Everyone knows teenhood is a tricky time, even in paradise. Still, when teenagers turn to desperate measures in our fair city, we wonder where exactly we went wrong and how we could do better. Often, we end up blaming socioeconomic injustice and a lack of support for the subgroup of young people we call “underprivileged.” Yet acts of desperation come in lots of forms, many of which are far less visible than a gang fight or a murder.
For Tara Nicole Lengsfelder, born in Santa Barbara and raised on the Mesa and in Montecito, desperation took the form of self-injury. In high school, overwhelmed by social expectations and pressures, she turned first to drinking, then to cutting herself. “I cut for about three years,” the 22-year-old Brandeis University senior said in a recent phone conversation. Her story had a happier ending than many-after discovering that a number of her friends were secretly engaged in the same activity, she sought help, and overcame self-harm with the support of her family and community.
Though she hasn’t yet completed her BA in economics, Lengsfelder has already written a novel based on the events of her life so far. Dancing in the Rain: The Final Cut, a semi-fictional memoir, was released last year by Pneuma Springs Publishing in the U.K., and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble Web sites and at Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara. This summer, she anticipates it will be on the shelves at the State Street Barnes & Noble and Borders Books as well. Lengsfelder, who goes by the pen name Tara L. Nicole, calls the book a coming-of-age story about young love and says it’s one of the few books she knows that addresses the issue from a non-clinical point of view.
“My initial intent was to aim at a young-adult audience: 13- to 19-year-olds constitute the majority self-injurers,” Lengsfelder said. “The book is written simply, for that audience. However, I’m now trying to get it to parents and teachers-people who are dealing with these kids. Self-injury has grown in the past generation, so the generation above mine doesn’t really understand it.”
The author acknowledges there is a growing awareness of this kind of behavior, but feels it’s still poorly understood. “Eating disorders have been around for a while,” she said. “But things are different in our generation. The world is a really intense place right now, and there are a lot of things going on that we can’t control. There are problems we can’t fix, but everyone is looking at us to fix them.” She added, “Ever since I was a kid, everyone has been telling me, ‘Your generation can change this-look at all the resources and technology you have.’ At 13, I wanted to do everything, and couldn’t. I was smart and I had friends, but it wasn’t enough. I interpreted every setback as a personal failure. It got to be too much.”
Lengsfelder found publishers in the United Kingdom were generally more progressive than U.S. houses, and more receptive to literature addressing the phenomenon of self-harm. “People think by educating young people about self-injury, you’ll give them ideas,” Lengsfelder said, “but that’s just not right. You turn to it out of desperation. Nobody turns to it out of curiosity-it’s the last resort when you’ve tried all the healthy coping mechanisms.” Her hope is that Dancing in the Rain will help self-harmers recognize that they are not alone and can seek support, as well as helping parents and teachers understand the pressures unique to the teens of the early 21st century.
“I’m making good out of what I went through,” Lengsfelder said, “which I think is the best thing I can do.”
Dancing in the Rain: The Final Cut, published under the pseudonym Tara L. Nicole, is available at Chaucer’s Books, at the Local Authors section at Borders Books in downtown Santa Barbara (900 State St.) and Goleta (7000 Marketplace Dr.), and online at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.