New York based singer/songwriter Selena Garcia has devoted her life to music education and mentoring children. Garcia, whose self-titled EP was released this March, writes from personal experience about how introducing troubled kids to music and poetry can change the course of their lives.
Back and forth is what happens when your parents separate and live in different states. Loneliness is what happens when your mother is an alcoholic and your father works seven days a week. This was my life in the tiniest of nutshells.
I didn’t feel that I could talk about becoming a singer/songwriter without explaining a little bit about the environment that drove me into writing in the first place. When I started writing songs at thirteen there was no Taylor Swift. Nor was I trying to be like my idols, Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson. I wrote because it was the only thing I felt I had control over, and a love for music is the one thing everyone in my family had in common.
While visiting my mother in Alaska I could stay up as late as I wanted and one night while listening to Michael Jackson’s History album, I picked up my first pen and paper. The writing was terrible, I’m sure of it, but I felt like I discovered a secret door: a door that let the air in for the first time. When I wrote I didn’t have to be perfect, and I didn’t have to pretend that all was ok. I could be dark, unhappy, hopeful or sad. Writing songs became my teacher, my best friend and my companion. I didn’t feel so alone and in fact I felt empowered.
After my mother died, I went through a couple years of depression and my primary doctor and psychologist both wanted to put me on anti-depressants. I didn’t want to go that route. I wanted to get to the root of the problem so that I didn’t have to try and mask my pain the way that my mother died doing. Therefore I tend to write and sing songs from personal experiences in an effort to get through them. And it is through my journey that I’ve grown passionate about emotional growth and exploration. When you go through hard times, you learn how to work through them. This way, when they happen again as they most certainly will, you won’t be afraid of them, nor crippled by them.
In 2006 I had the privilege of working with Youth Mentoring Connection in Los Angeles (youthmentoring.org), and they paired me up with a sixteen-year-old girl named Isabel. She had long curly hair, a distaste for school and didn’t say much. She was also on the verge of failing out of school and lived in a gang metropolis known as Compton. No one in her family ever graduated high school, and there was no encouragement from her family. She had a blasé attitude and was as tough as nails. In time we talked about our feelings in an effort to make sense of them, and one day I bought her a notebook and pen and told her to write whatever she wanted in that book; that it was her space to pour out whatever was going through her mind, and that there were no rules. I watched her blossom into this incredible poet. Her poems were gritty and dirty, but they were truthful and real to her world. She was smiling more, applied herself in school and turned out to be the first in her family to graduate high school. She was 20 when I moved away from Los Angeles, but in that time I saw so many amazing kids flourish under the light created by one person showing up every other week and saying, “I see you.”
In July of 2011, I was asked to lead a Songwriters Workshop for kids 12-18 in Bournemouth, England for two weeks by The Collective Sound (thecollectivesound.com). It was so incredibly rewarding to not only teach these “kids” from all over the world (China, Mexico, Spain, France, USA, etc.) how to write a song and about songwriting overall, but to teach them how songwriting is a form of self exploration: something that is completely theirs. You cannot write songs without getting in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Watching these kids write and work together as a band to express themselves through music was such a gift. I will forever be grateful and moved by that experience.
Please know that I am not at all trained in art therapy. I simply believe that it is one of the many ways of exploring, understanding and managing one’s emotions, in a world where the lack of being able to even talk about our emotions is a source for a lot of our problems. If we don’t start teaching our youth about the developing brain and the emotions that make us human, we are not providing them with the tools to navigate through life. Today, kids turn to sex, drugs and guns to deal with what often feels like a crippling emotion. As adults, many of us have struggled to learn how to take control of our own lives and sadly some go their entire life without ever realizing they are in control of their happiness. To try and think differently as an adult takes a lot more work, for thinking is a habit. And the fact is, “troubled” or “disadvantaged” youth are not the only ones who need the tools to navigate emotions… every human does.