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!

On Women, Strength and Competition

Last week on International Women’s Day, I was exposed to the most wonderful poet: Fleassy Malay from Melbourne, Australia, and her incredible poem, “Witches.” It’s actually not about witchcraft, but strong women. Please take a moment to watch it.

If you liked it, you can buy a print of the text on Etsy. Until March 18, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to The Global Women’s Project.

I seriously have a girl crush on Fleassy now and immediately followed her on Facebook. The other night she posted a Facebook Live to explain why she wrote the poem, which isn’t necessarily why you might think. Among other things, she said something like “we’re really good as women at calling each other out on our shit, but we don’t really have a system for celebrating one another.”

That really stuck with me. I’m a highly competitive person, so I naturally want to compare myself with others, and I’ll admit to getting pretty jealous when others achieve the things I dream about before I do. Oddly enough, my Twitter friend Summer posted something similar the other day:

I know we all do that to some extent, but I have a problem with it. I’ve always thought it was just a flaw in my personality, something I need to work on – which it is – but now I wonder how much is societal. From what age are we taught to compete with one another, especially with other females? Does it start when we are old enough to watch television or even to consume fairy tales where women (sometimes even mothers and step-sisters) compete over the same man? How and why does this bleed over into other parts of our life? From where does this mindset of scarcity come? It’s not like there is a limited number of men/success/book contracts/what-have-you for which we have to compete Hunger Games-style. Yet we do it. Every single day.

I see memes like this one all the time and I want to say, “Hell yes!” because they are true. But in my heart, I can’t. As a feminist, I’ve long been ashamed of myself for viewing other women first as my competition and second as my sisters. It’s weird, but when the topic is something I’m not competitive about, I’m ALL ABOUT the sisterhood and the congratulations. But throw in something I think I lack and it gets ugly, at least on the inside.

Getting back to Fleassy’s question, how do we create a system to help build up one another? Social media seems to both help and hinder this idea. It helps because we can signal boost each other, offer our well-wishes, etc. And that is a great start. But social media also allows us to see what is happening with others on a much more regular basis than we otherwise would. It shows us the external, polished veneers of other women’s lives, and when we compare ourselves to them, we feel bad, which takes us away from celebrating their triumph. Many people call it the Instagram effect. What we don’t see is the hard work and tears that go into that success or the other issues that the person might be dealing with. This accolade over which we are green with envy might be the only thing keeping that person from despair.

As evidenced by my personal reactions, these platitudes are so much easier to say than to live. I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. It is a change that needs to happen at the societal level, but like everything else, likely needs to begin at the personal level. Hopefully, if each time someone we know/love succeeds at something, we try our best to be genuinely happy for her, we will slowly change the world. Share her posts, lift a toast, and dance for joy with her. Even if our hearts hurt, we can transform that pain into determination to do more/better in our own lives, and that can only make us stronger. And as each one of us glows brighter, we will collectively burn until we’ve changed this mindset of scarcity and competition into one of collective appreciation and abundance. Or so I dream.

I know I’m going to try. And like the rest of my fellow “witches,” I won’t come quietly.

PS – Does anyone else think Fleassy looks like Cosima from Orphan Black?