Last night I sat for an interview about writing with a senior from Chiloquin High School. The student was an engaging and interesting young man. However, he’s a young man who is in the middle of fighting the demons that come with growing up in a small, poverty-ridden community with a conflicted past and an uncertain future. Drugs and alcohol are rampant in the school system, and many students begin battling substance abuse problems before they graduate the seventh grade. Some will never win. Boredom, a lack of role models, and a failing infrastructure conspires against these kids from a young age. To make it out, they are asked to call on an incredible amount of inner strength and determination. They must have dreams.

I’d like to be able to give my interviewer some hope, so I’m writing him a letter. It’s pasted below, with his name removed, in draft form. I’d love to hear what you might tell this kid, or another kid fighting the same battles. Maybe if we had enough notes of hope, we could ask poet Cam Scott, who is working in Chiloquin High School teaching creative writing through a writer in residency program that extends until Thanksgiving, to pass them on to his students.

This is my letter.

Dear                 ,

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, and in turn to answer my questions. And thank you for sharing your ideas about books and the role of mentors.

Last night as I stood outside the library after the last of the workshop attendees had left, as the cold burrowed into my bones, and the street light flashed out, then back on, I thought about you, and I thought about what it might be like to grow up in the Klamath basin in general, and in Chiloquin specifically.

It can’t be easy. I bet you have a lot of days where you’re bored, and also a lot of days where you feel like no one is paying attention to what’s going on with you and your life. Maybe you have days where you feel like you’re alone, or you feel lonely. Maybe you have days of being proud of what you’ve achieved, and maybe you have days where you’re ashamed of something you said or did.

I want you to know that just because you get bored, it does not mean you have to be boring. Inside you there are dreams, hopes and a future. I saw it. I think you probably know it to be true. Do you know, also, that achieving those is going to be hard? That you’re going to have to want them more than you want anything else, then you’re going to have to take action to get them. It’s going to be work, but work can be beautiful and something to be proud of in it’s own right.

When you asked me how I felt about Chiloquin, and how I thought it would influence my writing, I said Chiloquin felt sad to me. I said the community seemed conflicted and lost, and that as a result I felt conflicted in how I would write about it. What I didn’t say, is that I feel the individuals who claim Chiloquin as home also have great potential to create change for the better. To create a new world in their own stomping grounds.

Chiloquin is your town, and one thing I’ve learned is we are never free of where we come from. So you’re going to carry some of the town’s sadness and conflict with you. It’s not fair, but it’s the truth. The good news, though, is that this inequity has the potential to make you stronger, to make your writing stronger, to drive you toward realizing new possibilities.

Growing up this way, you’re being armed with stories that only you can tell. I trust that you’re brave enough to tell them. I also trust that when you start telling those stories you’re going to understand you’re responsible to others. Honor that responsibility by telling your stories and writing your poems with integrity and a clear mind. Then ask for help, clarification and more information when you need it.

People used to say that high school is the best time of your life. It’s not. The world sits in front of you, and it is big and bright.

Be safe,

PS. Be nice to Cam, and make sure he doesn’t eat too many corn dogs. He’s working on your behalf.