Last week I was asked to share a few conference takeaways at our monthly chapter meeting. Easy enough. I’d tell the group about my personal highlights and why they made my “top ten” list. But I wanted to show, not tell, and magically, this scenario emerged: If I were facing a rack of souvenirs, would I grab the kitschy Hollywood magnet for the fridge or the troll-sized Rodeo Drive street sign for my shelf? Or would I settle on a t-shirt from the SCBWI bookstore, knowing I never wear t-shirts? I was now on a personal quest, fueled by a random trivia question, to distill the conference experience and weave it into a story, my story.
Frenzied, I scavenged for my faithful conference tote (the fashionable faux-snake skin gold-toned one that I’d schlepped through metal detectors, stowed away under the seat in front of me, lugged in and out of every keynote and breakout session, and managed to drag safely home) and found it right where I dropped it.
No surprise there. Did I really expect that a band of merry maids had come dancing in on feather dusters to straighten my Fibber McGee closet and become so overcome with curiosity that they could not resist rummaging through the contents of my conference bag? Au contraire mon cheri. There it sat. Untouched, propped up and spilling over, neglected for weeks.
I hefted the bulging bag from the floor, and gingerly, like an awestruck new father, spilled the contents onto my desk. It held these mementos:
- One nubby black scarf I stuffed in at the last minute, just in case it was cold. Hello, I am always cold. I draped it over my arms to cut the chilled air blowing in the rooms. A lifesaver, albeit a fashion atrocity.
- Dozens of cards and bookmarks left by aspiring and new authors and illustrators to spread the word of their upcoming publications. Oodles of talent bubbling on the surface of the publication world.
- The lanyard and name tag. A behavioral truth about conference goers – We will look at your tag first, then your eyes, and greet you as if we have known one another for years, when in fact, we’ve never met.
- My official two-pocket conference folder, pre-loaded with party invites, a guide to the Regional Advisors, a prized SCBWI Peace, Love, and Children’s Books bumper sticker, a calendar, etc.
- A Starbucks napkin folded over a cupcake wrapper with crumbs from a blueberry muffin, a reminder that my uber-expensive hotel served nothing under $20.00 in its “cafe,” so I walked to the venue and grabbed this delicious treat between sessions.
- My Gold Fibre canary legal pad with forty pages of notes scribbled during the sessions.
I was a new age Mary Poppins discovering a bottomless bagful of treasures. Memory triggers. Sensory images. Mental snapshots. Writer’s wisdom. It was all there to snatch and grab. As I unfolded and sorted through the mounds of ticket stubs and boarding passes and valet parking tags and restaurant receipts and the scary hotel bill, I was reminded not only of the financial investment and sacrifices I made to attend, but more importantly, why I went and why I write.
And I knew that my conference story, the takeaway I wanted to share with my fellow chapter members, was not set in the sidewalk shop full of gaudy souvenirs. It could not be condensed into a bulleted list for perfecting our craft or a quotable quote from a writer emeritus.
My story was best summed up in a moving poem written and read by Kate Messner in her Golden Kite acceptance speech. She graciously allowed me to read it to our chapter members.
What Happened to Your Book Today
Somewhere, a child laughed
on that page where you made a joke.
Somewhere, she wiped away a tear,
Just when you thought she might.
Somewhere, your book was passed
from one hand to another in a hallway
busy with clanging lockers,
with whispered words,
“You have got to read this.”
And a scribbled note:
O.M.G. SO good.
Give it back when ur done.
It’s looking a little more love-worn lately,
rougher around the edges than it did on release day.
There are dog eared pages and Gatorade stains.
Someone smeared maple syrup on the cover
because she read all through breakfast.
Pages 125 and 126 are stuck fast with peanut butter
Because Chapter 10 was even more delicious
Somewhere, tiny hands held up your book
And a little voice begged, “Again!”
Somewhere, the answer came,
A grown-up sigh…and a smile…
And the fourteenth read-aloud of the morning.
That same book. Again.
Somewhere, a kid who has never read a whole book on his own
(Really. Not even one.)
picked up yours and turned a page.
And then another.
And then one more.
And it was pretty cool, turns out.
He brought it back – huge smile on his face –
(and I mean huge)
And asked for another one.
And he read that, too.
Somewhere, a teenager who thought she was alone
Opened your pages and discovered she’s not.
And somewhere, somebody who thought about giving up
will keep on trying,
keep on hoping.
Because of that book you wrote.
Somewhere tonight – listen closely and you’ll hear–
A child will turn the last page of that book,
That book you wrote,
Can you hear it?
It’s the sound of a story being held close
Right before a young voice says,
“It feels like this was written just for me.”
And it was.