I woke up bright and early this morning with wind in my sails. I knew exactly what the day had in store. I had been asked if I would mentor at a high school on behalf of WriteGirl, an organization that helps empower underprivileged teenage girls by promoting creativity. I've participated in their yearly larger workshops before. Although the girls have it rough they are eager and bright and enthusiastic.
I'm all about mentoring and paying it forward these days. I've found that when I give I wind up getting back something I didn't even know I was missing. I grabbed my coffee and off I drove.
We'd talk about songwriting, I'd tell them about my adventures, brag a little about my handful of hits. I'd encourage them to reach for the stars and tell them there's nothing they can't do!
I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about what a fun Facebook post it would make. After a cheery uplifting afternoon I'd get a photo of all of us together. Everyone smiling. Arms around each other. I might even ask all the girls if they would be so kind as to take out their phones and like my page.
I was asked to meet the small group of mentors at a nearby Starbucks. I didn't ask why. We convened. I left my car in the parking lot and as "Mandy," the coordinator, drove me over to the school, she happened to mention something about a recent lock down. Maybe my eyes widened a bit, I don't know. She asked me if I was aware that we were going to a juvenile probation camp. I wasn't. She explained that the girls I would be mentoring were facing tremendous challenges at home and in their communities. I know what that's code for.
Suddenly, I wished I had dressed a little differently. Not worn my leather jacket, my diamond studs, my designer jeans. Make up. I felt conspicuously adorned in the material possessions I have grown so accustomed to wearing.
We arrived at the "school," a wire fence around the perimeter. Mandy told me to leave my purse in the car. I turned my ring around. They buzzed us in.
Inside the facility there were only about six or seven girls in each class. At first they didn't want to engage. As Mandy tried to get their attention they giggled amongst themselves and averted their eyes. I decided not to talk too much about my handful of hits and reaching for stars. Instead, I implored them to scribble down a few lines for me. They didn't have to be pretty. They didn't have to rhyme. They just had to tell the truth. There are no incorrect words. We are experts on the way we feel. Nobody knows better.
Their stories were harsh and sad. They used a lot of "guns" and "bitches" and "dope" and stuff about not being loved, f*ck being loved and wanting to be loved.
I felt a little guilty for having grown up in a home where I was nurtured and safe. Far from guns and knives and crack.
I put their lyrics to melodies as best I could. (Most of their words were more compelling than some of the ones I've come up with recently.) A few faces lit up...full smile... when they heard a pairing, a cadence...when they realized their thoughts had substance and integrity, and especially when I told them they were writers. Because they were.
We were there for two hours and then we left. They buzzed us out. Tears stung my eyes behind the RayBans.
I hope I encouraged one girl to find the joy in putting even painful words on paper. I hope I sang something that will help one girl look in the mirror tomorrow and like herself a little more.
Mandy drove me back to my car. I was embarrassed that it was a Mercedes. I ate the hard boiled egg I had packed for myself in the morning, sat for a while just staring, put the key in the ignition and headed south on the 170. I would go home and write about this day just like I planned except there'd be no photo and it would turn out to be a very different story.