how good a memory can smell

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I saw something really cool today.

This quarter I have been working closely with a community based practice class at UWB called Teaching Youth Journalism. Throughout the quarter the six students in this class have been learning the fundamentals of journalism writing and the fundamentals of peer tutoring. I’ve given a couple workshops on the theory and practice of peer tutoring, and I’ve introduced the students to the philosophies and methods we follow in the Writing Center I manage.

But that’s not the cool part.

The students have put these skills to use in a very good way. For the past three weeks they’ve gone to 826 Seattle to give journalism writing workshops to kids ages 9 through 14. The kids have gone through the entire phase of putting together a newspaper. They started by learning the basics of journalism writing, then they started conducting interviews and writing articles.

Today I got to see the end result.

Take a look at this: 826seattle.tumblr.com (Actually, it looks like the issue that this particular group of kids put together isn’t online yet, so I’m posting this link prematurely. I’m sure Issue 3 will be up soon.)

Here is the culmination of a ton of work. I was there to see the design editor put the final touches on the newspaper and “send it to press.” (Which, in this case, means he hit print and then went into another room to grab the pages of the printer, but it was still cool to watch). I was there to see the students hand out copies to the kids. I watched them read their pieces, and though they’re a shy, quiet bunch, it wasn’t hard at all to see how happy they were. But it didn’t stop there. They gathered up small handfuls of the 12 page paper and marched out to distribute it to coffee shops around Greenwood. A little while later they came back, beaming.

And I thought of myself as a kid.

I thought of the first time I was published. I was in fourth grade and I’d written a poem about Lynch’s Woods. The poem was published in the Newberry Observer and that, to me, felt like a really big deal. I knew that lots of people would read my poem. And I remember thinking about that days after it was published. I remember thinking that there were people who’d never met me and probably never would meet me that had read something I wrote. And how cool was that?

I thought of the first book I wrote: The Principal’s Desk that Could Talk. I wrote it in second grade, as part of a class project. We wrote and illustrated our own books and then bound the pages between cloth-wrapped pieces of cardboard. The book looked real to me, like something you could find on a shelf in the library.

I thought of the day my seventh grade teacher told me I should be a writer, and how I went home that day and wrote “Dear Diary, I want to be a writer!”

I thought of my first semester of college at the University of South Carolina. I was a journalism major and I was just as imaginative as I’d been as a kid. I had plans to become a journalist and move to NYC, work for a newspaper, live in a cool, low-rent studio or a loft, eke out a living doing the thing I loved most. (None of that happened, by the way.)

I saw each of these memories as a tick on the Timeline of Kim, and it was clear that this is what I set out to do a long time ago. Writing is the one thing in my life that has been a constant. I can’t remember, exactly, when it became a part of my identity. What I do know is that that identity solidified just a little more with each of these events.

I’m planning a short trip to North Carolina in October. There won’t be much time, but I hope—I really and truly hope—I get to sit by myself and sift through the innards of my mom’s cedar chest. Mom died last year, and I made my dad promise not to toss out anything in that chest. It holds a thousand family artifacts. Mom saved as much as she could cram into that chest—report cards, drawings, birthday cards.

I hope to find that poem I wrote. I hope to find my first book.

Toward the end of the workshop today, the kids were asked who they would give copies of the newspapers to. They all said they’d give one to their parents. I imagined the newspapers being tucked away in boxes or drawers. And I wished upon those kids the best wish I could give them: that one day far into their futures, they happen upon a copy of that newspaper they helped create. I hope they get a chance to sift through mounds of memories. I hope they get to happen upon this thing they’d created years ago. I hope they get to feel how the paper has withered. I hope they get to hold it close and smell it and breathe in memories of a time when they were encouraged to do something really, really cool.


Author: Kim Sharp

more later

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