OXFORD HILLS — Brandi Farnum whips out her cellphone from her jean shorts pocket and pulls up a photo she took at the Norway Veterans Memorial, dragging her finger across the screen as she reads the name, “Ellsworth G. Farnum.”
Farnum, who’s entering ninth grade next month, has stopped in the Advertiser Democrat office with four of her peers as part of the writing camp run by Norway’s Guy E. Rowe Elementary school teacher Justin Stygles through Southern Maine Writing Partnership.
This is the second writing camp Stygles led this summer, as he hosted one as part of Destination Paris before the Norway camp.
The group of youngsters were out exploring the town last week to find inspiration for their writing.
“I actually found one of my relatives from World War II,” Brandi explains. “I am going to ask my dad and see if we can find a way to figure out who it was because we, the Farnums, have always lived in this area so it makes sense.”
Before taking to their classic black and white composition notebooks to do some writing about visiting the local newspaper office, the young writers share what they’ve been working on.
Emily Landsperg, who is also entering ninth grade at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School this year, wrote a lot of poems “mostly about our surroundings, traffic.”
Soon-to-be-seventh-grader Peter Van Loan created a bucket list.
So what is at the top of his list?
To “be a Storm Trooper in a ‘Star Wars’ movie,” he says.
He can’t remember the rest of his list off the top of his head and consults his writer’s notebook to figure out what else he wants to do before he dies.
“I wanted to be in the live audience at ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he says, confirming the show is filmed in New York City, a place he’s visited before.
Emily says she and Brandi have spoken about some of her writing ideas.
“I was talking with Brandi about one I came up with where someone figured out they had powers but it was also their worst fear. One where a painter lost his dominant hand but she wrote about that,” Emily says about Brandi.
Brandi says they’ve been inspired by their friends who are writing books on their own, including one who has been published. The two young writers plan on collaborating on a project together and Emily is into graphic design so she can design the cover for their collaboration.
Rhiana Stygles – who says she’s excited and nervous to go into ninth grade in August – says the group visited the bridge by the Norway Fire Station on Tuesday, July 19.
“There was a lot of pitch on the bridge. I still have pitch on me,” Marla Tanous says, her long, black braids swinging as she slaps at the brown substance still stuck on her leg.
Other places the group plans to visit include Cafe Nomad, Books N Things and Vintiques of Maine, all in downtown Norway. Stygles, the teacher, (yes, Rhiana is his daughter) says he’s leading the writing camp to get kids out of the classroom and “writing for the love of writing.”
Stygles explained his reasons for hosting writing camps, noting he is “seeking to give kids an opportunity to just write.”
“They don’t write in school,” the fifth-grade teacher and parent says knowingly. “They do school work. We like to think they develop as authors, but it’s a fine line.”
Over at Destination Paris, Stygles calls the experience interesting.
“They were self-conscious writers, which impeded their development,” he says. “The idea was to get them writing and they spent most of their week exploring, really just experimenting with new ideas. The big goal for them was … to literally put words on paper.”
The group found inspiration by checking out antique cars at Ripley & Fletcher, visiting Pat Shearman at the Oxford County Registry of Deeds in the courthouse, where they saw old maps, sitting in fire trucks at the Paris Fire Department and eating snacks from Norway Soft Serve and Circle K.
Even with the short time he spent with the Paris writers – five days – Stygles saw them grow. He recalls one kid, Drew, opposing writing all together in the beginning and by the end, he was asking if he could take his journal home. Another asked to write more cinquains, which are five-line poems that do not rhyme.
Even Stygles struggles, in this case to not fall back into teach mode and try to measure success and benchmarks from the writing camp. But he’s pleased with what he saw by the end of Destination Paris.
“I think they grew in their confidence and I think overall they became … more at peace with themselves as writers,” he says.