Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Random Thoughts on the Teacher/Writer Road (Part One)

First, I need to put it out there how much of a wimp I am when it comes to long solo driving trips. I've tried to analyze this sad fact about myself before. I think it's a mixture of boredom and anxiety. I'm alone. In the car. Treking down unfamiliar highways. I've laid out what I think I will need within fingertip reach:

Bottled water, cap loosened
A bag o' peanuts for snacking
My Yahoo map (as a back-up to my GPS)
An audio book for entertainment--all of the cds helpfully taken out of their sleeves for easy grabbing whilst driving

I have a weird thoughts when I am on the road. Passing through little towns clumped along the highway, I wonder, WHO lives in these little towns? Do these people ever look out their windows at the cars speeding past? I stop at a fast-food place or a gas station just off the interstate feeling like I am emerging from dreamy car cocoon, like I haven't talked to another human in years.

This particular trip I am driving through West Virginia. Snow blows around the car. The roads, for the most part, are empty. It's strange. As if the highway is rolling out ahead just for me. I shoot through tunnels that burrow under mountains and try not to have a panic attack. How big is this mountain anyway? How the heck did people once carve a tunnel through it? And then, whew, I am on the other side.

A shout out here to audio books. When they are good, they truly help pass the time. For this trip I am listening to the second book in the Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater. God love the actor who's reading it. It's killing me how raspy and rich and deep the guy's voice is. Whenever I stop the car to take a bathroom break or stretch my legs in line for fries at Wendys, the guy's voice trails me out of the car. My dreams that night are filled with him.

I arrive at my first destination. To break up the trip, I'm staying with my aunt and uncle--dear relatives I have not seen in several years. I'm touched that they have invited extended family in the area to dinner in my honor.

This is a Dinner with a capital D. Turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Dessert and drinks. One of my cousins has a little girl who has read my book. Three times. She is carrying it around with her and smiling. I am blown away by this reception.

And then the visit is over all too soon and I am back in the car listening to the raspy-voiced guy again.

A side note here about how you set up school visits: It's all about who you know. (At least this is how it is for me at this early stage in my career.) I put the word out to my friends and family that I am available to do school visits--book talks and writing lessons etc. and the ones who happen to have connections to schools, set the visits in motion. Next thing you know I am standing in front of five classes of students, talking about the Hero's Journey as it pertains to biographies or expounding upon the revision process or offering tips on writing college essays.

I am eating lunch with budding writers and answering questions about writer's block and point of view and revising and thinking about how freaking insightful and creative kids are.

I must mention here that two girls, both fifth graders, offered me their manuscripts to read. I am always a little nervous about reading student work. I don't know what it is going to be like and I am very aware how vulnerable a beginning writer can be to criticism.

Well. I did not have to worry about these girls. I read both of their novels eagerly and easily, amazed at the level of sophistication and humor and suspense. Ten years from now, maybe less, I fully expect to see the books of Sofia C. and Abby F. on the bookstore shelves. And I have no doubt that one day they will be chugging around the highways and byways and visiting schools near you.

Tune in next week for the road home: The Polar Vortex edition...