Getting the Word Out So Teens Can Get Their Words Out

School has never been a bastion of creative expression for students.  In this age of testing and huge curricular requirements, teachers have fewer opportunities to offer their students to say what they want and have their voices heard in meaningful ways.  Some teens take to the internet and open themselves up to the cruelty of trolls – some of whom are their peers. Others turn to private writing that can move them to introspection or to feeling more isolated and hopeless.

How can at-risk youth speak out?  One brave artist, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo has taken on the challenge of giving at-risk youth the opportunity to speak out.  One school at a time and one student at a time, she is listening and bringing the salvation of the arts to teens. From her website, http://nevercountedout.com/

Welcome To The Creative Revolution!

We want … to rock … the world of at-risk youth!

Never Counted Out is a movement in the making dedicated to empowering at-risk youth through writing and the arts.

We believe art saves, and youth on the fringe are forever changed by engaging with professional artists.

Inspired by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s unconventional Fat Angie book tour (documented in the film At-Risk Summer), NCO continues her mission by bridging the gap between artists and at-risk youth in their community or communities they travel to.

We are emerging —with a fire—to inspire the kids who are often counted out!”

This is the kind of revolution that teens need and is literally life saving.  Here is the inspiration from the website describing the goals of the project, “If Someone Only Knew.”

On March 3, 2015, sixteen-year-old transgender youth, Ash Haffner, committed suicide. A victim of bullying, Ash left this note:

“Please be WHO YOU ARE…Do it for yourself. Do it for your happiness. That’s what matters in YOUR life. You don’t need approval on who you are. Don’t let people or society change who you are just because they’re not satisfied with your image.”

Can you be who you are?10559814_10152780717852379_874218585006211106_n
What is stopping you from being yourself “for your happiness”?

What’s your truth?  
What story do you have to tell?
Does your truth or story make you feel alone?

In honor of Ash Haffner’s challenge, we ask you to tell your truth.  Be heard.  Be seen.  Stop feeling alone.  Write an essay or create a piece of art that answers this sentence:

If someone only knew…

In defiance of Ash’s choice of suicide, we want you to publish your story with Never Counted Out and never as a suicide note.

Suicide is never the answer.
Suicide does not make you look strong or show others how badly you feel.
Suicide doesn’t offer second chances.

Writing Truth can be your answer.
Because Words and Art are Power.
Because Words and Art offer Second Chances.

Could you words inspire others to be who they are?

A selection of writing, art, photo, slam, and film submissions will be published to the Never Counted Out  blog. There will be a place for people to comment with ideas, resources and support. This section will be moderated to exclude unhelpful or hateful comments.

Select essays and art will be published anonymously in 2016 in a paperback anthology entitled If Someone Only Knew…


Everything about this project is important and powerful.

Empower teens.  Point them to this project. Visit the website and point your local high schools and middle schools to this amazing opportunity.

Here’s the video trailer of the film. Watch it. Share it.

Speak to the teens. Listen when they answer.


Teen Post!!! Erin becomes a reader

One of my goals for the Hippodilly Circus has been to give teenagers a place to speak and be heard.  Here, the goal is met. Erin is a fantastic person and as you’ll find is brilliant and funny. I am honored that she has chosen to share this story with you on Hippodilly Circus. I hope that she’ll find a great and supportive response. 

Thank you, Erin! 

As a kid I was indifferent towards reading honestly and I wasn’t a very good reader because of it. That is until the beginning of kindergarten when we began learning to read. There were a plethora of levels that you had to reach to get brightly coloured stickers and, more importantly to some people, bragging rights. Yellow, blue, green, purple, orange, etc. but the last level was dark red and I took my sweet time of getting there; until Kayla came along.

This rude little munchkin is who I credit for my love of reading, but at the time I hated her kid sized guts. At least once a week this girl would come in and switch out her books for the next level, sneering at my innocent (almost angelic) face the whole time. Each time she’d receive a new book she’d laugh like the miniature villain she was and proclaim herself the “Queen of Books” (more like Dictator of Books). This of course made me want to destroy her and her happiness (I know lovely right?) so I set to work. Every night I’d go home and read for at least half an hour, imagining the face Kayla would make when I beat her down. Nearly every day I would come in and gain a level, much faster then that little puppy kicker was advancing, so I caught up quick.

Within a few weeks I was at the level right below dark red, but so was Kayla. We glared at each other as we both snatched the orange books. The next day I sauntered past her sad attempt at confidence and performed my reading test, behind me Kayla lurked the whole time of course, but I had done it. I had reached the final level with a quarter of the school year left to go. I would say that I feel remorse for the dancing a laughing in Kayla’s face that ensued but… She deserved it.

The following year, Kayla was in a different class, but I realized I missed reading every night, so I picked up a Junie B Jones book and started up again. Now, I understood why Kayla loved to read, still didn’t feel bad about the whole thing, but you know.

To this day, reading a good book can make me feel in control or relaxed. I wonder where Kayla is now, probably in some high school terrorising slow readers or kittens, who knows. The point is: reading is like allowing some one to climb into your head a paint a beautiful picture for you, like your own personal Michaelanglo to your Sistine Chapel ceiling of a brain. It’s funny to look back on my distaste for reading as kid because it just seems so odd. Books are almost like little movies that you can watch at your own pace AND you get to decide who is cast and what it looks like! You’re basically a director,  OK maybe not but you can pretend. This is also my theory for why people don’t like movie adaptations of books, it ruins their artistic vision. Anyways, the moral of this story is; if you’re good at reading you should encourage people instead of putting them down because books are fun or something… I don’t know, use your imagination.

Erin is a 16 year old girl from Burke, Virginia and she is very excited to be given the opportunity to be published in Hippodilly Circus! Her favourite author is Rainbow Rowell (Sorry Eoin Colfer) and she loves all of her books.


YA Authors Say It Better Than I Possibly Could

I really believe that YA books save people. There are so many books I’ve read in my 30s and 40s that have hit me in the gut and made me realize, tearfully in many cases, that I was never alone when I was a teenager or young adult.  I thought I was the only one who felt stupid, weird, misunderstood and unseen. I didn’t have a tragic adolescence. I had friends, boyfriends and didn’t suffer abuse. However, I felt terrible about myself and my circumstances much of the time. Even more painful, I felt alone as if nobody could understand or even wanted to. Nobody really listened to me because we were all trying so hard to be heard that we didn’t have time to listen to each other. Now that I am older and have teenage children, I’ve found YA books that say what I felt so clearly that it’s like a punch in the gut followed by a flood of appreciation from my teenage self. I find myself overwhelmed by the relief of hearing someone else say what I felt. I can feel the teenager in me relax and suffer less as I realize I was never alone.

I honestly feel that the therapeutic value of this experience is enormous.  I never went to therapy as a teen. I wanted to and my mother threatened me with it, but we never went. In the eighties, there was still a big stigma about therapy and for my family it probably wouldn’t have ever happened. My dad was a high ranking Air Force Officer and I don’t know if he’d have had the time or the desire to attend therapy or allow us to go.  Reading these books has given me book friends who understand and share my pain. It’s one of the reasons I keep reading them.

Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best out there writing YA books. She is fantastic. Reading her book ‘Speak’ in graduate school cut me open.  I felt like someone reached inside and found my feelings and put them into this deeply moving book. It’s such an important book and gives voice to anyone who was sexually assaulted or ignored when they needed help. When she came to Politics and Prose last year to talk about her newest book ‘The Impossible Knife of Memory’, I made sure I was there. She’s a fantastic speaker and she “gets” teenagers in an honest and compassionate way. She is never condescending. I asked her to sign my copy of the new book with an inscription to my classes. She wrote, “To Ms. Lively’s Class: Because books help when life sucks.”  It’s the perfect message and it’s undeniably true.

Here’s an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson from Buzzfeed that shows her understanding of teens, YA books and the pain of adolescence better than I could.

Laurie Halse Anderson Interview :

Another Buzzfeed story (Is that what you call the content on Buzzfeed, stories?) this time featuring the undeniable power and brilliance of JK Rowling.  She interacts with her fans sparingly on twitter and other places and when she does, the power of her words, acts and of Harry Potter tend to overwhelm those with whom she interacts personally. I am in no way prepared to talk about what Harry Potter and JK Rowling have meant to me and my family and couldn’t do it justice if I tried right now, so I will leave JK Rowling and her lovely relationship with a young man speak for me and likely many others.

JK  Rowling’s Beautiful Letter to a Fan 

Keep reading Young Adult books. They can heal your teenage self by showing you that you are not now and never were alone. If you’re a teenager now reading this, just know that all of your parents and teachers were once just like you and struggling to figure out what to do with themselves. Most of us still are from time to time.



Calling all Teens and Former Teens! Join the Circus today!

Hello!  I have been doing some heavy lifting – brain wise and mulling how best to organize this blog.  I definitely want to create a community of teens and former teens who can share their experiences, struggles and triumphs on these pages to build connections.  As any good host knows though, just saying, “Do whatever you want!” or “Anything you want to do would be just fine!” is a terrible way to invite people. It’s just too vague and really doesn’t encourage anyone to take action…

So…. Here’s a specific invitation!

To create a proper circus, you need some circus acts, so that’s what we’re going to start here.  Posts will be filed into categories to fill out our circus and have a show that will include as many people as possible.  Posts can be written reflections, poems, links to events or artwork that fits in the categories. There’s also a category for that which cannot be categorized.  I think we have it covered, but if you have other ideas, please share them in the comments below.

Cue the calliope and here are the new Hippodilly Circus “Acts”!

Lion Tamer = Stories of mean girls, bullies, other social pressures.

Clown Car = Stories of stupid people who try to define teenagers as “less than”


Tightrope Walking = Stories of negotiating identity and the expectations of parents, teachers or friends.


Ring Master = Stories of the struggle with balancing demands of school, home and social lives.


Joining the Circus = Stories of feeling outcast and/or finding your tribe.


Flying Trapeze = Stories of falling in and out of love.


Side Show = Stories without category.

and I just learned from the PBS site, which presented a show called “Circus” – that

Jackpots = Tall tales about life under the big top To “cut up Jackpots” is to tell these stories

Again, comments and suggestions may be posted below.

If you want to submit writing, artwork or what have you… email hippodillycircus@gmail.com