Blog Series

When I was a young adult, I was shameless. And then I wasn’t.

October 24th, 2019     by Denise Reich     Comments

Illustration: Beena Mistry

For our fifteenth anniversary we’ve reached out to the Shameless community and asked what the magazine has meant to them. What has Shameless meant to you? Talk back to us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Read past entries in this series: Melinda Mattos, Marta Balcewicz, Manisha Claire, Jessica Balmer, Kaleigh Trace, and Jean Boampong.

When I was a young adult, I was shameless. And then I wasn’t.

I spoke up a lot, both in school and at home. At 12 and 13 I wrote for my school newspaper, where I was praised for my screeds about the administration, up to a point. I had several articles censored when they crossed an arbitrary line set by the school and criticized the status quo a little too much. Nevertheless, what was published was enough to ruffle some feathers among the teaching staff, to the point where one of them sought me out and ranted about it.

In high school it took me longer to find my stride, but I eventually did. My family moved from a large urban area to the countryside, and I felt completely out of place and boxed in. The way out for me was to become shameless again - to start writing for the local newspaper.

Through a friend, I also acquired an FCC license and began working as a volunteer disc jockey at a local college station. By the summer I was 15, I’d been given my own weekly two-hour radio show in a prime slot, 8 to 10 at night. The station specialized in alternative music from all genres, and we were encouraged to be creative. As someone who loved music, being surrounded by stacks and stacks of records and CDs was like being the proverbial kid in the candy store, and I often felt overwhelmed at the sheer number of amazing things to listen to. More importantly, though, I had my voice again, and it gave me a way out of the isolation and helplessness I felt at being ripped away from my city.

My family moved again, and I found myself back in the city after a year and a half, rootless and unsure of my next steps. I again sought out chances to be shameless. I wrote for the school’s literary magazine and local student publications. Eventually I hooked up with Children’s Express, a news service reported entirely by youth aged 18 or under.

Children’s Express (CE) had a wider reach than anything I’d ever done, and its articles appeared in publications across the United States and Bermuda. The younger kids reported, while we older ones conducted interviews and had a hand in the editing process. Our local office was known as the ‘gloom and doom’ bureau; we reported on everything from the long-term fallout of the Chernobyl disaster to homeless kids. Others could cover fluff if they wanted; we were there to talk about serious issues through the lens of youth.

With Children’s Express, I felt official. I went to press conferences with actual credentials; I thrilled to see my name on bylines in newspapers from cities and states I’d never visited; I interviewed everyone from politicians to kids like myself. One of the first interviews I did with CE was with the author Amy Tan - if you’re going to dive in, it might as well be in the deep end. Ms. Tan respected every single one of us as much as she would adult writers and treated us like her peers, which meant a lot.

By the time I finished college I had a lot of CE clips, I had co-authored and co-illustrated a book on youth journalism used by UNICEF and NGOs around the world, I had some other professional credits, and I felt pretty damned badass.

And then I wasn’t.

To this day, I don’t know what happened. I just know that around the time I left university for good, I essentially shut down. It wasn’t even as though I was putting articles into the world and they were getting rejected. I just, by and large, stopped. When people asked if I was writing, I smiled and nodded. Sure I was. Could they read it? No. I wrote a few novels for National Novel Writing Month, and the files went on my computer, never to see the light of day.

Maybe I was tired. Maybe I was shifting to another phase in life. Maybe after years of writing and journalism, I just needed a break. Whatever the case, I wasn’t myself for a while, and even though I half-heartedly kept up with some writing websites, I really didn’t expend any effort. I’d lost my voice.

Toward the end of the decade, I stumbled across Shameless. I don’t remember how. I just remember that, like many other people, I sorely wished it had been around when I was a kid. I started following the magazine’s blog and website, and I learned they were seeking submissions for an anthology they were producing.

I had no idea what to write, and then suddenly I did. My younger, shameless self was pacing impatiently in my subconscious, and she got her closeup. I wrote about the 12-year-old girl who had not been afraid to stand up to the administration at her middle school. My story was accepted.

Writing about my past somehow freed my voice for the future. My writing self hadn’t gone away; she’d just been waiting for me to remember she was there. I’d missed her. Shameless doesn’t just help youth find their voices; it also helped this adult remember how to be as shameless as she was when she was young.

The acceptance to Shameless’s anthology, She’s Shameless, published in 2009 by Tightrope Books - was the impetus to get my writing self in gear again. Several months after She’s Shameless was released, I had an essay in another anthology. The next year, another. The following year, two anthologies and several magazines. Since then, even in the face of serious illness, I’ve been able to keep it going, at least to some extent.

I still write for Shameless sometimes, contributing reviews, occasional column pieces and, even more occasionally, blogs. I’m no longer in the ‘youth’ category, but I still try to write the articles I would have wanted to see when I was that 15-year-old disc jockey: honest, inclusive, and bold. I still read every issue of Shameless, and I always find that I learn something.

As a kid, I didn’t connect with any of the magazines that were marketed to young girls. I didn’t care about makeup, impressing my crush (I didn’t have any), interacting with my boyfriend (I neither had nor wanted one), or boybands. I wanted to read about the world. I wanted to see young people supporting each other. I wanted to see articles that mentioned disability, diversity and people who were not heterosexual. I wanted a magazine that did not marginalize anyone. In short, what I would have been looking for was a magazine like Shameless.

I think that’s a common refrain for those of us who are older millennials, xennials or Gen-Xers: Shameless is the magazine we wish we’d had. It’s the magazine we have now, and I know that for myself, it’s continued to educate me. I fervently hope that it will be the magazine that will be there for the current generation, and the one after that.

Tags: media savvy

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