Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Sex Word

Tonight at a church fundraiser the subject of teens and sex came up over dinner.

First you have to know, I'm a Unitarian Universalist. UUs (as we sometimes call ourselves)  are part of a community with shared principles about democracy, respect and the inter-connected web of life where people who hold many different faiths (Christians, Buddists, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, etc.) come together.

One of the things our church is kind of famous for is our Our Whole Lives program, which is a comprehensive sexual and relationship education course that our congregation created with the United Church of Christ. We offer a "how babies are made and taking care of my body" version for first graders, a "puberty" version for upper elementary and a year-long version that is quite comprehensive for eighth graders and later high schoolers. Classes are even offered for adults focused on relationships and sexuality as we age.

With all this focus on education, it was an interesting conversation to say the least. One person at my table was concerned with the idea that some parents let their kids start birth control "just in case". She felt this would practically guarantee that they would start having sex. "It's like writing them a blank check," she said.

But I couldn't help but offer up my point of view. That we are all born sexual beings and that only consistent, strong and positive healthy dialogue where teens feel safe will make any difference. The authentic teen experience often includes sex. But nobody wants to talk to teens about birth control, the importance of being in an emotionally safe relationship before jumping in, ensuring the selection of a safe physical location or even, sometimes, how to decide what kinds of birth control to use and figure out how to make them work.

Since there was no internet, or at least none I could access, when I was a teen I turned to Judy Blume for guidance. I combed the book Forever for advice and information. I suspect today's teens are turning to YA literature to help them figure all of this out, too.

At conferences I've been to over the last few years I've heard many different attitudes among editors and agents about the topic of sex in YA literature. But John Green knows it is part of the genuine teen experience and includes it in Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in Our Stars. It's not what his stories are about, he's not trying to preach to anyone or teach any lessons. He just recognizes it's a universal truth in a universal experience and I assume he knows he can't be real in any sense that teens connect with if he skates over it, excludes it or pretends it's not really happening.

I wonder what would happen if all grown-ups started thinking this way. Would millions of teens find themselves in situations where they could actually finding living people willing to help them understand this important topic? I wonder how many teens would find this a welcome and refreshing turn of events...

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Music, The People, The Scene: My First Indy Concert

Despite my age, which I'm not about to share, before yesterday I had never actually been to an indy concert. In fact, I'd only been to four concerts in my life-- Damn Yankees, Whitney Houston, Steve Matthews and Fleetwood Mac. My new book, however, features a teen band playing their first two gigs. I needed an education and my 13-year-old daughter was just the person to make it happen.

Her friend's mom scored tickets for three-mother-daughter couples to see the indy band Echo Smith. The girls discovered the band when they gave a free song away on i-tunes. I have admit I'd gotten so used to hearing Cool Kids around the house and in the car I didn't realize the band wasn't world famous.

My daughter was over the moon. The girls donned shirts made by a talented member of the group designed to match the band's album cover. They matched their jeans and converse shoes. We Mom's threatened to wear everything from matching "Me and my daughter are BFF" shirts featuring their pictures to leopard print with matching sparkle boas. But we're not that mean. We piled into the mini-van and headed to the concert.

The Scene: A and R Bar is a small club and music venue on Neil Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. Dark with a concrete floor and long bar leading to a few lone tables the place screams for dancing, energy and music that bounces off the walls and into your soul.

The People: When we arrived the band, which was the opening act, hadn't started yet. The girls made a bee-line for the t-shirt/poster sales table only to find it was manned by the actual band members. The band, who turn out to be a very sweet family of siblings from the ages of 14 to 20, took pictures of the girls' shirts and even signed them. They also signed posters that the girls bought and gave them free Echo Smith bags with the t-shirts we bought. They gave the girls tons of hugs and let them tell them they adored them countless times. Sidney, the lead singer, showed patience, kindness and maturity and seemed to really love the girls. This made their year. Maybe even their lives to date.

The Music: The band piled up on stage and sang their hearts out to crowd of maybe 50 people. The kids piled in to see them were captivated, swaying, putting their hands up and jumping to the music. Except my daughter who video taped the entire concert on her i-phone, mesmerized by the presence of her idols. Their sound is upbeat and fun, with different types of percussion in each song inspiring you to move and keep up with the beat.

What I loved about this experience was the intimacy of it. Next week we're headed to see Macklemore at the arena and I suspect we'll have a very different experience. At the Echo Smith concert we shared something special with the band and each other. The music, the people, the scene, they all came together into a magical spell that won't soon be broken.

I can't wait to weave this all into my story!