How Young is Too Young?

Where I had my second poem published at age 13.

Most of us hear stories about authors getting their first publishing deal in their 20s (and even a handful in their teens) and are green with envy. I know I have been. But today is a first, at least for me: Nadim, a 4-old English boy got a publishing deal for his poetry.

Have you read the article? If not, please do. I’ll wait.

I can’t really remember being four, but I know I wasn’t writing poetry. I think I was taking my first dance classes and learning my ABCs. I know I couldn’t read or write at that age. My parents didn’t push me; they let me learn in school in first and second grade like everyone else at the time.

On one hand, I have to admit to being a little suspicious of this whole thing. How do we know Nadim really wrote these poems and it wasn’t his parents? I mean, his mom is a poetry instructor. This isn’t the first time parents have taken advantage of their kids to make money (remember the kid who had a bestseller on a near-death experience that ended up being faked by his dad?) and it won’t be the last. And if he did write them, how much pressure was put on him to learn how from a scarily young age?

On the other, child prodigies have existed throughout history. Look at Mozart. The difference there is that you could witness his talent, whereas with poetry, you have to take it on faith that Nadim really wrote the poems. Even if they had him recite in public, you can’t tell how much is coached. Perhaps his mom, being a poetry lover, just taught him how to rhyme as soon as he could speak.

I am no prodigy, far from it, but I did have my first poem published at an early age. I know I was no younger than six because I remember hand-writing it at my grandma’s house. I wish I knew what was going on in my mind at the time, but I can’t remember.

I may even still have the original my basement somewhere. I think I was more like eight, though, because I entered a contest advertised in the back of YM magazine (so that now tells me it may not have been as legit as I thought at the time), so I know I could read and write. My parents had nothing to do with this; I had to beg them to let me enter.

Anyway, I’ve never shared it before, but here it is. (Needless to say, this copyrighted.)

Aloneness

Aloneness is the feeling when your mind is empty/and your heart is full./Aloneness is the sadness of pain and hunger around the world.

Short, but I do have to say, profound for a young mind. So it is entirely possible this little 4-year-old is some kind of genius or at least thinks deep thoughts.

My second published poem. Last name is blurred because it is my legal name.

But is a book deal for someone that age really necessary? Why, other than shock value, would anyone do this? Why not keep the poetry and include it in a collection when he is older? It would be cool to see the evolution of a poet over the years in a single volume. All I can do is shake my head. Why can’t we just let kids be kids anymore?

I really do hope this is the beginning of great things for Nadim and that someday we can all look back and remember the day we read the announcement. But I also worry what kind of pressure this puts on a boy whose mom admits he’s still learning to read and write. When you have your first book deal at so young an age, how do you follow it up? Will this just turn into a funny story on a college application or will he feel the weight of it for the next 20 years?

I don’t even like most children, and yet I worry about this one I’ve never met. My first gut instinct is that this is an example of parents pushing their children into their own dreams (much like most beauty pageant/dance/cheer moms), rather than nurturing a budding talent. I think that is it; I’m seeing the commercial side of this and not the warm parental side. And that is the problem with having only one source for an issue.

In the end, it’s none of my business, but it is also something to think about. And if nothing else, it has reminded me that I used to be a poet – which I had completely forgotten. Maybe I’ll pick up a pen for the first time since I was in high school and write a few poems from time to time. Thanks for the inspiration, Nadim!

No Kids in Cages

Yesterday, Shauna sent me a message to remind me I was up on the blog rotation, and to be honest, I had forgotten. I immediately began wracking my brains for a topic to write about, something to do with my writing process, or the books I’ve been reading lately. But there was only one thing on my mind, and I knew I had to write about it. So today’s post isn’t about writing, reading, or creative life, although it ties into all of them because I’ve been unable to think about much else lately. It’s not full of funny Michael Scott GIFs or self-deprecating jokes or encouraging words.

Today’s post is about humanity.

Look, I don’t consider myself a very political person. Don’t get me wrong–I have opinions (some more strongly held than others) and I read the news (when I can stomach it) and I vote (when it matters). But I don’t march in the street anymore, and I don’t put signs in my front yard, and if someone on Facebook or Twitter confronts me about most issues, I usually disengage because I can’t stand arguing with strangers on the internet. Why? I don’t know exactly, but if I had to guess I’d say it springs from a combination of creeping disillusionment, a little apathy, and–if I’m being totally honest–self-preservation bordering on selfishness.

But this issue transcends politics. The treatment of immigrant children at the borders of this country–the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, a country I love down to my bones–is downright inhumane. Children should not be forcibly separated from their parents. Period. I’ve heard all the counter arguments and I don’t care. What’s happening to these kids is cruel, immoral, unconscionable behavior anywhere in the world, but most especially in a nation whose stated “inalienable rights” are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I will not stand idly by, and I hope you won’t either.

As writers, empathy is one of our greatest and most important tools. Every day, we put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes and walk miles and miles (or rather, hundreds of thousands of words). We must be able to experience joys and sadnesses not our own in order to bring our characters to life. But we must have empathy for real people too–living, breathing, aching humans–who have already endured unimaginable trauma and continue to face unbearable treatment at the hands of our government and law enforcement. So I entreat you, you–writer, reader, friend or foe–to have empathy today for these children. Call your congressperson. Write angry letters to your local newspaper. Donate to your charity of choice. Find the humanity inside you and act upon in, somehow, someway.

Shakespeare wrote, in the Book of Sir Thomas More:

…whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, Spain or Portugal,
Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers, would you be pleas’d
To find a nation of such barbarous temper
That breaking out in hideous violence
Would not afford you an abode on earth.
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, not that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But charter’d unto them? What would you think
To be used thus? This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

It’s powerful, isn’t it? What would you think, to be used thus? Let the day not come that any of us should be driven from this country, but it bears thinking what welcome we might receive anywhere else in the world, if this is how we treat their poor, their tired, their huddled masses…their children.

Ways to Help Right Now:

Donate:

Pueblos Sin Fronteras

Border Angels

Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages

Call your Congressperson and say:  “Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m urging the Senator to denounce Trump’s family separation policy and use all of Congress’ authority to stop it.”

Join a Protest: Check out Families Belong Together to find a protest or rally near you