A few minutes spent with Maize Phillips and one realizes that the Scriber Lake High School student is a brilliant young man with a college-level vocabulary.
He has attention deficit disorder, but Maize, 16, just learns differently. His grade point average is 3.9.
So it’s heartbreaking when one reads his essay about being called “stupid” and worse by his neighborhood bullies.
“Hey guys, look! There’s Maize! The class retard!” Kristopher Clayman screams out loud enough for me to hear two blocks away. The laughter surrounding him drowns him out for a moment. “Do you think he’ll ever be smart enough to know that he might as well just die because he’s so (f…ing) worthless?”
… I shake with anger, believing that my rage can shake hell through the cracks of the earth.
— Maize Phillips
The narrative (with names changed) is part the powerful new book “Behind Closed Doors: Stories From the Inside Out” written by a group of 15 students at the alternative high school in Edmonds.
Along with bullying, the teen authors have dealt with death, addiction, sexual identity, parental incarceration, poverty and broken relationships.
The essay collection is the third in a series of books published through WeAreAbsolutelyNotOkay.org, a program that helps teens find their own voices and learn the power of writing and publishing their personal stories.
Since the fall of 2011, Scriber Lake English teacher Marjie Bowker and Seattle author Ingrid Ricks have been using Ricks’ best-selling memoir “Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story” as a guide to help teens become better students through storytelling.
Most of “Behind Closed Doors” was written during the course of an intensive weeklong writing workshop.
“Our book has changed our lives,” Maize said. “It was cathartic and therapeutic. Some of the kids were self-conscious at first. But they wrote beautifully and were astounded at what they could do. I can’t think of any better writing.
“We’re not the loser kids that people think we are here at Scriber,” he said.
After each story, the authors wrote about the parts of their lives on which they will close the door, and about the doors they plan to open.
I want to close the door to negativity and intrusion, and open the door to where “love is my weapon.” … I’ve been clean of cutting and painkillers for two months now and hope my story can help anyone in the situation I was in. I realize that life is both beautiful and ugly, but when you focus on the negative things, all the bad can take over your way of thinking and eat you alive. Sometimes all it takes is to look at the stars and moon to remember your problems aren’t as big as they seem and you need just to breathe and make the first move in a different direction.
— Eliaud Peterson
“I have conflicting emotions about the book,” said Eliaud, 15.
“I wrote about stuff that I had never let anyone know,” she said. “They never knew something was wrong.”
For Chase Werner, 18, writing his story was difficult. He had to think back to the day his mother died.
“There were a lot of emotions, feeling like doo-doo, the stress of the deadline and just feeling down,” Chase said. “Then I just relaxed and wrote for myself. I gained a certain level of acceptance because of the book.”
Most students involved said the project resulted in greater interest in reading and writing in general.
That’s what their teacher, Marjie Bowker, was counting on.
“Kids from all schools need this,” Bowker said.
The project has led to the development of a curriculum guide designed to help teachers and mentors who work with young people.
“We’ve had interest from around the county, the state and the country,” Bowker said.
Along with the student story collections and the guide, the collaboration between Bowker and Ingrid Ricks, the author of “Hippie Boy,” led to a partnership with Seattle Public Theater.
Student stories were converted into a stage play performed by other students.
Edmonds Community College recently selected last year’s book, “You’ve Got It All Wrong,” for its all-campus reading list for 2014-15.
“This (“Behind Closed Doors”) is our strongest book yet,” Bowker said. “Such a great group of kids. And every day we work on narrative writing is a rewarding day for me.”
The authors of the book, along with Maize, Eliaud and Chase, are Marika Evenson, Lilly Anderson, Emma Norton, Brinnon Hall, Brieaunna Dacruz, Robert Jeffreys, Jaycee Schrenk, Destanee Stock, EmmaSariah Jensen, Shelby Asbury, Tatam Walker and Roger Silva.
Ricks said she wrote her memoir, published by Penguin Books, in part to be released from the stress of her teen years.
Her stepfather abused his power in the family, her mother acquiesced and her father — who called her Hippie Boy because of her shoulder-length stringy hair — was a free spirit.
“I had to save myself,” she said. “It is so powerful when you are able to verbalize a personal story.”
That’s why Ricks plans to continue her partnership with Bowker.
“It is magic to watch these students change when they write about their lives,” Ricks said. “It’s about reaching students through their hearts and souls.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scriber Lake High School student authors will read from their new book, “Behind Closed Doors: Stories From the Inside Out” at a book launch party set for 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Cafe Louvre, 210 Fifth Ave. S., Edmonds. Proceeds from book sales go to fund the writing and publishing program at Scriber.