One of the things I like about my author visit road trips, is the possibility for surprise. It’s such a departure from everyday life. There’s always a plan for the week, but I never know what’s going to happen when I head out on the road.
There’s the good:
Maxine shares a writing anecdote to a large group of students.
Boy in front row (in a very loud voice): Fascinating!
Maxine looks over at Boy, checking for sarcasm (because that does happen from time to time) and sees the earnest look on his face: I’m glad you think so.
Maxine continues storytelling until 3/4 of the way through the presentation: This would be a good time for any questions you may have about writing or about publishing books.
Boy: No! I want to hear more about you. You’re fascinating!
Now that was a feel good moment!
How often does a person get to hear that they’re fascinating?
There was the sweet, sweet, sweet little Saskatchewan school where the principal stood at the front doors in the morning, greeting every student as they entered. Smiles and laughter everywhere and everyone dressed in Roughrider green. The children were, without fail, polite and curious and engaged.
One of the Manitoba towns I visited has a sign at the outskirts of their village proclaiming their town ‘The Friendly Place To Be.’ This was not a case of false advertising. In addition to being the smallest school I had ever visited, it was also, hands down, the friendliest. When I arrived, I was greeted by the Custodian who helped me carry in my stuff (I travel with a LOT of stuff) while regaling me with fishing stories and trying to get me to move to their fair town.
In the course of the day, my cell phone went AWOL. I’m sure every person in that school, from wee kindergartener to Grade 8 teacher, scoured the school for my phone. At 3:30, a woman I hadn’t even seen that day, a Mom helping out at the after-school volleyball tournament, asked me if I’d found my phone and was visibly relieved when I told her I had. (I had double bagged some things and my phone had fallen between the two grocery bags and slid right to the bottom.)
Part way through the afternoon writing workshop, the Jr. High students invited me to watch them play volleyball. Later that day, after all my things were rounded up and stacked at the door, I slipped into the gym. Not only was it fun to watch them playing my favorite high school sport, it was mega fun to be treated to huge, delighted grins when they looked up and saw me watching. And. after the game, the boys offered to help me carry my things out to the van.
Yes, definitely the friendliest place I have ever encountered.
In that same school, when we broke for afternoon recess (and another round of scouring the library for my phone), I was surrounded by a gaggle of girls, all supporting a friend who was a wee bit teary. She was a titch overwhelmed that she got to spend the whole afternoon with a real life author and wondered, “How do you know if you’re really a writer? How do you know if your writing is any good?” After her friends’ clamouring voices had died away (‘Oh, she’s good!’ ‘I love her writing!’), I did my best to encourage her to write for the love of writing whether anyone else thought it was good or not. Although, from the sounds of all the support she was getting from her community of friends, that wasn’t a problem. Such earnestness, desire, and support was a joy to witness.
And in this same school (this was a very, very good day), I was stopped by the principal as I headed out the door after the volleyball game. He had been away all day and, when he arrived for the tournament, was greeted by one of the Grade 7/8 boys — one of his ‘problem’ students — who followed him through the school, chattering non-stop about the writing workshop and how he’d never thought about writing like that and was maybe inspired to do some writing, something the principal was very happy (and amazed) to hear.
That conversation ended my day on an all-time high.
Not all days are good.
In fact, some can be endurance tests.
Like the morning spent at one school (thank goodness it was only half a day) where I’m pretty sure the librarian never even read the information outlining what was needed for the schedule we had set up, and where every possible technological glitch that could happen did, and where speaking to the group gathered in the gym was like trying to . . . words fail me . . . none of the similes that come to mind can really convey the feeling of muffled lethargy, of slow motion tension that accompanies presentations like this.
Nothing was landing, a large number of students were talking instead of listening, and teachers were more intent on catching up on their marking than being present with their students. Speaking to a group like that, where there’s nothing coming back, takes a lot of energy.
But even that day was redeemed.
When the day was done, I retreated to a coffee shop for the personal restoration that only a London Fog can provide and a teacher from a school I had visited earlier in the week approached me.
She wanted to thank me for my influence on one of her Grade Two students, a boy who had a hard time in school. A couple days after my visit, he commented to his teacher that he’d been thinking about what I had said about publishing my books, about how long it took and how persistent and patient I had to be in order to bring my dream to reality and it made him wonder what he might care enough about to spend all that time working on.
Pretty profound stuff for a seven year old boy teetering on the fringes of the education system.
It reminded me that we never know who we touch, or how, and that even in the less-than-stellar situation I had experienced that morning there might have been one small someone who benefited from my message.
We never know the effect of the ripples that extend from what we do and who we are in the world.
Then there was the very challenging day where there were so many renovations going on in the school that had booked me that I was set up in the basement of a nearby church – not an ideal venue. I felt bad for the students sitting on that cold, concrete floor. The Grade 5 students I worked with the entire afternoon in the writing workshop were the most challenging group I’d ever encountered (the teacher was a little ADHD herself) and, at the end of the day, as I was rushing to get everything loaded so I could make it to the Friendliest School in the Province (see above) to drop off a book someone had ordered, I locked my keys in the van.
By the time I got things squared away, I knew I was too late to meet up with anyone at the Friendly School so I stopped in at a coffee shop to get a London Fog for the road and who should walk in the door but the entire staff of the Friendly School, heading to Winnipeg for a Teacher’s Convention. Without fail, every face lit up in smiles to see me. There was lots of laughter and sharing about things that transpired in the writing lives of their students the day after my visit and I was able to hand off the book one of the families had ordered.
So, yeah, there’s the good, the bad (although I’m seeing a definite silver lining theme to even the bad days) and there’s the just plain fun:
Part-way through setting up my MB visits, I discovered there was a province-wide conference on the Friday of that week (the one the Friendly staff was heading to when I met up with them in the coffee shop). I was tempted to just keep it to a four day week — starting another round of cold calls was not in the least appealing — but I gave myself a good talking to and started looking across the border to SK to find a school that might hire me. I was very surprised (and pleased) when a school booked me within a day or two.
On the morning of my visit, I hauled everything into the school, a little weary from four full days of presentations, an after-midnight bedtime the night before (my friend treated me to a House Concert – very fun! but not so good when another full day of presentations follows on its heels), and an hour 40 minute drive to get to the school that morning. I set up my things in preparation for the day and then made my usual last pit stop before the whirlwind began.
As I sat in the bathroom, the principal’s voice boomed over the intercom welcoming me to the school and announcing that I was the Grand Finale for their school’s Education Week.
I straightened my clothes, rallied my waning, end-of-the-week resources and headed into the day, fingers crossed that I wouldn’t let them down.
At the end of the day, when I talked to the principal about the whole Education Week thing, he said Monday to Thursday had fallen together easily, but his staff had no idea how to wind things up. And then my email arrived in their librarian’s inbox.
Coincidence? Who knows! But it was kind of fun the way it worked out (and might make it a little bit easier to pick up the phone for those dreaded cold calls — ‘Just pick up the phone, Maxine. Make the call. You never know who might be waiting to hear from you.‘)
One of the biggest perks of visiting schools is being treated like a rock star: kids waving at me in the hallways, the wee ones calling out ‘Hi Arthur!’ (that always makes this author smile), and the earnest faces thanking me for coming and surrounding me for hugs.
I love the hugs! And after hearing about the ‘no touch’ rule in a nearby school and talking with a loving, huggy friend about how difficult it is to follow that rule (for some kids, the only loving touch they might get in a day is from a caring adult in their school), I make sure I hug every single child who approaches me.
After one of my presentations, a sweet, little Grade One student threw her arms around me, buried her head in my stomach, looked up at me with her big blue eyes and said,
“Did you know someone in our class has lice?”