A couple of years ago, a friend asked me if I would be open to being the Artist in Residence for a week at the high school in her Manitoba town.
The fear meter went from zero to a thousand in under a second! Which is kind of bizarre, considering I taught High School English a thousand years ago. I think it was the Artist in Residence term that threw me. Those words implied that by week’s end there would be a Work Of Art to show for our labours and my breath froze at the thought.
The words ‘High School’ didn’t help either. I’m much more comfortable with the younger set — they get my jokes.
My friend apologized for inadvertently sending me into cardiac arrest, but it didn’t stop her from persisting in her line of thought. If she was able to organize visits in a bunch of elementary schools, would I come out and visit for a week?
How sweet is that? She was so keen to have me come that she was willing to approach all these schools on my behalf.
Setting up visits is easier said than done, especially when you’re trying to sell a complete unknown (me) and fill an entire week. We managed to get three schools on board (and one of them was the dreaded High School – eep!). All went well (even at the High School) and, thanks to happy endorsements from the administrators of those schools, this year I was able to fill an entire week.
Which got me to thinking. My parents live in Prince Albert, SK — what if I set up a week’s worth of visits there? And I have a friend in North Battleford — why not there? And a sister-in-law in Regina. Hmmmm.
These visits are the ultimate win-win-win situations. Friends and family are happy to spend time with me (at least they say they are) and I get in a good visit with them. Schools don’t have to pay for meals or accommodations and can share the mileage costs. And I get to hang out with people I love, share my love of reading and writing with kids and sell my books PLUS (major bonus here) these author visits have made it possible for me to pay off the debt I incurred when I got the big idea to publish Leaf.
For that, I am eternally grateful!
Nothing is without its challenges, however.
It’s always a challenge going into a new area. The endorsements I’ve collected along the way have made that a bit easier (although it’s still scary picking up the phone to introducing myself and my work to complete strangers) and, so far, once the initial slog work is done, every venue has resulted in return engagements. In fact, next spring I’ll be returning to Prince Albert for my third sold out week. (I love that – sold out – makes me feel like a musician. Hmmmm . . . funny . . . I was going to say ‘makes me feel like a real artist.’ I might want to examine that a little more closely.)
It’s also challenging to juggle life around these visits. A week away is really three weeks when you factor in preparation time: the inevitable game of phonecall tag and back-and-forthing emailing to set up a schedule for the week and for each day — every school has its own special needs and challenges. Far-away visits require a day’s drive there and back, hopefully with a day’s cushion between arrival and launching into the week. The week itself is exhausting — early mornings, high energy days navigating a new maze of hallways, vastly differing school cultures, anywhere from three to seven presentations, sometimes under less-than-ideal conditions, with the inevitable technological glitches that crop up, and evenings spent visiting with the friends and family who made the whole trip possible — so by the time I get home, it takes a week to recuperate and catch up on all the things that piled up when I was away.
And then there’s the travel itself.
I just got back from Manitoba. It’s an 11 hour drive.
Ordinarily, I enjoy long drives, but that’s because my husband loves to drive and I love to let him. When our sons were little, I spent the trip doling out snacks and reading to them. (One of my all time favorite things to do is read out loud to my children . . . heck — to anybody!) As the boys got older and preferred to disappear into their Ipods, I read to me (silently). I love the luxury of reading an entire book while travelling from point A to point B. Which can’t happen when I’m the one driving the vehicle.
The cross-country literary journey I remember most fondly was the trip from Didsbury, AB to Regina, SK in the company of Cassie Stock’s book, Dance, Gladys, Dance. There were several laugh out loud moments that had my family checking on my sanity. (I especially loved the kleenex box reference – that laughing fit carried me through a string of prairie towns.)
So the thought of an extended drive on my own was a real downer.
Until I remembered the back-log of podcasts and audios I collect and never get around to listening to in my ordinary round of days.
Now, an 11 hour drive goes by with minimal angst, maximum enjoyment and a whole lot of interesting learning.
So much enjoyment and learning, in fact, that my van has a new name.
Welcome to my Mobile University.