A few weeks ago, I returned to Dalton. My beloved second home from K-12. The place where I learned to read, write, and play the trumpet. I went in on a Friday afternoon to speak to a fifth grade class. It was Sister I’s class. She invited me to come in and talk about LIFE AFTER YES and the publishing process. And of course I agreed. But I must admit something. Making a cameo in her classroom made me impossibly nervous. But I shoved the nerves aside and I arrived. Clutching an advance copy of my book in sweaty palms, smiling a shaky smile, excited beyond belief.
My sister was wonderful. She met me in the lobby. The same lobby where I used to meet my friends before soccer practice. She led me to the room where she spends her days educating smart and curious kids. And the kids were amazing. They were quick on the approach. They studied me with keen eyes and promptly declared that Sister and I look alike. And they were right. We do.
And then I sat in the front of the classroom, twirling nervously in a black desk chair, talking about my own life after yes. About stumbling into a dream I couldn’t deny. About working hard and writing hard. About traveling down dark paths to destinations unknown. And I also talked about less lofty, ephemeral things. Things that were presumably a lot more interesting to a pack of eleven-year-olds. Things like book covers and vampires. Yes, vampires. On that topic, I had little expertise.
I loved the questions. The raised hands. The kids asked the most intelligent, nuanced, searching questions. One girl told me that she loves to write and that she has started several stories that she can’t seem to finish. She wanted to know if I had any advice. And we all know that I am haste to dispense wisdom, but I was put on the spot and I said something. I told this girl to write when she felt compelled, to give her stories the space they need, to finish them when they were ready. Her young smile, sheepish and smart, was priceless.
One kid asked if I always knew I wanted to write and I said no. I said that I always loved to write, but didn’t know until relatively recently that I wanted to write. And then another student asked me if I came up with my own title. And I said yes. Because I did. And then another soft-spoken girl asked if the process was all that I thought it would be or whether there were surprises. And I told her both. That it was everything I thought it would be, but that of course there were surprises.
There always are.
But the best part of the day? By far? Seeing my own sister in action. My big sister. The leader of the Donnelley sister pack. Sister I has always been exceedingly smart (she learned to read at age two and skipped Kindergarten), but she is also exceedingly modest. I had heard through the glorious Donnelley/Dalton grapevine that she is a wonderful teacher and very well-liked and respected, but on that day I got to see it. How she handled her kids with a mixture of humor and affection and firmness. How she alternated between questions that had answers and those that were not meant to be answered.
The day was incredible. Going back to Dalton was without a doubt one of the best experiences I have had since inking my book deal. And I think I am too close to that day to know why exactly. Maybe that day was so big for me because when I stepped into that colorful classroom, I could picture myself as a fifth grader – a quasi-studious tomboy in a green wool Celtics cap – eager to learn and eager to live. Maybe because I was given the sweet opportunity to talk about the twists and turns of the past eighteen months, and a fascinating process it has been a tremendous privilege to enjoy. Maybe because the happiness I felt on that day confirmed for me that this is it. That I have arrived. That whether or not LIFE AFTER YES is a sparkling success or dismal failure, this, right here, is where I am meant to be.
Ultimately, I think the reason that day was so important to me is actually quite simple. I think that for some reason, for some foolish and elusive reason, I have been reluctant to call myself a writer. Which is plain ridiculous because the moment I began hammering away at the trusty keyboard is the moment I became a writer.
Those of us who write? We are writers.
But that day? Standing up there in front of those bright young things talking about my life and my story and my book? It made it real. Exquisitely real. I walked out of that classroom and out of that school and back into my city and I felt different.
I felt, finally felt, like a writer. A real writer. And this is good. Because I am one.
I am a writer.
(It feels good to write this.)
(It feels good to believe this.)
- If you have any questions at all about writing or publishing, ask away.
- Have you ever been given a glimpse into the professional world of one of your siblings?
- What were you like in fifth grade?
- Have you gone back to visit your grade school?
- Why do you think so many of us who spend our days writing are so reluctant to call ourselves writers?
- What is the deal with vampires? Why are they so hot these days?
*Little experiment in generosity here: If you have a blog post you are particularly proud of, please leave a link to the URL in the comment box and (as long as it is not wildly inappropriate or offensive), I will Stumble It. I got this idea from a recent post on social media written by the lovely Scary Mommy. She “stumbled” a link of mine and I received a groovy boost in traffic that day so I am paying it forward. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with writers supporting other writers, huh?