James has been writing about science and medicine for many years for local publications such as the South Seattle Emerald, Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine and ParentMap.
We caught up with James to ask her a few questions about her Town Hall residency project, Year 12, and get her thoughts about the popular new movie “Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret,” a quintessential movie about the experience of being 12.
Tell us about your Year 12 project.
My project is an examination of the brain at age 12, from a science and psychology perspective. But I am also collecting stories from people about their own Year 12.
This is a curiosity that I have had for a long time about the beginning of the pivot from child to adult. In my career as a medical writer, I’ve written about many stages of life. This moment when a child begins to notice social cues and begins to wonder, “Do I fit in?” seems very important.
The residency at Town Hall gives me the freedom to spend three months with my curiosity. I found out after getting the residency that WNYC in New York did a series called “Being 12” in 2015. I recommend their series of podcasts.
What do you hope to learn and share with others from the Year 12 project?
Sometimes you chase a curiosity without knowing what looms at the end. For me, having written about developmental stages for more than 15 years, this age 12 seems magical.
I hoped to collect stories from people that revealed something about them and what imprints they felt remained from that year. I might write a book about this age or possibly keep the project going with additional funding.
What have been some of the most fascinating things you have learned from interviewing brain researchers/scientists about the adolescent brain?
Laura Kastner, Ph.D., of University of Washington says we should be “clapping for and admiring” our 12-year-olds.
Remember how you clapped for a 2-year-old learning to speak in full sentences? We should have that same awe, according to Kastner, for a 12-year-old.
Their brain biology is changing as radically as that of a 2-year-old. But what they are learning to do is be rebellious and think abstractly, which is harder to “see” than language learning in a toddler. Another fact about the brain at that age is that it is “pruning away” lots of memories to make room for more.
You can learn more and listen to our April 28 talk from Town Hall here.
Speaking of 12-year-olds, why do you think Judy Blume’s book “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” remains so relatable and popular decades after its publication? Do you think the movie did the book justice?
The sweet actress (Abby Ryder Fortson) who plays Margaret does a fantastic job of manifesting confusion on her face. Confusion about religious hatred. Confusion about bras and periods. Confusion about her mother’s estrangement from her own parents.
The movie is pretty faithful to the book, which has stood the test of time. I’d love to take a 12-year-old to the movie and hear what they think!
How can people learn more about/contribute to the Year 12 project?
I would love stories from people who remember something from their Year 12 (or 11 or 13.) You can share your story with me here.
You can hear more about what James learns from this project as well as some of the Year 12 stories (maybe yours!) she has collected at Town Hall on May 30, 2023. She says the stories will cover topics such as “suicide and abuse, as well as lighter topics like puppies, broken legs, body image and summer camp.”
Check the website for more details and ticket information.