant that our complete obsession with anything naughty had limited information feed lines. My friends Mike, Miho, and I had to bounce everything off each other.
Like everyone else in our class of clearly demarcated dorks, were given lots of self-directed free time with which to develop our supposedly impressive intellects. This means we were forever dicking around, telling proto-L33T Dolly Parton jokes that ended with the victim spelling "80087355" on their calculator, making cartoons and comic strips, and modifying the lyrics of every song we learned to see who could come up with the filthiest result. In the interests of propriety, I will not reproduce our efforts here, but please know that there is a reason I smirk every time I hear the lovely Quaker ditty Simple Gifts.
One song had, however, been pre-altered for us. Somehow, we came into possession of the following lyrics for that classic dance hall tune, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay:
I met a boy one day
He gave me fifty cents
To go behind the fence
He pulled my panties down
Then pushed me to the ground
He counted 1-2-3
Then stuck it into me
My mother was surprised
To see my belly rise
My father jumped for joy
It was a baby boy!
Every ten-year-old we knew, and even those we only knew of, could sing this lovely celebration of rape and teen pregnancy. It quickly became one of our standards.
Mike, Miho, and I decided that, given our considerable free time, we should give the song a comic strip counterpart. We named the protagonist Selena, made her a teenage prostitute, and set about illustrating her adventures. She was insatiable, our Selena. Mostly she would meet a man and then discreetly walk out of a frame, but there were times when her hunger demanded something more substantial, such as the planet Saturn. I can only imagine what my parents would have thought had they had seen these still very childish drawings, which contained no penises (ew!) or indeed anything more graphic than a long shot of Saturn going up Selena's skirt between two verrrrry widely spread legs.
This may sound horrifying, but I don't really think it is. We were not actually interested in the sexual aspects of our songs or cartoons, only in the thrill of dabbling in such absolutely forbidden themes. (Oh, and cursing a LOT. That was a thrill, too.)
I myself was so completely clueless about sexuality and sex -- I knew that a man could put his penis in a woman's vagina, but not one jot else -- that I didn't realize the reason I liked climbing the two-story firefighter-style pole on the jungle gym was because every time I did it, I had an orgasm. (Who had ever heard of orgasms?) I even tried to talk to Miho about it: "When I climb that pole, my butt itches. Does that ever happen to you?" Miho said no, as she preferred to stay on the ground and play soccer, but she did ask her mom, who said that she sometimes got an itchy butt at high altitudes. Since her mother only spoke Japanese, I am guessing something got lost in translation, both coming and going. I couldn't get up the nerve to ask my own mom, because we were Catholics, and if something happy came out of wrapping (not even rubbing) my legs around that pole and climbing, then it had to be bad.
My friends and I were both naive and innocent. We spent recess playing games like Statue Maker and soccer. I was fond of using my transparent red visor cap to catch the bees that gathered pollen from our playground's clover. The three of us liked to suck nectar from the honeysuckles growing along the playground fence. We were neither warped nor damaged, nor were we exposed to "bad influences." We were simply curious fifth grade children with both too much and too little information.
February 6, 2008
By Katrina N. Mueller
Third grade at the time
It all started with a cloud.
Stacy was proud of her French heritage and would flaunt it at every opportunity. She was tall and thin, with long, straight hair down to her bottom. My small, chubby body, and mop of unruly curls seemed ugly by comparison. I was in awe of her. Stacy was exotic and beautiful and strong, like a fantastical bird of prey. I felt lucky, and a little confused, when she acknowledged my existence.
One day, in early March, Stacy and I were playing on the swings. We were chattering idly when suddenly she glanced up and gave a startled shriek. I jumped and looked around wildly for the cause of her alarm.
“Stacy! What's wrong?”
She let her swing slow and then stop, pausing dramatically before she pointed into the sky with a trembling finger. “It's him,” she gasped. “It's the Snake.”
The proper noun status of the word was apparent in her voice. I followed the line from her finger to a single, thin cloud in the sky. It looked vaguely like a kite, or a snake, I supposed. A rough diamond shape with a trailing wisp behind it. Curiosity overwhelmed my fear and I said timidly, “...the Snake?”
Her deep brown eyes were wide as she imparted the tale:
“Several generations ago my family was cursed by gypsies. No one is allowed to speak of what happened, but ever since that day, the Snake has been following us. It watches from above, waiting, following us and using its dark French magic against us. It's... Oh no!” She cried out again and stared at the snake. “It's déjà vu!”
“What is déjà vu?” Panic gripped me. If there was any sort of strange French magic going on, I wanted no part of it! “Stacy! What is déjà vu?”
She looked at me again and whispered, “Déjà vu... It's an old French magic.” I leaned close, afraid to hear more but too enthralled to stop her. “It's like going back in time. The Snake is sending me back in time! I'm having déjà vu, and you're a part of it... I remember sitting on the swings with a girl like you. A blond girl in a purple coat! You're a part of my déjà vu!”
I stared at the Snake in the sky, paralyzed. The shape of the cloud had sagged and melted, but it didn't matter. The Snake had already cast its magic on me. I had gone déjà vu with Stacy. My life, I realized, wasn't my own. I was part of Stacy's déjà vu. I didn't exist, except as a part of the Snake's dark magic...
I don't exist! And at that thought, my uncertain grip on reality shattered. I ran blindly, screaming, from that thought. Only later did I realize I could hear her laughing as I ran.
I'm not sure how long I was lost in that frenzied state. I remember being sent home from school because I kept babbling about not existing – deep thoughts for a third grader! It took awhile for me to realize I still existed apart from Stacy's monster snake-in-the-sky.
To this day, I still shudder helplessly when I hear someone say those two words: déjà vu. That old French magic still gives me the shivers.