Like all great adventures, the story of the Paperstax Project begins with a journey.
I had just walked into my brother Franky’s house. We were on our way to Vegas for a trade show where machinists, jewelers, engineers and small businesses from all over the country were gathering to show their talents, sell their wares and build relationships with the people in their community. Both Franky and I share a serious respect for men and woman who can make things with their hands. But we’ll come back to that.
As we were prepping to leave for the airport, Franky handed me three different editions of FieldNotesBrand notebooks. At once I loved the idea. I had always loved the act of putting words to paper. When Franky pulled out the bison cover he’d handmade, I quickly commandeered it and used it all weekend. It felt great to have a quality, unobtrusive, pocketable notebook in which to write things down. And since I’d always carried a quality pen in my pocket, having a notebook with me just completed the picture. That weekend, I ended up documenting much of the show, and at the end I had a hardcopy of what I’d experienced–things to think about and learn from.
The trip home from these shows was decompression time. Myself, Franky, and our friend, David were tired but talkative, unloading our minds before returning to our daily lives. I remember being frustrated. After 9 years of teaching creative writing, my school had eliminated the class and club because of budget cuts. I’d seen this coming, but I hadn’t been prepared for how my job would change when those classes were disbanded. I’d begun to loathe my job, and I’m sure it affected my performance in the classroom–and ultimately my students. It was on this return flight that Franky suggested I find a way to incorporate these small notebooks in my classroom and use them to inspire the kind of creativity I had with my now-defunct creative writing classes. A couple weeks later I received un unexpected infusion of cash to be directed toward school supplies. That same day I spoke with Michelle Seiler at FieldNotesBrand and was able to procure enough notebooks to start a volunteer project. A couple days later the project had a name, and a vision was born.
The first participants in the Paperstax Project were kids in my own classes; 16-18-year olds battling things like self-image, bullying, and sometimes serious violence. One of my students that first year was a young man I’ll call Chino. Chino was new to Miami from L.A.. A young Chinese-Salvadoran from a mostly Mexican barrio where violence was a daily thing and education was mostly about how to survive. Miami was a different world for him.
Chino was a quiet, pensive kid. He looked different from his peers and he acted differently. He wasn’t disliked, just unknown. One day he asked to share a piece of his writing with the class. He had written an essay about young Amanda Todd, who had tragically committed suicide to due to bullying. She was 14 years old.
When Chino finished reading that essay, his class was changed forever.
I could see the questions in his classmates’ eyes. And I began to see it in their behavior as well. All of a sudden, that class was a community. And young Chino? Well three years later Chino is working through college and considering what he really wants to do with his life. At one point, he was seriously considering transferring to Harvard.
I had long felt that critical thinking–of the world around us, as well as one’s self–was a skill that had disappeared. With the advent of technology, and all the different types of media being poured over our heads on the daily, it had become a difficult challenge to really communicate with my students. Attention spans were shorter, and so many of them were already so entrenched in their schools of thought that anything outside of said schools made them bristle. They had become hard. Chino helped me to realize that sharing our thoughts with the people around us could start conversations–and ultimately create awareness and change.
I decided I would use these cool, pocketable notebooks to question the kids about themselves, and then create a platform where their work and ideas could be shared–a place where they would be given credit for their own reflection and creativity. So I created a website dedicated to the Paperstax Project and gave students extra credit for sharing their explorations.
It was amazing to see what these kids produced. And everything is documented here, within the photos and words on this site.
See, that is our mission. We are committed to inspiring self-actualization through journaling.
We do this by designing cool, quality, pocketable notebooks. We make those notebooks here in the USA with materials made here in the USA–like we were seeing done by the craftsmen we knew. Then we donate those notebooks to programs in our community working to help students grow.
To date we have worked with www.pathtohiphop.org, www.themotivationaledge.org, handsonmiami.org, www.handsonbroward.org, Combat Hippies, Artistic Vibes, AV-Kids, Homestead High School and other groups to teach young people how to think critically, engage creatively, and develop values. We have also supported hundreds of community artists and projects by donating to writers, painters, designers, and curators. In our first year working with kids, over 300 notebooks were completed. Some of those were turned in for extra credit and posted on this website. Others became personal journals used by the students to explore their worlds. Over 200 of those were donated back to the program after their completion so future students could see them and use them as inspiration and examples. In our second year we used another 500. And this year, we already have over 600 earmarked for different programs–one of which is a pilot critical thinking curriculum for freshmen entering Homestead Senior High School.
It has been amazing to see the support the Paperstax Project has fostered. Artists, craftsmen and volunteers from around the world have donated their time, knowledge, and even their wares to help this mission grow. Along the way, we have learned to value craftsmanship and have tried to teach that–as well as the entrepreneurial spirit–to our young people as well. To that end, we strive to work with artisans who can help us inspire a reflective lifestyle–especially those here in the United States. We feel community is our duty, and have seen that many artisans and craftsmen feel the same.
We also believe Knowledge of Self is vital to self-actualization. And that is what we are working to achieve. We want young people to become the best versions of themselves–people who build up their communities as well as themselves.
When I began this journey, I only hoped that it would be impactful. Now, in our third year, we have proof that the Paperstax Project is inspiring self-actualization. There are many young Chinos out there, and we are committed to inspiring each one we can reach to know him/herself and build the life that he/she wants.
The journey through life is personal. The Paperstax Project provides travelers with a journal, the inspiration, and a platform upon which to share that journey.
Paperstax Project: Inspiring self-actualization through journaling.