Last fall I was invited to visit an area private school to get folks into the spirit of Thanksgiving. It was a full-day affair and my schedule was so packed that I was given a “handler,” someone whose job was to run me from one classroom to the next. My handler was a lovely young librarian named Amanda who had the patience of a saint.
It was a great day, and I’m pleased to report that I was well received. (I have a gift for being goofy around children. Kids like goofy.)
I kept my dog and pony show pretty consistent from one class to the next. First I told the kids about how I woke my parents up on Sundays at 5 am by banging on my dad’s typewriter. Then I talked about my wonderful, influential (if perpetually frowny-faced) sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Snelback. Then I talked about my days as a reporter.
“As a reporter I wrote about everything!” I would announce, oozing with faux smugness. “Everything! Try me! Name anything at all, and I bet I’ve written about it! I’ve written about EVERYTHING!”
I then called on a kid who, without fail, would spout something ludicrous. (“Robot mummies that are really apes!”)
To which I would reply, “Everything except that.”
This gag brought down the house every time.
Then I dialed it back and segued into a little talk about Thanksgiving followed by a reading of my book, Sarah Gives Thanks. This was followed by the Q&A thing, which would continue until Amanda, who was watching the clock with growing alarm, was forced to grab me by the elbow and drag me to the next class.
In the afternoon, as Amanda and I hustled to my final appearance, for which I was already late, I asked, “What grade is this next group?”
I had noticed as the day progressed that the age of my audience was increasing. I started with third graders. Then I was led to fourth graders. I had just finished the fifth. Sixth grade was pushing it age-wise for a picture book author, I thought, but the fifth graders were my best audience of the day so I figured I’d be fine.
“What…grade?” Amanda repeated, panting as she ran.
“Sixth grade?” I asked, also panting.
Amanda shook her head. “Seniors,” she replied.
High school seniors? Hm. Perhaps it was time to rethink my dog and pony show.
But it wasn’t a class, really, more like a half-dozen seniors who weaseled their way out of another class to sit around a table with me in the school’s library.
These were the creative writing students who wrote creatively outside of the classroom. They had dreams of pursuing writing as a career. Because of the group’s size, the chat was relaxed and informal and driven by the questions they asked – which were intelligent, earnest, and plentiful.
At one point in our talk I heard myself say this:
“I want you to know that you can have a career as a writer. You can support a family as a writer. It’s not easy. You might need to write about a lot things you don’t care all that much about. But if you work hard and never give up, you can do it.”
I wasn’t planning for a halftime locker room speech, but there it was.
My statement was greeted with complete silence. I looked around the table and was met with wide eyes. In that moment I got the idea that no one had ever told them those words before.
And that’s a shame because what I said was completely true.
I know it doesn’t always feel true. I’ve earned my living as a writer for the past 15 years, and it doesn’t always feel true to me. Sometimes, when I’m feeling lousy and the words aren’t coming, I wonder how much longer this writing life will last.
I do pull myself out of this funk, thank goodness. Eventually I realize that what’s true is true. It’s true not only for me, but for everyone.
Never forget that, OK? And if you do forget, read this post again. When I forget, I’ll meet you here. I’ll even bring donuts.
But right now I gotta go. I have a job to do. I’m off to write a story about robot mummies that are really apes. No punk kid is gonna to pull that stunt on me twice.