The BECOMING Anthology—the eleventh comics anthology I’ve curated, edited, and published—has just a week left in its Kickstarter campaign. Bringing together the 36 other creators’ work (plus my own) and putting in front of the public has been an amazing experience. And it’s got me feeling a little nostalgic. About high school Lynsey.
The Essay Contest
I don’t recall if it was my junior or senior year of high school, but suffice it to say that it was near the turn of the millennium. I was excited about ushering in the 21st century, and about leaving the comfort of the tiny rural town where I grew up. But, at the same time, the Columbine school shooting-slash-massacre had just happened, and even things that used to feel safe—like the public school I’d attended from kindergarten to 12th grade—were suddenly fraught with new dangers. We were entering a new era.
The biggest newspaper out of the state capital, Harrisburg, ran an essay contest. High school students were to write about how to prevent mass shootings in schools.
Security measures had become all the rage since the massacre—metal detectors, armed security guards, and so on in the schools. But none of this felt right to me. It was treating the symptom, but not the underlying condition.
So I wrote an essay about the most obvious, simplest, and most practical plan I could think of: Teach students empathy. Explain how to recognize distress in their peers. Train them on showing compassion for that distress. And provide them with easy-to-follow steps to support other students when they need it. Encourage schools to teach students these skills early. Then, revisit the training often, updating it with age-appropriate information that reinforces earlier training.
All of this seemed beyond obvious to me. Standardize compassion. Take away the mystery of emotional reactions and remove bullies’ power, lessen isolation, improve emotional intelligence. Help kids learn to help other kids. And encourage compassionate action from Day One. All of this would help kids on the path to becoming good people who care about others.
Given how simple my idea was, I was shocked when it won the entire contest. I don’t know how many other students from my area wrote essays for that competition. But I know that I was the one invited to the state capital to accept an oversized checks for a small scholarship.
I remember walking back to the car with my mom, carrying that huge check. Wondering if anyone would try to steal it. Laughing at the idea of them trying to cash it at a bank.
But I was also disturbed. How had nobody else thought of this? Why was the idea of teaching people the basic skills to create a more empathetic childhood so impressive?
Compassion in Comics
Twenty-ish years later, I’m still wondering what happened to that essay after it was published in Central PA magazine. It seems it was quickly forgotten. Clearly, nobody took it to the governor. Or if they did, he didn’t take the message to heart. Clearly, not many people have taken it to heart.
I mentioned this story offhandedly to my partner the other day, assuming that he must have already heard it in our near-decade together. He had not. But he immediately told me that it made sense, given what we’re doing now: making comics anthologies.
It took me aback but I realized he was right. I’m doing exactly what I tried to get the adults around me to do back in high school—helping people understand one another. In the case of comics anthologies, I’m doing it by by encouraging them to express themselves. I’m helping them share their feelings, their hopes, their dreams. Not just with one another, but with a larger audience around the world.
Stories Bring Us Together
It’s odd, isn’t it? One of our most basic needs is to be seen and heard. We all share this need to some degree. And yet, the path to self-expression can be so difficult. When we show ourselves vulnerably, often as children, we are frequently shamed, mocked, even harmed. We learn that vulnerability is dangerous. And far too many of us learn to hide to avoid the pain it causes, decide not to do it again.
But I believe that facing the vulnerability in ourselves and others is a surefire way to achieve the compassion I’ve always sought. Allowing people to express themselves, and allowing ourselves to hear and see them through their work… That’s how we learn from one another how to recognize the humanity in ourselves.
Stories are so fundamental to being human. They are how we integrate new information into our experience in meaningful ways. They are how we relate to ideas and feelings, big and small. They are how we learn to see and hear one another. And they help us in becoming better humans.
Of course I’m making the BECOMING Anthology. I hope you’ll find something inside that helps you feel seen.
The space between origin and destination, as imagined by 37 diverse creators in 16 short comics.
A comics anthology by Oneshi Press, live now on Kickstarter.