Jolly Brown's interior world is so much better than TV
A long time ago, like a lot of adults, I used to buy into the teen complaint that “there’s nothing to do around here.”
But then I realized, it’s not the exterior world we live in that defines what we’re capable of; it’s our own interior world. There are teens who just make stuff happen. All Jalina “Jolly” Brown had to do is hear a haunting, driving song called “Sail” by AWOLNATION one day and something in her brain caught on fire. See accompanying video.
The next time a kid shows you a scrap of sketchbook or poem or says, “look at this video I made” or wants to show you a riff they just learned on their guitar, make the time.
Even if it’s not your kid, cultivate their interior world.
We’re the village it supposedly takes and the teens in this town could always use one more person on their side.
Imagery came to her in flashes.
“I heard the song and had all these images in my head of the fire, the words being washed away in the sink, the moth, the close-up of the eye, all that stuff,” she said.
She got ahold of a high quality camera and decided to make a short artistic video in two nights and edited it together in one night.
I love that in this video, she allows us glimpses of her, but not the whole her. There’s something deeper at play here. She has a story to tell in three minutes and she does it with a sophisticated filmmaker’s ability to zero in on an image and connect it to certain beats of the music, whether it is her own wide, unblinking eye, or a piece of paper seemingly boiling in an beaker. At times, the video veers from being sweetly childish to viscerally honest.
“This is the kind of stuff I get really excited about,” she said. “I hear a song and see an image and find a way to create a story. There's a lot more symbolism in the video, like how there's just a match with a small flame in the beginning, there's a large, roaring fire toward the middle, and the end has smoke. I like thinking that people can find their own symbolism within the video and interpret it in their own way.”
“Throughout the song, the singer says ‘Blame it on my A.D.D’ and I often feel like I have trouble getting my thoughts out because of my A.D.D.-like thought process. I also felt like the song made me think about the future and how, at the time, I was really nervous about picking a career in film. A lot of people told me to pick a more reliable career and that film was really just a hobby.”
Jolly is about to graduate Camden Hills Regional High School in June and has been accepted into Emerson College in Boston.
“I’m a little nervous, because I come from a little small town in Maine but hopefully I’ll get to know the city, get a job, go to school, do some writing and maybe a little acting. I get a little scared before live performances, but I think it’s good to get out there and try that.”
She’s lucky, really. Some people spend all their lives trying to be good at just one thing. Jolly’s interior world is open to most anything that is creative, so she has that young, flexible attitude that art is experimentation, art is play. It’s not work yet. If there is failure-oh well, try something else.
“I love singing. I love cinematography. I love directing. I’m into all that. My dream job would be writing and acting on Saturday Night Live because I love playing characters,” she said. “I’ve been watching SNL since I was really young and I really liked that some writer was behind the performer who could make an audience laugh. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I’d try writing these short SNL-style comedy sketches and my friends and I would film them.”
Folks might argue that my “Rad Kid” columns all feature driven teens, kids who’ve had advantages, who are naturally adept. But the fact is no, not all of the kids I’ve worked with in this town have had those advantages. Some have actually overcome some serious disadvantages, including a complete lack of any creative cultivation from their own parents, because they are moved to discover what they’re capable of. What sets them all apart is the complete eradication of the mindset “there is nothing to do around here.” Jolly could spend all of her time on Facebook every afternoon, could waste hours watching stupid reality TV, or hang out with a crowd that doesn’t actually do anything but wish they were somewhere else.
Or she can pick up a sketchbook. Get inspired by a contest to build cardboard robots who hula hoop and skip rope. Practice writing funny sketches with her friends.
“I just create random weird things that come out of my brain,” she said.
On the other side of the camera, Jolly has done a number of live performances and auditioned for Project AWARE's public service announcement videos and played the part of a pregnant girl.
"The PSA was basically about how two seconds can change your life and how you should think about the decisions you make before you make them."
A short teaser of that PSA is embedded in this story.
Jolly’s one of the Rad Kids — she’s on a clear trajectory. But even glimpses of her interior world leave us all with a teeny bit of a lesson. There’s always something to do around here. The next time a kid shows you a scrap of sketchbook or poem or says, “look at this video I made” or wants to show you a riff they just learned on their guitar, make the time. Even if it’s not your kid; cultivate their interior world. We’re the village it supposedly takes and the teens in this town could always use one more person on their side.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org