The mic was waiting for Colette Caughey, but she needed more time.
One of her Olympic High School classmates had just delivered an emotional narrative at the Streetcraft LA workshop on Main Street, where students shared their creative writing at a read-aloud session Wednesday evening.
“I can’t always remember the details of her face … if her eyes were as blue as the sky or as blue as the ocean,” the classmate read. “But I know she’s my guardian fairy watching over me.”
It was a heartrending story that the classmate, Maia Joseph, had discussed with Caughey earlier that day. And it still carried immense power.
So Caughey took a few moments to collect herself before approaching the front of the room, taking her turn on a night of self-expression, reflection and uplift.
“I thought I was prepared, but I actually wasn’t,” she said afterward. “(Joseph’s) words made me well up so much that I could barely read my second story. But I’m happy I read it.”
Olympic’s inaugural read-aloud session was organized by Craig Bergman, a creative writing teacher who works weekly with students at the district’s continuation school to help them develop their voices.
Through his program, Word Up Kids, he coaches the students in communication skills while providing a space for them to explore their thoughts, desires and fears.
“I’m really bad at getting in touch with my feelings,” Caughey said. “(Bergman) tells us, ‘Don’t think, just see,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to write.’ But it makes you get into yourself. It pulls out a lot of thoughts I didn’t even know I had.”
The reading featured raw narratives ranging from the abstract to the personal to the political, students opening up about relationships, challenges, vices and global ailments in front of relatives and friends. Olympic principal Janie Yuguchi Gates and English teacher Susanne Liaw were also in attendance.
“The hardest thing to do is to reveal yourself to your family and your peers, but it builds self-esteem,” Bergman said. “And it builds self-esteem when children overcome challenges and you acknowledge them for it.”
Mac Frelix shared several pieces, speaking into the mic with a steady rhythm. In one narrative, he wrote about a girl. In another, he confronted his fear of dying in a snowboarding accident.
“I start to panic,” he read, a black beanie hovering over his eyes. “For what I see is a roaring, thundering wave of snow chasing me wherever I go. I look ahead and try my best to go faster, but my best isn’t good enough. As the snow surrounds me, darkness creeps up and swallows me.”
For Frelix, the read-aloud was almost as scary as his illusion — at first, anyway.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” he said. “But it was cool to get up there and get my feelings out.”
It was a momentous occasion for his mother, Cyrene St. Amant, who complimented Bergman for empowering the students to express themselves in a public setting.
“It’s not something I would’ve expected Mac to do,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for him. He shares things with us, but not usually with other people.”
Trenton McWhorter also participated in the read-aloud, speaking about the difficulties of frequently moving: from Los Angeles to Sacramento, from Sacramento to Denver, back to Sacramento, back to Denver, back to Los Angeles.
“I am the meaning of six feet deep when I see the world I live in that kills me every day,” read McWhorter, who won Super Bowl tickets this year through an area writing contest. “I am negative because of the positivity and love that leave me.”
Bergman set the mood for the evening with a tale about a man who dies, wakes up in front of the pearly gates and is greeted by a guy who welcomes him and shows him around. The man is told that everything is easy, that everything is wonderful, and he’s soon eating delicious food and hitting holes in one on the golf course.
After a while, though, he gets bored, and he goes to the greeter to complain that things are too easy, too simple, too effortless.
“Maybe I’ll try hell,” the man says.
Replies the greeter: “Where do you think you are?”
“The greatest heaven here on Earth is when we work our butts off and things are hard, when we earn and achieve on our own,” Bergman said. “These kids have worked their butts off to be authentic. In their lives they’ve had a lot of challenges, but they have so much courage.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.