Homer youth faces challenges with enthusiasm
High school senior, Zoe Cramer approaches life with enthusiasm, creativity and a keen sense of individuality, despite suffering from depression and anxiety.
"I'm realizing that life is not linear and that we have unlimited potential," she shared.
Seeking to understand the world around her, she practices yoga and mindfulness techniques, writes music lyrics, poetry and short stories, and she studies philosophy and religion.
"One of the most prominent ideologies I've picked up is the core value of treating people the way you want to be treated - you are that person, I am you, you are what people call God, we are all one," she said.
Her grandmother, Filomena, has been one of the most influential people in her life.
"She's very spiritual, but never pushed her ideals or morals onto me and was always very compassionate toward my childish angst," Cramer shared. "She has helped me in almost every single way possible. We talk about spirituality, how the world is changing and we have wonderfully powerful conversations. She's a refreshing, spunky old lady."
A 17-year-old at Homer's Flex High School, Cramer has many passions. She has studied violin, guitar, clarinet, and percussion and sang in the high school choir. She began taking piano lessons when she was 4 years old, but quit six years later to start playing on her own.
"I enjoyed learning the piano, but got tired of conforming to the proper way to sit and hold my hands, so I quit and started doing it my own way," she said.
She produces and creates her own music, using a variety of musical instruments and posts all of her finished work to a Soundcloud, where she also collaborates with other artists from around the world?
One of her early musical mentors was her first elementary school music teacher, Mr. Sanchez.
"Even though a lot of the kids were not into music and art, he just kept loving us and giving us his time and energy, modeling a behavior of unconditional compassion," she said.
Cramer was born in Homer, but lived in Maine until she was 13 years old, when she and her mom moved back to Alaska. At the end of the school year, she was accepted into a semi-private high school in Pittsburgh, Pa., where her father lives. She shared that she had a lot of difficulty adjusting?
"We had to go through a metal detector and have our bags searched to get into the school and even with heavy security, there were constant fights, mostly amongst the girls," she said.
She wrote a short story about this time in her life. Here is an excerpt:
"Metal-on-metal screeching; numbered city buses; huge steel monsters that cough the singed condensation of their passenger's cogitations. The Allegany River would flow underneath my nervously tapping feet, but would never flow through my heart. It was caged. Shut to spiritualism, family idealism, and my seemingly childish longings. Diagnosed depression. Every week trying to explain my teenage angst to this naive Australian who instead of helping me develop my self, taught me phrases and vocabulary words that I was supposed to be. Is that what I am? Words on your narrow bleached canvas that you'll immediately discard as soon as I walk out your door?"
When she left school early, returning to Homer, she experienced such bad anxiety that she left public school and began home school. She isolated herself and became increasingly depressed. Her father took her back to Pittsburgh again, where she lived for seven months, attending a public school and seeing a counselor, before returning to Homer once more.?"I learned that holding in your true self, amongst all the chaos, comes at a different, deeper expense and that I need to speak up and tell people how I feel or they will just continue guessing," she said.
An advocate for having one's voice heard, Cramer is currently volunteering for Lead On, a state-funded program that was created in response to Alaska's high incidences of rape, sexual abuse, and child abuse. Teens from all over the state gather in Anchorage annually, training to be strong, resilient leaders in their own communities.
Homer teens, including Cramer, Jasmine Martin, Kenzie Williams, Aurora Shadle and staff at the R.E.C Room, were inspired to create a Homer Lead On group and are collaborating with community members to form a local teen night on the last Friday of each month, February through May.
"We want teens to come together to create an open and safe dialogue about issues in the community and to help to make our community more connected and informed," she said.
Cramer plans to graduate high school later this year and take a gap year to travel.
Creative, introspective and enthusiastic, she is grateful for the combination of genetics and life experience that have helped to shape her life.
"Everybody shoots for this ideal of who they would like to be and I know that I definitely am not there yet, but I recognize and respect the progress I've made," she said. "I'm learning that life is definitely a journey and not a destination and I feel like I've gotten a pretty good view of who I want to be right now, which is who I am, mistakes, oddities and all."