Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rethinking Book Signings

Saturday, February 9th, 2008 I'll be doing a book signing and giving a brief talk at Barnes & Noble in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. The topic of my discussion will be making meaningful connections with adolescents through story.

You can purchase a copy of Rethinking Adolescence: Using Story to Navigate Life's Uncharted Years (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2006) here.

Get directions to the Barnes & Noble in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rethinking Unresolved Issues II

Ajax went to his doom, his ire toward Odysseus unquenched and issues unresolved. Death appears indiscriminate at times, not caring whether a person has made peace with others in his or her life. Death takes those who are in harmony with others and also those who are not. A student might be angry with a person for dying. The goblins that can plague a teen who has experienced a death under these circumstances are known as Bitterness and Resentment.

This can be particularly difficult in cases of suicide or drug overdose—situations that could have been avoided. But whatever the circumstances, the question remains, Can the living make peace with the dead?

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rethinking Unresolved Issues

As Odysseus encountered the ghosts of great and mighty figures throughout history, one stood out as aloof and bitter. It was the red and skeletal ghost of a former comrade at Troy, the powerful Ajax. This ghost scowled at Odysseus and cursed him. Following the death of Achilles, there had been a dispute among the Greek commanders as to who should rightfully inherit his armor. Ajax had laid claim to the armor, but Odysseus challenged him. The matter was settled, and Ajax was denied the armor of Achilles. In a furious rage, Ajax took his own life, knowing that he could never possess the raiment of the mighty Greek hero.

How does bitterness and resentment creep into our lives? What can we do about it?

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Rethinking Life After Death

Life Continues

As the ghosts in Hades presented themselves to Odysseus, one in particular stood out from the rest. It was his mother, Anticlea. There, in the land of the dead, Odysseus finally realized that he had been absent from his family’s life for nearly fifteen years. The grief gripped him in a powerful way. He inquired of his mother the condition of his home in Ithaca and of his wife and son. He had a strong desire to know how his father was faring and the manner of his mother’s death. As his mother relayed the news from home, the Greek king fell into agony, understanding that to his family he was thought dead and that he had missed out on much of life.

When we stop to visit the graves of the loved ones that have passed on before us, it is difficult not to consider the living we have done since their passing. Births, graduations, marriages, and other major life events come and go, with the deceased individual apparently missing it all. This can provoke very powerful feelings of sorrow in those who are still here. It is no different for adolescents who lose someone special.

A student who loses a beloved grandmother, for instance, might have a difficult time around holidays, knowing that life’s customs and traditions are taking place without her presence. Another, experiencing the death of a close friend, may struggle with feelings of grief or guilt after winning an important basketball game. A teen whose mother has died could experience serious emotional pain during her senior prom, knowing that her mother would have loved to see the color and style of her prom dress. The dragon that stalks all these students, constantly struggling with the things they know their loved one is missing, is known as Despair.

How can we work with students who are grieving because they have come to the realization that their lives are continuing without the presence of someone they loved? What can make a difference in their lives?

One of the most crucial things we can do is to pay attention to the student who has lost someone special. Watch their behavior and interaction with other students, especially around times of the year and during events that may have been significant to the one that died. Does the student seem sad or cry easily? Is he unusually irritable or angry toward his friends? Do you notice that he is quiet, almost trying to disappear? These can all be clues as to the inner conflicts of the heart.

If you should happen to become aware of such changes in behavior or attitude, address it as soon as possible. Be a listening ear if students are comfortable discussing their struggles with you. Sometimes simply talking about the feelings one is experiencing can be very cathartic.

Art therapy works well in grieving situations, as well. Try having a student draw the things they wish the person who died could have experienced. Writing a letter to the deceased, describing what they have missed, can be very freeing to the young person who is grieving. Letters or artwork can be placed at the gravesite or similar memorial. Be creative. Try to empathize with the adolescent—put yourself in their shoes. The dragon of Despair would want a young heart to wrestle with these issues alone and in isolation. This beast can be slain by affording students an opportunity to share their pain with others, thus ultimately freeing the spirit to begin living again.

Odysseus, still in Hades, met his old ally Achilles, the mightiest of the Greek warriors. The hero, now a resident of the underworld, asked Odysseus for news of his family and whether or not his name was still remembered in the lands of Greece. Odysseus could not supply him with this information, but he was able to tell the ghost the tale of his son, Neoptolemus, and his heroic endeavors on the field of battle. Upon hearing this news, the great Achilles swelled with pride and went off along a meadow, now at peace.

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