Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Terrifying Thrill

Imagine if you will, that you have labored for almost four years on a novel and you discover it's going to be published! How thrilling and terrifying it is in the same heartbeat.

Now imagine you are at a writer's workshop, and one of your all time favorite writers is the keynote speaker - Lee Smith. There are so many things about Lee that inspire you - her amazing books and short stories, her witt and sense of humor, but most of all, you admire her love for the people and culture of Appalachia.

The mountains and coalfields surrounding the little town of Grundy, VA are the inspiration for many of Lee's novels. Here she grew up with the dream of being a writer - just like you. Being a writer is not the only thing you share with Lee, you too are from the little mountain town of Grundy, a place as rich in mountain lore as it is in coal.

Return with me to the writer's symposium. Here you get to tell Lee about your novel. She is thrilled for you and asks to see it. Further, she asks if she may talk about it in her address at the symposium. You nodd and babble something that is more than likely unintelligible, but you return the next day with the manuscript. You present it to her and wander off so she won't see you pinch yourself because you cannot believe you just gave your novel to one of the most prolific writers of our day!

Later that morning, you join the crowd to hear Lee speak about the craft of writing. You are mesmerized by her excitement. She speaks of writing and her voice sparkles. Her hands wave and gesture in the air. She laughs with pure delight at the joy of language. Then she does something that you will never forget. She tells everyone about your novel and reads from the first chapter. For the first time, you hear someone read your words - someone who loves Appalachia and her people as much as you do.

Lee reads and you hear your characters come to life. The room shimmers with them. The audience chuckles, then laughs in all the right places. You soak up that moment and tuck it away, so later you can take it out and hold it in your hands like someday soon, you will hold your book.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I Salute You!

It is the season for graduations - college, high school, and for my family - middle school. As a high school teacher I have attended graduations galore, but I can only remember one other graduation that moved me like this one and that was the year my twins graduated.

This was the third graduation I have attended this year. First, my daughter graduated from college. She choose my path and will be a teacher! When people ask what she is going to do, she jokingly replies, "I have a college degree and am officially unemployed." I believe her reply reflects the fear she shares with this generation of college graduates, who know they are going out to make a life in an uncertain world.

My second graduation was my son's middle school graduation. Ah, the excitement buzzed around the room! These kids flexed their adolescent muscles, ready to charge into high school and take command of the future. I pray that by the time they graduate, the world will be a more stable place.

My last graduation of the year was last night. I have had the pleasure of teaching the majority of the 2011 Class of Grundy High School. I know teachers are not supposed to have favorites, but my heart goes with these kids as they march out into the world. They know what they are facing down the road. They know what the enormous cost of college will do to them and their parents. They know how hard they are going to have to work. But for one night, they could forget that - be proud of their accomplishments and excited about the future. Watching them march out of that gym, full of hope and happy to meet the future head on, made ME feel like they could change things! It gave me hope that they could take this world and spin it around and make it a better place. And that's a feeling I haven't had in a long time...