Sunday, May 29, 2005

True Notebooks

I just finished a wonderful book. It's entitled "True Notebooks" by Mark Salzman.
Salzman is what the industry calls a "B List Author". He's written some novels and non-fiction with moderate success, but he's not a best selling author. I've read all of his previous works and enjoyed most of them. What I like about him is his self-deprecating sense of humor, affability, and common sense.

True Notebooks is about his experience as a volunteer for a program which provides writing classes for violent teenage offenders at Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. These teens are mostly murder convicts who often are gang members.

Now I have to say that I don't think much of gangbangers. Whenever I hear about them in the news I have to shake my head and just think "lock'em up and throw away the key." But this book has changed my attitude. Through their writing, these kids show vulnerability, anger, pain, sorrow, fear, remorse, and hope. One of the most striking things I noticed was that most of the sorrow and pain came from growing up in a broken home. Most of these boys do not have a father. Or their fathers abandoned or abused them. Most of them adore their mothers.

When Salzman, who is an accomplished cellist, brought his cello to play for the kids one afternoon, he anticipated jeers and mockery from them. After all, these kids like rap music. He announced a piece by Saint-Saens which reminded him of his mother. Half way through the work he looked up and saw all the boys sitting there in silence, with tears streaming down their faces. They made him play that piece three times because they were all thinking of their mothers.

Anyway, I won't give away more of the story, but I highly recommend it to anyone. There's a lot of profanity and some shocking discussion, but it's well worth reading because it reveals their humanity and their weaknesses. Here is an excerpt of an essay written by one of the boys:

Sometimes I am in the room with darkness, I could feel the light in my heart. No one could understand how light it is. The people just think I am a piece of s**t, but they never know I feel remorse. And I try to be a good person without my freedom, I lonely. I need help. Sometimes I wonder how can I get back my happiness without help?