Show-and-Tell for Arizona

Show-and-Tell for Arizona

Bloom: Best Arizona Teen Writing of 2014 Editor Introduction by Billy Gerchick

Furry friends; Camp Tontozona; Berenstein Bears; show-and-tell; Basketball Encyclopedia; principal atop a flagpole.

I pride my home state and like an increasing many, set my formative story in Arizona. I recall a toddler’s fear, then joy, from feeding furry friends at Williams Deer Farm. Each August, Dad took us to Camp Tontozona to watch ASU football; years later, he welcomed me to attend U of A. I believe shared stories by Arizonans help us learn from, and be closer to, one another. This is one Arizonan’s story of learning to invite y’all as Young Authors of Arizona.

I loved school in the era of thermoses. In pre-school, Berenstein Bears made us smile, and show-and-tell helped us learn from one another. Writing wasn’t so five-paragraph structured, and once a year, if I’d been good, Mom and I played hooky for a Snowbowl ski day. A Suns fan, I got to read the Basketball Encyclopedia for a 5th grade book report. Did you know Kevin Johnson averaged 20.4 points and 12.2 assists per game in ’88-’89? “Fundamental” could be fun, and my principal, Bob Meko, camped atop our flagpole to promote learning. “Saber és poder” remains the Mendoza Elementary School motto: “Knowledge is power.”

7th grade fingerprints; Bono and Flava Flav; another novel set in England.

But things change in middle school. Show-and-tell is gone, adolescents clique into groups, and stolen Kit Kats had Billy’s 7th grade fingerprints in the wafers. I was a punk, but school, an accomplice. “Can I read that?” “No.” “Can I try writing like that?” “No.” “Can we talk in class?” I wonder if your learning story has similar conflicts.

By high school, for me, engagement increased when class ended. Bono (of U2) and Flavor Flav (of Public Enemy) on-stage to get an MLK holiday in Arizona—real. Another novel set in England—redundant. Thank Cliff for his Notes, but where were the words that spoke to us? Written, folded, passed-by-friends, avidly read, relevant. If 15-year old S.E. Hinton could write The Outsiders, maybe more note-passers would engage if approached as authors. Skill development needs models, but we didn’t study exemplary peer work.

English 101; War of the Worlds; 9/11; page space.

“What do you want to read?” my English 101 professor asked. “Huh?” “What do you want to write about?” It’d been a while since someone asked. “Baseball.” Welcomed to pursue personally relevant content, I turned getting cut, then making my high school baseball team into a polished personal narrative. When Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini feuded with then-Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo over the funding of Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field), I engaged as citizen-reader. And because Dysart Unified’s students deserved better, I engaged as citizen-writer, mailing my persuasive paper to their penny-pinching school board. Class mattered again, skills developed, but my story needed its true protagonists.

In the summer of 2001, my best friend convinced me to co-manage a Sabino Canyon Little League team: 13-14 year olds. We loved those punks: Beau with braces, Mo with the fastball, pure joy. But many of these boys hadn’t set foot on the University of Arizona campus. “Can I come to class?”

My film & lit. professor agreed to let the team watch War of the Worlds (1953 version). Despite rejection from the blond in the third row, my players kept asking questions, some of them about the film. “I like this kind of school,” said my right fielder, and perhaps like you, my character found focus as both student and mentor. Exclusion turns learners to punks; inclusion can inspire love of learning. Then, 9/11.

The night of September 11, 2001, I walked, confusedscaredangry, in a wash near River Road. I thought about enlisting, about defending, about harming people depicted on TV. How do we reconcile our fear of the unknown? Then, I thought about feeding deer, about passing notes to friends, about my right fielder’s future. We need the enlisted, but we also need show-and-tell, now more than ever in a post-9/11 Arizona.

Do you know that just days after 9/11, at a gas station in Mesa, a man murdered an innocent man because he “looked like a terrorist”? Do you know that, combined, Arizona now has over 1,400 middle schools and high schools and many home schools, each with potential storytellers? Media exposure too-often lets the wrong people define Arizona, and Arizonans, so maybe it’s time to create page space for our “punks.” They might be authors.

The following words show, in snippets and out-of-context, what 63 Young Authors of Arizona have to tell:

Memories swelling like a gasoline rainbow; the old regime and a fear of apology; your pastpresentfuture; my fusion heritage; prefixes rioting for recombination.

Weird gypsy music for self-pitying goth girls; child at the Diwali party clad in jeans; a little green-bodied, red-stomached hummingbird; our van which was luckily stuck between two coconut trees; my heart that thinks too loudly; the same crumpled blue tee, gray yoga pants, and dusty Converse; that awkward kid; that dreaded five-letter word.

Leaking contradictions that send steam rising off asphalt; fireworks that pinwheel across the sky; a spark; smoke ring love letters; Desolation Row; the ugly Christmas sweater; Heaven’s ears; scent of Palo Verde; drawing of a polar bear during recess; three balls to juggle two hands one girl; for who I am and not for who I’m not; blasphemy in the beauty of our fingers intertwined; four-point, thirty-six point, two-thousand, four-hundred point scales; a trophy, a glorified piece of metal; against the rusted fence of the basketball court; hues of lonely blue and shades of bitter belladonna; scowls darting across the room; sardonic interior; the cruel paradox of young men; for La Raza; same way on a zigzagged line; mirror, oh mirror; a rather simple concept; how I feel about myself; chewing bubble gum in the rain; hunched like Atlas and cold like David; eyes like Hera and a voice like Echo; how the other person thinks; just a pat on the back and a few words of kindness; a paper-thin castle made of words; one big chunk of rock floating in space; the stoic stare of glassy eyes; a serpentine wisp of fragile white vapor; haphazardly stitching in hopes of mending; just one last smile; white noise in the

TV; War, Poverty, Death, Sickness, Homelessness, Starvation, Dehydration, Helplessness, Greed, Evil, Obliviousness, Cynicism, Deception, Anger, Hatred, Depression, Suicide, Loneliness; nothing like we expected; the end of the Demon’s rebirth; the Bliss of the leaves beneath my feet; unplanted seeds and misplaced house keys; an Arizona sunset; the time you nudged my shoulder with your nose; when sheets of glass rain slandered the asphalt; slowly down from five; no more North or South; all that matters; my twelve years with her; perpetual wave of the naked truth.

Suspension bridge of global culture; hiss of steel ringing; other side of the Earth; the Guns and Roses tattoo; heartbreak, cancer, and a Catch-22; Frost’s heart beat; his wedding ring; paper-thin memories crinkled by time; the last of the Presents.  

The annoying red light; the ding of the elevator doors; empty cans of spray paint; a pale patch of dried glue.

The grand opening; phrases and English sayings; a regular high school; a new cultural studies program.

When to speak your mind and when to shut up; that beautiful mixture, half-lion half-eagle; the mental wellness and social conditions of the assailants; “reasonable suspicion” that someone is “an alien.”

The chagrin of the zealots who loved the dramatics; the knot that held my entire loincloth; as dirty as that last sentence sounded.

Names, and names, and names of men and women old and young.

12 minutes, 56 seconds; a small breakfast of regulation canned Good Meal; the empty shell of my ghostly body; the ones who live life to the fullest, accept all mistakes made, and truly enjoy life as it is.

If you feel the above words don’t merit further reading, I welcome you to close this book. If writing by Arizona teens doesn’t belong in your curriculum, ignore this rag and the “punks” that pass notes text in class. If bored by 63 friends passing paperback notes, then stop focusing and express ur boredom. Try an emoticon: :(. Otherwise, enjoy.

This is Bloom, Young Authors of Arizona’s Best Arizona Teen Writing of 2014 anthology, the first of its kind in state history: by young authors, for Arizona, earned publication through the Scholastic Writing Awards. YAA is the only Scholastic affiliate in America making our own “best of” book, and we’re looking to make publishing a habit.

As high school and college English teacher, now I’m the one asked “Can I read that?” “Can I write about that?” “Can we talk about that?” Yes, you can.

The YAA non-profit was created to help young authors show-and-tell language and media arts. We welcome you, the reader, the teacher, the parent, the librarian, the partner organization, the partner business, and especially you, the aspiring young author, to help language and media arts bloom in Arizona. Go to to learn how, and thank you for supporting our first draft.


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