The Night Before

I love doing school visits–once I’m there  with the kids. The night before, I get nervous. Actually, the whole day before, I’m nervous. Most schools ask me to do large group presentations, which means I’m talking to several hundred students at once, usually four times. Here’s where I presented a couple of days ago, just before the kids started coming in.

empty gymGulp.

The night before, I dreamed that I’d made a mistake and thought it was a Skype visit instead. I was wearing my nice blue top and scarf, with my PJ bottoms, when I got the call asking where I was. As I tried to answer, the phone turned into a plush pumpkin, which I continued trying to talk into, pushing its triangle nose till it turned into a skeletal red thing, which I continued to shout into…You get the picture.

For a while, I thought it was only me who suffered pre-presentation-stress-out, but as I’ve gotten to know other authors I’ve discovered we all get it. We dream we’ve forgotten our laptops, or lost our voices, or gone to the wrong school (one writer I know actually did this in real life, OMG), or gotten so lost on the way it’s hopeless. No matter how many times we’ve stood up in front of those large, eager, brimming-with-life audiences, we still get a little freaked out before.

Then…the kids begin to file in. They’re tall and short, skinny and round, they’re giving me curious looks or ignoring me altogether, they’re playing with each other’s hair or playing air guitar, they’re shuffling their feet or walking on their toes…They are kids! And all of a sudden, it’s okay. I’m chatting with them, asking about their kitty headbands or the books they’re carrying or whether they think the Cavs can beat the Celtics (mostly yes but one no, the other day) and it’s okay. Better than okay. All of a sudden, I can’t wait to tell them how I became a writer, how I’m still becoming a writer, how I mix things from my own life with my imagination to create something new, how we’ve all got stories no one but us can tell.

At the school above, the kids filled up those bleachers three times. For the Q & A I took the mike up there, like a daytime TV show host, and they held it to ask their questions. They loved this. So did I.

Because what makes these visits wonderful is that it’s not about me, but them. If only I can remember that next time, I’ll sleep so much better the night before.

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