NYU Student Empowers Bullied Teens
By Ilana Berger
Tisch freshman Aija Mayrock didn’t always have the world at her feet. At least, that’s what others wanted her to believe, and luckily, she didn’t. For the past couple of months, Mayrock has been speaking at schools all around the country and in Canada, and working on her book, The Survival Guide to Bullying: Written by a Kid for a Kid. While Mayrock published it as an e-book in October, The Survival Guide was picked up by Scholastic just a month later in November, and will be available in stores June 30. NYU Local sat down with the 19-year-old author and actor to talk about turning an awful but common experience into something truly amazing.
What was your inspiration for this book?
I was bullied in Middle School and for part of High School, and when I kind of got through the bullying, I wanted to be able to give a gift to the next generation of kids that would be bullied and I wanted to help them get through the toughest of times.
So is the content of the book tactics you used to get through those tough times, or things you looked back and wish you had done?
It’s a great combination of the two. Some of it I took from diaries that I wrote during the time I was being bullied, and then for other parts I was really reflecting on my experience. I also got to speak to this wonderful woman who worked for the Obama Administration on anti-bullying policy — her name is Dr. Deborah Temkin — and she vetted the entire thing to make sure that everything was not just my opinion, but that it was also psychologically sound.
But you also had room to talk about your personal experiences as well?
Yes. So, what’s cool about my book is that every chapter opens with an anecdote about my personal experience at different points in the years I was bullied. I also have these really unique features called roems, which are rap poems, and I preform them a lot. We’re doing some exciting things with them. All of those are kind of rooted in my experience, and it’s told in a really creative non-traditional way.
And when did you begin working on the book?
Ok, so backtrack a little bit. When I was 14, I moved to California, and I knew that I liked being creative but didn’t know what I wanted to do. On the eve of the deadline for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, I entered this screenplay that I wrote that day. Because I had seen the poster at school that day and the deadline was that night! So I went home and I wrote a screenplay about bullying. And I submitted it, and it got accepted. Eventually it was turned into a film — I got to act in it — and it wound up winning. And I was the youngest person in history to win. So it was an incredible experience, and I discovered my passion, and I continued to write and direct and pursue this love of mine. Then, when I was 17, I was like, “I need to do something even bigger than this film — something that can reach a larger audience of kids.” I remember at that time there were a lot of teen suicides in the News, and I was like, “I need to to help these kids.” So I started writing the book that I never had but I always needed. Of course it was my dream to publish it, but I didn’t do it right away.
Did you face any challenges when you were trying to get the book published? Was there anyone who doubted you?
There were definitely people who doubted it. It’s definitely challenging, because being 19, I think that people doubt you and your potential. I remember when my e-book came out it was challenging to get people to really believe in the project. But whenever kids write me or talk to me — you know sometimes I’ll be walking in Santa Barbara and maybe a kid will come up to me and say, “oh my god, I heard you speak or I read your book and it really affected me.” When they say that, I realize that no matter how difficult times might be, I’m doing something to help these kids and it gives me such confidence. I spoke at Girl’s Life Magazine at this wonderful event in Baltimore in early April, and I had the most wonderful response from girls from all over who came to hear me speak.
Do you think that advice given in your book could be useful to college students or in the workplace as well? After all, cattiness and bullying does exist everywhere in some form.
Yes! This is something incredible that I’ve noticed. I’ve been getting messages recently from people in their mid to late twenties, even early thirties, that have said that they were bullied in high school or collage or in the work place, and they were still struggling with it, and they found my book online, and it’s helped so much. I think what’s really cool about my book is even though it is specific to middle school and high school, all of the advice is applicable to every area of life, regardless of your age. I even saw a blog post who had cancer who read it because I have a chapter called “fear” and I talk all about dealing with your fears. So it’s really touching to me how many people use the book for different reasons.
What are your plans for the future?
I actually want to continue in writing. I have my next idea, or kind of the concept for my next book. I’ll have to develop it a little more before I talk about it, but I can tell you that I do want to continue in Young Adult because it’s what I know best for now.
[Photo Courtesy of Matthew Adam]