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(type)Writing Teens

posted Nov 15, 2017, 6:44 PM by Colleen Getty   [ updated Nov 16, 2017, 5:21 AM ]
The Youth Room to Write started about a month ago at the Wakefield Club for teens in grades 7 through 12. Things move slowly when creating a new group and it takes some time to see what works and what doesn't. It has been a professional challenge for me to transition from the structure and experience I had as a full-time 8th grade English Language Arts teacher to the much more agile nature of working in a Club in addition to only being there once a week with no requirement for the teens to participate—oh, and I am in direct competition with all the other fun activities going on at the Boys & Girls Club of Wakefield: floor hockey, basketball, F
oosball, video games, pool, just plain sitting and talking with friends, and you get the picture. It means I need to be creative and since I rarely shy away from a challenge: cue the typewriter.

I was wracking my brain recently for ways to get the teens who are in the group to stay in it and to try to win over one or two more to add to our group when I remembered a big, black, plastic, clunky suitcase-looking thing that my Uncle Skip gave to me—has to be over ten years ago now. Against all odds, I found it on the top shelf in a basement room that seemed to serve as some sort of purgatory for material objects before they were finally shown mercy and either donated or sent to a fate worse than death: a landfill.

I brought the big, dusty hunk home. It wobbled in the back seat of my car beneath my 4-year-old's feet as they dangled above it from his perch in his carseat. He was actually afraid to touch it even with his feet and claimed it was destroying the back of the car. He didn’t trust it and I can’t say I blamed him. This was a long shot. I got it home, dusted off the case and opened it up on my kitchen floor. My four children gathered around me wondering what this strange object could possibly be. It wreaked of mildew and still had a yellow, dehydrated sticker that read $3.00 stuck to it. The back said "Olympia International" and it was electric complete with a thick, black, three-pronged industrial-looking plug. I set it on the kitchen table and fired it up.
My kids were awestruck. I have to admit I was a little excited to use it myself and a lot excited to bring something back from the brink of non-existence to show some young people how things used to be done and miraculously still could be. I love mechanical things if for no other reason than because they can be fixed with two hands and some tinkering. No Apple Genius required. No wi-fi password needed. No software update to load before my kids could start punching away at the buttons and see things happening in real time, with real metal hitting a real ink ribbon and making letters right in front of them. They loved it. They argued about who got more time and how many more minutes before the next one had a turn. I didn’t need to worry that they’d hit the wrong key and buy a twelve dollar movie, or that they would catch an online virus, or stumble onto something inappropriate. No Russians could leak these documents. It was safe.

I entered the Boys & Girls Club of Wakefield carrying what must have looked like a laptop from 1980 if there was such a thing. I walked into the Teen Room where there was a group video game going on. I started to doubt that my humble typewriter would draw anybody away from something that looked really fun even to me and they were playing as a group—my chances of sparking interest in writing were sinking by the minute. I carried on and set up shop. I took out the typewriter and plugged it in. Two girls were the first to notice and they came over. One said she had seen a typewriter before and the other had never even seen one in person. I 
fed some paper in and gave them a couple tips and they started typing. 

One was surprised to find that there was no delete button, but figured out through trial and error that if she pressed the “backspace” button and then held the “correction” button that you could type a darker letter over the mistake letter. The other girl said she enjoyed hearing the sound of the typing and loved the fact that the letters appeared right there in front of her on the paper. Forget virtual reality—reality seemed to be pretty amazing too.
 
In the end kids that would have scoffed at the idea of “writing” slowly trickled over to try out the typewriter, which meant they were writing on the typewriter. One young man wrote a short and humorous story while the others wrote journal-style about how they felt typing and what their experience was like. It all qualifies as writing in my book.

Who knew that taking kids off-line and back to simpler times would get them writing? I know now, and I’ll be sure to give that typewriter the second life that it was hoping for while it sat patiently waiting on a lonely basement shelf. 

If you have a typewriter that you’d like to see live out the rest of its years dazzling young writers, contact me. I’ll pick it up and put it to good use. If you know a young writer in grades 7 through 12 that would like to be part of our writing group join us Wednesdays at 4pm.