Rena Medow —Viroqua, WI
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”—Brene Brown
“Being a teenager is like interning at life. If you question my poor judgments I will tell you it’s “research.” —Rena Medow
Watching Rena Medow from a distance, I often wish I had been so intrepidly and unapologetically myself when I was her age. The courage, confidence and boldness of this 17-year-old creative dynamo are impressive qualities in one so young. Hard-earned at any age, but especially in the teen years when we grapple with who we are, what we believe, and where we belong, the challenge to stay authentic and true to oneself is daunting and competes with the impulse to protect oneself from the scorn and shame that come with making mistakes or looking silly. Some people mask this uncertainty in a shroud of dazzling self-assurance. Some cling to romantic relationships. Others shrink away and try to stay as close to invisible as possible. And still others try to shirk off this vulnerability through the anesthetic use of drugs and alcohol. It is a rare bird who can unashamedly present an imperfect, uncertain self to the world and ask for response.
Artists in particular, find themselves in an explicitly vulnerable position as they offer what lives inside of them for public consumption. They open themselves to the (often self-imposed) criticism, judgment, and distain that comes with their gifts. It is not a safe place, but it is often without choice. True artists must continually be touching the void, and Rena is no exception —bursting at the seams with thoughts and questions about the true meaning of life.
With the scientific method of a discerning creative, Rena tenaciously excavates the matter around her, mining for revelation. She travels, paints, and photographs. She writes and performs in plays. She reads, writes and teaches poetry, and has hosted her own show on the community radio station. She has even presented herself to a full house of 150 people, telling a true story from her life with no notes— a feat most adults cannot begin to entertain. She extends herself in expression and asks for response.
Attending Laurel High School —a local charter school that gives students increased flexibility to pursue their passions and interests— Rena has been able to delve deeply into her love of poetry, women’s studies, theatre, writing and painting. With her passion, she has summoned community support and connection, beckoning other students to engage in these pursuits along side her — having written, produced, or performed in more than 6 live-theatre productions in addition to orchestrating women’s studies and poetry classes in her school.
Longing to “access culture on a wider scale,” Rena has also reached out through the internet to discover other opportunities, expanding her community beyond the boundaries of her rural Midwestern town.
Last year, while reading one of her favorite online feminist magazines, Rena was wishing for more content with teen-relevant topics, so she whisked off a letter to the editor. The reply came with a job offer: would she be willing to edit a teen column for the magazine? Despite her apprehensions, Rena gracefully stepped forward and the result has been access to a vibrant new community of young female writers, poets and artists, most of whom live and work in New York City. Editing the “Teen Voices” column of Luna Luna magazine has also given Rena the opportunity to engage in critical exchange and publish works in other journals, most recently, the Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal—Vo. 3, and Writing Raw.
The poise with which Rena carries herself is formidable, and her willingness to reveal herself so boldly might have those around her believe that her journey has been effortless. She appears to be so solidly confident that we adults take notice and applaud the unflinching nature of this courageous young talent.
But despite these successes, Rena’s day to day life —like that of most teenagers— can be riddled with uncertainty and heartbreak. She concedes that there can be days and even weeks at a time when she feels stuck in a quagmire of uncertainty and darkness. Addressing this melancholy, Rena says that the only way out is through the creative energy that breathes life into her — “the experimental expression that gives her a way to transform and process the life of a teen,” along with “the strange philosophy that if [she] writes about that which is dark in her life —the bad feelings, the pain, the fears, disappointments, and heartbreak— and transforms the grit into beauty, she will find something redeeming in it.”
In the end, Rena’s willingness to take the bitter pill —accepting the personal and collective vulnerability that comes with being human and trying to create beauty and meaning from it— is inspiring to us all. But it is my deepest hope that other teenagers —artists or no— can recognize our collective tenderness and feel buoyed by Rena’s example: step forward in your truest self, and do it without regret.
To read some of Rena’s work in “Teen Voices”
To hear Rena telling her story for “Truth be Told”
(11:08 – 22:20)