I did something cool last night, and it was all because a friend of mine was sick.
What a bummer, to have something so special come out of someone being sick.
But how cool, too, right? Silver linings abound everywhere, don't you think?
Here's the story. On Monday, my sweet friend S.K. Falls texted me. She was supposed to give a talk at the John L. Dart Library in downtown Charleston Thursday night as part of their Celebrating Her Stories series for Women's History Month. Unfortunately, S.K.'s house has been hit by several of the Elementary School Plagues currently making their rounds, and she and her family were down for the count.
Would it be possible for me to give a talk there instead? So as to not leave them hanging?
Well, I doubt I could ever say no to S.K. - EVER - as she really is the sweetest, so I went ahead and said yes.
When I learned the talk was to be 45 minutes, followed by a Q&A, I started to get worried.
When I spoke with the lovely Kim and Ty at the library, and they told me the next speaker in the series (the following week) was going to be a Civil Rights activist who helped integrate the Charleston County school system....well, then I panicked.
Because...compared to THAT, what could I possibly have to contribute??
But I was already committed, and what's more...I wanted to do it. I wanted to see if I could say something meaningful, something helpful, or even just something fun.
And I was committed.
Oh my God, there was so much panic.
I had to call my brother.
I'm so glad I did. He suggested I read in addition to talking (I'm a writer, after all), and he suggested I have some kind of visual aids. He gave me some timeline considerations, and many other helpful tips.
I made a plan. I was supposed to be talking to young adults and adults, so I thought about talking about some heady stuff. Heavy stuff. I planned around that, for the most part...
And then I arrived at the library last night, and all my plans pretty much went out the window.
But still. It all worked out in the end.
For as it turned out, it was more of a (very small, very intimate) audience of KIDS and a few young adults.
All that heady, deep stuff that I had planned for the second half of my talk? Gone. Because it was just too much for the little ones.
But that was FINE! Because I love kids! I love hanging out with them, hearing what they think, and for the most part they were an awesome audience.
So now let me add: the John L. Dart is in an almost exclusively black part of town. I was the only white girl in the room. I felt my difference as much as I'm sure the children often feel theirs.
And it was GOOD that I felt a little different. Too often I'm too complacent, too comfortable in my mostly-white world. It was nice to be the odd girl out. Because as much as I believe skin color doesn't matter, and everyone's the same, looking different, for once, was a good reminder that on some level...it still does matter. Because if we can't ACKNOWLEDGE our differences, how can we later CELEBRATE them? How can we say, yes, we're different, and that's okay. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. And yes, maybe there's a tiny barrier between us at first, based on our appearances, but yes, we need to SMASH that barrier down, every single time we feel it.
Me? I tried to make us all laugh, to get over any lingering nerves I felt. I opened with an embarrassing story about myself, and then I talked to them about my early influences. I told them about watching all the horror and sci-fi movies with my dad wen I was a kid. I told them about how, when I sat down to write a book on a dare, I couldn't write more than a few pages without...zombies.
I read to them from the opening pages of Zombie Days, Campfire Nights (editing out the curses and the actual sex-scene).
It was the first time I'd ever read ANY of my Undead America series to an audience, and I was pleasantly surprised. I actually LIKED my own words!
And so did they!
In fact, when I stopped, someone in the audience actually said, "That was so cool."
No, my friend. What YOU said was ACTUALLY so cool.
Anyway, then we headed into deeper stuff. I told them about being the only Jewish kid in my class growing up. I told them how I still hate Matzoh, after being the only one who had to eat it during Passover.
And I told them about the scariest day in my life, when our synagogue was smashed up and spray painted with Swastikas (one of the librarians was kind enough to pull out an encyclopedia to show them a picture of a Swastika when I failed MISERABLY at drawing one), and I was only ten years old and I thought the Holocaust was coming for me.
I think they got it.
And then? Then I ran out of time, because 45 minutes FLEW by, and I answered some questions, and was completely thrilled when some of the kids were EXCITED to receive copies of Zombie Days as door prizes, and they asked me to sign their copies...and then?
Then one of the kids, a ten-year-old boy who had begged to be allowed to stay for the program....then he gave me this:
Yep. It's fan art.
I'm so in love with this piece of paper I could scream.
It was an incredible night. I loved meeting the kids, I loved hearing a bit about their stories, their style, their inspirations. And I hope they enjoyed meeting me.
And now I'm hoping to take Zoe back, next week. I think she'd love to hear from the Civil Rights activist. I know I would.