Before I talk about my new composition, imagine this for a minute. It’s your Eighteenth birthday, but the focus is not on young-adulthood or voting or legally buying lottery tickets. No, today is the day when you officially have no support structure. Not just today, but from this point forth. Maybe a social worker will accompany you (and the possessions you have packed up) somewhere and give you a run-through of the resources social services that will be available to you if you have the wherewithal to take advantage of them with no further guidance. Beyond that, good luck to you kiddo. Hopefully you are good at forging alliances (which, if you haven’t had a stable family, is hardly a given) because you now have nobody you can call when you need advice or help or someone to cosign a lease or a hug and a hot meal. But fortunately you’re 18 and thus officially an adult, and we all know that once turning 18, none of us need help anymore. Happy birthday.
This is the phenomenon of “aging out” of the foster care system. Some states (thankfully including Connecticut) are more enlightened than others, but the standard protocol is that at a certain age you are done and, in the absence of any family having made a permanent commitment to you, on your own. Pat O’Brien, the amazing founder of the You Gotta Believe agency in NY (click here for more info) blew my mind a couple years ago with a presentation that showed one jarring statistic after another linking homelessness and incarceration to aging out of the foster care system without a family. Pat is ahead of the game and is among those leading the charge to prioritize finding permanent families for teens in care, and thank goodness for people like him.
At last week’s recording session for the Ripples album, I recorded a brand-new composition that I’ll get to premiere tomorrow night (at Ibeam in Brooklyn) in collaboration with the great trumpet player Brian Chin (click for more on Brian). The piece is called “The Countdown Began,” and it’s one movement of what I hope will be a large-scale collaboration with Brian’s Universal Language Project based on the work of Dave Peltzer, specifically his book The Lost Boy. He is best known for his utterly gut-wrenching memoir A Child Called It, one of the most sobering depictions of child abuse I have ever seen. The Lost Boy is the follow-up, describing his subsequent life as a foster child after escaping his abusive mother. This isn’t a book review, but The Lost Boy is a very compelling work and covers a lot of emotional ground. My idea is to use fragments of text from different places in the book as the inspiration for melodies. I am fortunate to have gotten permission from Mr. Pelzer to pursue this, so now it’s just the mundane matter of corralling the resources to actually produce it in full.
“The Countdown Began” depicts the point when, at age 15, he began to perceive the clock ticking down to that fateful day when he would be fully responsible for his own food, shelter and everything else. If you have any imagining-energy left, try to imagine being that age and being enveloped by the specter of that day drawing nearer. Pelzer captures this well, and I hope I did an adequate job of evoking that.
The recorded version is for a nonet, which I think adds a bit of gravitas to a scenario that so warrants attention yet so seldom receives it. If you can make it to Ibeam tomorrow, great, and if not, look out for this piece on the Ripples album later this year and hopefully the rest of the Lost Boy suite sometime down the road. And if the lead-up to your 18th birthday was not like this, take a moment to breathe deeply in gratitude.
i just gave a huge sigh of relief for my long-past 18th birthday. i was living on my own by then, but with the very intact safety net of my parents and their love and support. i hope to do the same for mine. my eldest turns 17 tomorrow. tick, tick, tick?
Family is so important especially for those of us touched by our nation’s foster care system. Over twenty five thousand youngsters are systematically dropped from foster care rolls every year expected to provide for themselves after years of having no parent but foster care. Thanks for using your talents and passion for spreading the word about this American travesty. There can be no “independent living” without people one can depend on completely. Family is forever.