Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.
Ernest Hemingway, in describing work that won him a Nobel prize in 1954, knew this sentence seemed contradictory — “alone” is not how we usually describe life’s transcendent moments.
Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories (Random House Children’s Books, paperback, $17) is one of those rare books that reveals how the solitude required of writing can elicit heartrending reflections and devastating truths.
Anna Bayuk, one of the collection’s 43 contributors, was a junior at Douglas on Feb. 14, 2018, when a shooter attacked the school, leaving 17 dead and as many injured. That afternoon, she found herself bunkered in a classroom, clenching the hand of a classmate she “only half knew,” listening to gunshots in the distance, hearing footsteps in the hallway.
“you are staying quiet, no, quieter, no, silent
you are staying silent.
for a moment, i was not silent.
there was a plastic walmart bag full of valentines from
and for the people that i care about on my lap.
and when i shifted it off to the side so that i could move
my legs even an inch
it was the loudest thing i had ever heard …”
Passages like this, breathtaking in their imagery and revelation, don’t happen in front of local TV cameras and newspaper reporters. They come when you’re alone with your thoughts; and that mulling — that essaying — can crystallize with the solitude writing requires.
Each piece in Parkland Speaks, whether recollection, photo, sketch, speech, or scratch poem, comes from a Douglas student or teacher. The collection’s editor, Sarah Lerner, teaches journalism at the high school and serves yearbook advisor. Those two roles overlap here in a nexus through which the collection is focused and shaped, but only expansively directed. And the result is by turns gut-wrenching, depressing, ponderous, hopeful, and joyous — sparkling with such a range of thoughts, images, and emotions, it can be exhausting.
Much the way the teens here, and everywhere, normally are. Even as not-normal as these young people now feel.
Both with intention and inadvertently, the young writers of Parkland Speaks reveal their falls from innocence. Each, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, bruised, dusty, and dazed but able to stand up, take stock, and take tentative steps forward.
Rebecca Schneid, now a senior at Douglas, reflects in the aftermath of 2/14 on the bewilderment of being chased into adulthood — first by the shooter, then by the media and politicians, then by the world of anonymous jeerers and gawkers known to every victim of adolescence.
In “A Zoo Animal,” a free-form piece in the style of a spoken-word jam, Schneid says, “I don’t even know myself.”
Sometimes I think that I am fine,
that I’ve lost some of that sheer pain and wrath;
that I’m on a path
toward healing and success,
toward not moving on really, but growing
from the distress …
She is not fine, of course — who would be? And that’s the point: given the circumstances, feeling so not-normal is, well, normal.
Definitely, it’s the new normal at Douglas High.
That new normal, even a year later, is still in flux.
The final pages of Parkland Speaks serve as proof. In “Meet the Contributors,” everyone has moved on. Some still attend Douglas High, now upperclassmen; others have gone off to college. Each’s trajectory toward whatever their futures hold remains on path despite what they went through.
But the way of those paths has been hosed down and is still wet with their experiences and takeaways from Valentine’s Day 2018. The footing is slippery as they try to navigate between who they were before that day and who they are now.
But make no mistake — forward is where they’re going. Whether as community organizers or organizers for Dance Marathon, as varsity water polo players or budding civil engineers and pediatricians, as yearbook editors or ebook authors.
Parkland Speaks isn’t about reliving the past. It’s proof of life in the now. A testament to resilience and hope — the very essence of MSDStrong.
teeberg is the Parklander’s contributing editor.
Cutline: Artist Madalyn Snyder, one of the contributors for Parkland Speaks, wrote about her experiences on Feb. 14, 2018, for the collection. A junior at the time, Snyder was cutting out paper hearts and goofing off with her buddy Guac on Valentine’s Day, as the pair waited for class to end. Minutes later, they heard gunfire and Snyder said her own heart sank. In the chaos of evacuating, she and her classmates came face-to-face with the shooter and Snyder was saved only when her teacher pulled her to safety. The teacher, Stacey Lippel, another of the book’s contributors, was injured in the incident when a bullet grazed her arm. Snyder’s friend and classmate, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was later named among the 17 victims who died in the shooting. (Illustration by Madalyn Snyder, courtesy Random House Children’s Books.)