When I was 16, I went to Tortola on a Visions program. I loved it. What I loved most about it was Group. Group was the time we spent talking about the day and, more specifically, talking about each other.
Flashback to middle school. I remember once saying to a friend: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had to write essays about our friends?” She looked at me like I was crazy. But thinking about other people in a deep way and articulating it–that was something that moved my heart. And I knew it way back then.
So, in Tortola, when I was asked to talk about other people’s strengths, my heart swelled twice over. Visions was a sister program of Longacre, and so I had heard of the Farm during my interview for Visions. The staff in Tortola also told me that Group was “started” at the Farm.
Even though I was 17, and on the older side of the program, I knew I wanted to go to the place where Group “started.” I was pretty sure that there, I could write essays about my friends. At least verbally. The first two weeks were hard for me, I was older and felt that quite a bit. But then the self-disclosure exercises transitioned into feedback exercises and I got to tell people what I had noticed about them. And as I spoke, other people called me perceptive.
I had always been someone who worked to be well-liked. I always felt that being liked and trusted by friends was far more important than homework or fashion or boyfriends or, really, anything. Explaining this is a whole other story. But the Farm helped me to figure out that I could still be well-liked and be honest. I was always terrified people were talking about me behind my back (another story). But, at the Farm, people spoke right to your face! And not meanly. In a nice way. With lots of people watching. Other people . . . writing essays . . . about me. Well, verbally. This was a huge relief to me. I finally felt safe.
A few graduate degrees later, I know Group was not “started” at the Farm. I also now, as a writer, get to actually write about kids. But something I owe absolutely to the Farm and to no one and nothing else are these fundamental things: one, there is power in the truths you see in people and it is a brave thing to say them aloud, and two, conflict can be worked through and friendships can endure and, in fact, made stronger by honesty.
These are truths I use as a parent, as a wife, as a writer, as a teacher and as a friend. They are truths that saved me as a young adult myself and truths that I know (after working at Longacre from 1997 to 2008) empower hundreds of teens that walk into Longacre’s octagon ready (or not ready) to get essays written about them.
Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia’s YA Novel in Verse, Skyscraping, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in early 2015. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County, Pennsylvania in 2006 and 2007. She’s a Writer in Residence at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens and does author interviews for their blog. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. You can find her at cordeliajensen.com and on Twitter @cordeliajensen.
Originally posted on: http://www.longacre.com/essays-written-us-art-noticing-others-longacre-2/