ACM Literature
Literary Superstars

High school seniors tell true tales of love, pain and dirt bikes at Austin Bat Cave event

High school seniors tell true tales of love, pain and dirt bikes at Austin Bat Cave event

Rosie Mayen is a senior in high school with a story to tell—and it’s kind of an embarrassing one.

“It’s about my 12-year-old self, and how I tried to impress my first crush by doing a backflip on my dirt bike. . . I still have the scars today where I sliced open my thigh, and a little dent on the bridge of my nose.” She laughs, “I didn’t land it.”

Tales of broken hearts and broken bones will abound on May 22 at the Austin Bat Cave live storytelling event "Did I Do That?", where Mayen, along with four other seniors from Manor New Technology High School—Matt Carlin, Nancy Plascencia, Cierra Rodriguez, and Stormy Martin—will be performing their true stories in front of a live audience.

The stories, told without the assistance of notecards or even memorization, are collected in written form in the anthology Did I Do That? Minor Moments of Triumph and Regret, which will be released at the event.

Part of the monthly storytelling series "The Story Department," this event is open to the public, and all proceeds benefit Austin Bat Cave, the nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen writing skills and encourage creative expression among Austin students ages six through eighteen.

The diverse and often suprisingly raw memories that make up Did I Do That? Minor Moments of Triumph and Regret range from short-lived joyrides and showdowns with teachers to experiments with drugs and sex. Perhaps most prevalent among both girls' and boy's stories are the fights—in locker rooms and playgrounds, on buses and living room sofas. Accounts of bullying, told from both sides, are numerous.

And then there are the parents. “One of the first things that I noticed was that my dad liked to drink,” states Plascencia flatly in her story, “Oh, Well,” which she will perform tonight. But more often than not the parents linger just outside of the frame, their absence providing the occasion for a single unsupervised moment often followed by swift punishment. 

The tone of the anthology swerves from the serious to the silly, with students struggling to find a voice that separates who they were from who they are now. “In the 8th grade, I want to say I was about 14 years old, and my girlfriend had just left me for the third time,” writes Jonathan Powell, with a world-weariness that wouldn't seem out of place in a Ray Carver short story. 

“They’re teenagers, and they share a mixture of kids’ problems and adults’ problems,” explains Manuel Gonzales, who has been executive director of Austin Bat Cave since August of 2010. “There are really quotidian things, really small, but they were really important to that person. And then there are these really large issues that some of them tackled. So it’s a mix of serious and funny, and small and large.” 

Gonzales considers storytelling to be a lifelong skill, with unique rewards for students that go beyond the page. “Being able to tell a story about yourself is a strength that you can carry with you forever. You bring it with you into any situation where you have to tell somebody about yourself"—situations that include interviews for jobs and college scholarships. Furthermore, he believes that telling stories is a way of understanding both the world around us and our own lives.

For young adults, this can lead to surprising bouts of self-awareness. “Most bullies had problems at home, but I didn’t. I just felt superior to other people,” confesses Oscar Galindo in his story "I'm Sorry." Gonzales notes, “I’m often surprised by how honest kids will be on the page.” 

Manor New Tech teacher Maggie Behle, who helped organize the school-wide "Story Slam" competition where tonight's performers were selected, agrees. “This was perfect to do with seniors. It was a way for them to come together and remember fun moments they’ve had, but also really reflect on who they are and where they’re going.”

For some, this means learning valuable lessons, like that expressed by Audrey Vivar: “Never follow your heart. Your heart is stupid." Or Rolando Robles, in a story about a surprising boxing match: “It’s really hard to hit a girl, especially if she’s hot.” And, perhaps most alarmingly, Zuleima Perez's observation: “Sweetheart or not, a mafia man is a mafia man, and those should not be messed with."

As Gonzales says, “There’s a story in everything.” Some are just more painful than others.

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The Austin Bat Cave presents Did I Do That? as a part of The Story Department's monthly storytelling series. They meet Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at the Lewis Carnegie studio located at 1312 B East Cesar Chavez.