Margaret Kathryn LaFountain
The Telling Room in Portland, Maine
With each new week and new camp at The Telling Room, more brilliant students, eager to write and learn, have allowed me to witness their talents and excitement. My time at the Telling Room has consisted of working at different weekly camps provided for students of different ages and interests. My first camp was focused on Fiction Writing (see blog post 1), the second week of camp was geared towards younger writers and involved daily yoga practices and meditations to facilitate writing and creative thoughts. My third week at the Telling Room, and the most challenging and eye opening yet focuses on Queer Characters, and was advertised towards LGBTQ youth and allies.
Two Queer Character Camp students exploring the streets of downtown Portland, gathering inspiration for new stories.
On Monday morning, I walked into the familiar Telling Room feeling more nervous than I had my first day. I am ashamed to admit that my knowledge of LGBTQ history and writers barely brushes the surface. My supervisor, and mentor, the amazing Amy Raina, was so excited for the week ahead, which eased my nerves a little. She had multiple lesson plans laid out on LGBTQ history and dozens of books to help aid her lessons and facilitate some writing activities.This was the first year the Telling Room offered the camp and with 6 campers we were all on edge to see what would happen and where the students’ knowledge and interest would lie.
Queer Character Camp students writing in Tommy’s Park in Portland, Maine.
The Telling Room is a truly magical place that I have come to love. Campers start to trickle in around 9:30 AM but I try to get there around 8:30 AM to prepare for the day and enjoy some quiet time in such a unique and cool space. On one of the orientation days a resident teaching artists explained that The Telling Room is a workshop for all writers, young and old, and is a collaborative space. Her statement has motivated me this summer to start writing alongside the students, which has benefited my ability to teach and aid the students and has encouraged the students to continue writing even when they get stuck, as they see an adult working through writers block with them.
Early mornings at The Telling Room.
The first student to walk in on Monday was the oldest in the camp. She was visibly nervous, as was I, but I put on my most serious “teacher face” and assured her that she was in for a great week. The students of the Telling Room are unique, they come in ready to share deep parts of themselves with near strangers. I’m amazed they aren’t more nervous! They are writers, unafraid to dig deeply within themselves and mold their own experiences into incredible stories. Within the first 10 minutes of Queer Character camp all 6 students had shared deeply personal experiences as LGBTQ youth. All Amy and I could do was sit in shock and amazement. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. To see so many young people share such personal experiences with me, within minutes of meeting, was a privilege I have never experiences.
As the week progressed, we worked on developing strong and complex queer characters. We visited bookstores and the library where the owners and librarians pulled books with queer characters and themes off the shelf for us to survey and discuss. We visited multiple queer owned businesses in the greater Portland area and discussed what it means to be growing up LGBTQ today. As the only non-LGBTQ teacher and participant in the camp, I often took a backseat in these discussions. While I am technically helping teach these camps, most of the times I felt like a student. This week taught me that doing leading sometimes means becoming a stronger ally to others. To become a stronger ally, I needed to push aside what I thought were my teaching responsibilities and just listen to the students around me.
Queer Character Camp students and teachers Amy and Jay eating ice cream.
This week, and my three weeks at The Telling Room have taught me many things. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is how important and helpful it is to find an adult mentor to look to for guidance and support. Amy has been that for me. As we pick up the wildly decorated room after the campers leave we discuss what we feel went well and what we could have done better. She is always open to suggestions and assures me that teaching is hard, and that it’s important to find things outside of work that make me happy and fulfilled. I feel very fortunate to be working alongside such an amazing group of people who push the best out of students and themselves every day. I was unprepared to feel so comfortable, so quickly, in a place I knew so little about just 3 weeks ago.