If you’re feeling like an underachiever, don’t Google 19-year-old Aija Mayrock. Already an accomplished actress, author, and writer, she wrote her first screenplay at 15 (which won the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 10-10-10 award), began writing a book on bullying when she was just 16, and self-published it as an e-book it last October.
She was also bullied mercilessly for much of her childhood and adolescence. While the years leading up to her early successes were characterized by painful bullying that left her feeling isolated and self-conscious, it was that experience that propelled Mayrock forward creatively. Her book, The Survival Guide to Bullying, available June 30, is a roadmap for kids on how to overcome bullying, complete with specific instructions (e.g. when to “go dark” on social media and a step-by-step guide on how to tell your parents you’re being bullied). We talked to Aija about finding solace in roems (that’s rap + poems), forgiving her bullies and writing the book she never had, but always needed.
You started writing your book when you were only 16. Did you start out with a plan and how did it evolve as the book progressed?
I didn’t start out with a plan. I was actually having a bad case of writer’s block and I started the book by writing the roems, or rap poems, because I couldn’t really write and I was listening to a lot of rap music at the time and the rap poems really flow very easily. And then I thought, OK, I have to be able to write something that’s a little more valuable than just these roems so I decided to create the book that I never had but always needed about bullying—something that you could kind of hold in your back pocket and use whenever you were confused or desperate.
Speaking of the roems, can you explain what a roem is and tell us if writing them is still a part of your process?
So the roems are rap poems that started because I was actually really inspired by Eminem, and the rhythm and the cadence of his music; I wanted to write something that was kid-friendly but also very cool, that could talk about bullying and would have a really nice arc of going from more nitty-gritty bullying to a really nice positive light, which I think resembles the arc of kids’ lives who survive bullying—from moments that are harder to a life that is great and positive. I do still write roems; I write them about all sorts of issues and but I just write them whenever they come to me.
In the first chapter of your book, you mention that there’s a huge number of celebrities that have been bullied and that researching how many well-known, successful people were bullied when they were younger gave you some comfort when you were going through it. Where there any particular celebrities whose experience with bullying helped you?
That really did help me because when I was younger and I would hear about the celebrities that had been bullied, I would think Wow, well, maybe there’s nothing really wrong with me because these people are beautiful and successful and inspirational and they too went through what I’m going through. Demi Lovato was a big one. Angelina Jolie, even though she’s not exactly near my age, I really admire her as an actress and a spokesperson so her story of not fitting in and being bullied really inspired me as well.
You repeat the advice of not bullying yourself quite a bit in the book, which I think applies to people of all ages. What advice do you have for a person, regardless of their age, who struggles with self-criticism?
That is something that every human being struggles with. I still struggle with it sometimes. I read a quote the other day that I love and I think this applies. It says “We were born to be real, not to be perfect” and I think that’s something really important to remember. We, as human beings, are imperfect, and that’s totally fine and we need to embrace our imperfections. It is terrible to compare yourself to a model or celebrity and think that you have to look like that person or be as successful as that person. So I think it’s important to remember that you are a beautiful imperfect, perfect person and to embrace that and to know that it’s OK to not be as beautiful or as skinny as a model. There’s nothing wrong with that and I think that would be probably my biggest advice.
Can you talk a little bit about the experience of being bullied by a teacher? I can only imagine how difficult that would be.
Yes, that was really difficult because I had a lisp when I was younger and so I was bullied by a teacher about it. It was really scary because then I couldn’t participate in class. I felt like there was no one I could go to and no one I could trust. Why would a teacher, who I thought would be my safety net, come after me and bully me? But when I was 16, I met a teacher who actually changed my life and her quote is at the beginning of my book in the first chapter, and it says “It’s never your fault that you’re being bullied” so that was a very important experience for me because I realized there are incredible teachers out there, there are teachers who save kids’ lives, change kids’ lives.
How would you train or advise teachers, parents, and adults on helping kids who are being bullied?
I think that there’s a common misconception that bullying is a normal part of growing up, Kids will be kids, and that’s a really big problem. It used to be where kids would go to school and be bullied but then they could go home and be safe, and now it’s 24/7 with the Internet and with cellphones. I have a list at the beginning of my book which identifies the three categories of bullying…bullying doesn’t just mean that you’re beaten up.
I always tell kids this: if you think you’re getting bullied, you probably are. It’s OK to look at a list and make sure that it’s really happening, but I think it’s important for kids to trust their gut. I would love for parents, teachers and adults to really be open to this broad term of bullying and really be supportive of kids that might be going through it, because it’s hard to know the emotional inner life of kids dealing with it.
You make a point about forgiveness in the final chapter of the book, saying that choosing to forgive one of your former bullies was for you and not for them. How did forgiving this person help you move forward?
At that point in time, I think I was still very stuck in the bullying. I had tried to move past it—and I was moving past it—but seeing this person, I was very afraid and I was suddenly very self-conscious. It was like I catapulted back in time to when I was bullied. Choosing to forgive, for me, was very, very freeing and I was think I was sort of able to leave the bullying for good. I wasn’t afraid to go out in public anymore or see my bullies because I realized in that moment that I was strong enough.
You recommend in your book to do at least one thing every day that makes your heart smile. What are some things that made your heart smile when you were being bullied?
I acted in a lot of theatre, which was my happy place. I would do things, but not every single day, and I noticed that in those moments when I did those things that made my heart smile, I was my happiest, I felt my strongest and like, I can get through this.