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Sad truths about “at-risk youth” and ways to re-write their stories.

Libraries and Literacy

Over the last five days or so, I’ve been reading as much as I possibly can about the struggles and needs of at-risk youth in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. My research has taken me in two directions–one has been to read scholarly and anecdotal articles and books about the specific educational and developmental crises the youth are facing, and the other has been to read juvenile fiction that recounts their tragedies and triumphs.

Some of what I read was not particularly new, coming together to paint a grim picture, but also a hopeful one. The stark reality is that poverty, according to the Children’s Defense Fund in 2001, is one of the largest factors for family stress and relates directly to failure at school. The stresses that children face at home are huge, as a result of economic status and of the consequences that result from that, such…

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 “The heart breaks open in wonderment at the acknowledgement of broken systems and failed ideas. Taking a good hard look at previously solved problems and spinning poetry is the artist’s job. What distinguishes the artistic thinking process is that hard laws, real rules are not impossible barriers, but malleable variables.”



“Internal monologue is when you are talking to yourself, in your own mind. It is usually used in literature to show what a character is thinking, even though the character isn’t saying it out loud.

The phrase is also used in Psychology sometimes to refer to what goes on in our own heads… what we say to ourselves as we go throughout the day.” (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_internal_monologue)


Making art from our internal monologue:

Some of us spend a lot of time in our heads- having conversations with ourselves, with those around us- we give them voices, make up their responses, we work things out, we pre-construct entire situations that haven’t actually happened, we respond to ourselves- we use judgements, assumptions, we base outcomes of future events on similar outcomes from the past, we have free associations that lead us from one thought to another…..sometimes there is stillness, but often times there is a constant voice in our head – our inner monologue – that directs us. 

It’s an interesting exercise to spend ten minutes simply writing down whatever comes to mind about a chosen topic. For me, it usually starts as a free flow of free associations. Eventually, things start to come together and form ideas. Most often at that point, I start to have dialogue with myself about it. I weigh in with my experiences, assumptions, and dreams. This is my dialogical self. In any given situation which I might be thinking about, I give voice to other influencial people in my life- usually those associated with the idea I am pondering. Generally, in any five minute time span, I’ve had multiple conversations in my head with myself as several different characters: there is my actual self, then there is the version of myself that I project on all others in my internal dialogue. Interesting stuff! You can learn a lot about yourself from doing this exercise. By seeing how your thoughts travel and how all the “yous” in your dialogue respond. 

I’m writing about this because I am trying to build an art project around it. The intention behind it will be to visually express two different themes within the dialogue. For example:

My dialogue:

“This hot yoga is really hard! Not enough water today. Ate too much. didn’t run. run tomorrow. focus. …………this is good for me. You might feel fear in this posture, don’t be afraid of it, let it happen, open your heart, let it go. feet together. I might have to stop, I can’t do this every day. I always feel great after. I have homework to do- so much, shouldn’t be here. good for my mental clarity.”

So, I might illustrate myself doing a heart opening posture with colors representing fear with my teacher standing over me. Secondly, a piece illustrating feeling good after. 





I’m very excited about the altered books project that I’m exploring and plan to create with students this summer. In making my own, using the found poetry approach, I am excited to find my own voice using the words someone else wrote. I think the students will feel empowered by this project. Finding words to make a poem is much less intimidating than starting from scratch. There is really something to that- having a foundation from which to build upon. I recall learning to make a colored ground on my paper and then creating an image from that. It was a revelation for me. This is just one way to start responding to your mark making (or the marks made by someone else) instead of having the pressure of  expectations for your imagery. I do like the idea of making marks in response to another’s. It’s kind of more like life. Rarely are we working with a blank slate.

Next on the curriculum agenda: 

Responding and making personal meaning: Olivia Gude’s Spiral Arts Curriculum: Life’s Deal

Karen Hatzigeorgiou altered book

Written by John Cowper Powys ~ 1935
Altered by Karen Hatzigeorgiou ~ 2004 – 2008

altered books

On my way to get a cup of coffee and write yet another psychology paper, I heard on the radio the story of Peter and the Wolf, narrated by Leonard Bernstien and the NY Philharmonic. I got lost in the wonderment. The lush landscapes of the music, the characters, the story telling. This was an aha moment. I want to make stories with the kids in my summer program. Narratives are important ways of processing- they integrate right and left brain functions. Art is one way to build or uncover narratives. Sometimes it is overwhelming to just start with a blank slate and tell your story. It’s hard to tell your story or express yourself to begin with, especially for adolescents! That’s how this idea came about: altered books! From Peter and the Wolf to altered books- there you have it, this is how my mind operates. You never know when you’ll be inspired so keep those eyes and ears and all your senses open to inspiration just waiting to reach you. 

Check out the link above to see some altered books. I’ll be making one and posting soon….


This is another piece in which I used watercolors and colored pencils. Using the paint with the pencils opened me up to drawing. I was really afraid of the big blank piece of paper in front of me and the sharp, fine marks of the color pencils. The water color provided me with a tool for covering a wide area and giving me a ground on which to work. I would recommend this to any artist who wants to explore their drawing skills but are afraid of a blank sheet of paper.

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