Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Treasured Box

Twenty years ago, I gave my first speech. It was to a gymnasium full of students at the high school where I taught math and computer programming. I was comfortable talking to 30+ students at a time in a classroom setting, but facing the gymnasium packed with the entire student body? I was terrified.

The assembly was arranged because my very first book, How I Survived Being A Girl, was coming out that weekend. I was there to share the trials and setbacks I'd faced in the publishing process. I was there to encourage students to set goals and work steadily toward them. I was to be a beacon of hope for them in achieving their dreams.

Being a reliable soldier, I promised I would fulfill these expectations.

Then I careened toward a cliff and told a gym full of teens about my first car. 

This was high school, after all. I wasn't going to hold their attention for 45 minutes with talk of setting goals and the steady application of effort. It also wouldn't have done much for their teen attention spans if the story had been about my parents gifting me a slick new car boasting German engineering.


So I guess it's a good thing that my first car was a self-funded junker. A fixer-upper. A ridiculous heap. 

The story I told included my misguided efforts to paint the car myself and the hazards I suffered while changing the clutch, and wound into bigger themes of persistence and determination. 

The delivery was a wild ride. It was also the first time I went "airborne" in a presentation. But I survived and, in the end, the administration let out an enormous sigh of relief and the students gave me a standing ovation--something I will never in a million years forget.

I was thinking about all of this today for two reasons. 

First: I've been asked to give the closing speech at a writer's conference in October, and I've decided that sharing the story of my junker totally fits the bill. 

Second: Thinking about the above, it struck me that it's been twenty years--twenty years--since that first assembly. Which means that for twenty years--twenty years--I've had this mini Underdog lunchbox on my desk or within reach of it, since it was a post-assembly gift from one of my teaching colleagues. 

The lunchbox was meant as a token of camaraderie and support but it has served to remind me of something more important than going airborne, or the joyful disbelief of my first standing O. 

It reminds me who I write for. 

It reminds me why I write.


Kylie said...

First off love the redesign of the blog, it looks super!

Second, I wish all presenters could learn a thing or two from you. Many presenters don't understand that they can have a fun time and give a good message. In fact I think that that is something a lot of people don't realize, that they can't have fun with what they are doing. Many will say that right now isn't the time for fun, but I think all the time is the time for fun. Why just mop the floor when you could make it a race? There are so many examples when you can incorporate fun into the everyday. We have one life so why not have the most fun we can?

Yusa said...

I hadn't read anything other than for school in a while, but in the last three days I knocked out Angels & Demons, and The Da Vinci Code so reading feels like a comforting old friend.

Also, I graduate in 44 days. High school is almost behind me.

Mainly, just keep writing because your books will keep being read by me and others or by anyone who wanders over it on a shelf. The beauty of books is that they will be read by just the right person eventually.


Wendelin Van Draanen said...

I remember being stuck in boring assemblies. Or with teachers who were going through the motions. I just don't want to be the kind of teacher/presenter who's painful to endure :) Thank you for the compliments on the redesign, Kylie. It was kinda long overdue! And Yusa, who's counting, right? College can feel like more of the same...or completely different. Hope you're looking forward to it!