I'm a night owl.
I suppose it's because everything is quiet. No phone calls to pick up. No new emails or updated articles to read. The kiddo's in bed. The wife's in bed.
Everything is quiet.
Except my mind.
Karen has become so accustomed to this routine she'll say, "Get up and go write. All the thinking you're doing is keeping me awake."
I'm writing this around 11:00 p.m. on Thursday night. Probably won't post until tomorrow morning. All day long I've been reliving the few hours I spent yesterday speaking with students at a middle school in Orange County. Truthfully, I've been reliving it since I left.
Earlier today, I wrote the beginnings of a blog post on how I feel like the 'fun Uncle' when speaking with students. Teachers and librarians, like parents, have the hard job. I just swoop in for a few hours to rile the kids up, make them laugh, and hope they'll remember the writing tips I gave and not just the impressions and accents I did.
I deleted that blog post to write this one.
This past year has been an amazing learning experience and I daresay that I took more away from yesterday's presentation than the students did. This might seem surprising, but the main conversation I keep thinking on is not those I had with students.
It's one I had with their amazing librarian.
Mom and those three of you who follow this blog might recall me bringing up the term "engagement" before. Six and a half years as a management consultant ingrains that in a guy, I guess. I remember hearing that keyword all the time back then: engagement. It's only within these last few years, and especially here in 2014, I feel like I'm finally understanding its true merit.
A brief overview would be this: Everyone wants engaged employees. Those who go above and beyond what's asked of them. Timely. Productive. Respectful. The good things we're all supposed to be, right?
Of course, ask anyone and they will tell you they are engaged in their work, go above and beyond, etc.
Everybody knows who really is engaged at work and who is just punching the clock.
I've discovered no matter what industry you're in, you can find examples of engagement because the common thread is human. Those who push further and stay hungry vs. those who laze and become content.
I remember once seeing a guy on the news who walked several miles in the snow to fill out job applications. He didn't have a car and he needed to provide for his family, so he set off in the snow, headed for town, to find work. It didn't matter what kind of work. Just the hope someone would take a chance on him.
I remember thinking, That's a guy you need to hire. Someone to latch onto and groom because he wants it more than others. He's a worker.
A lot of people will say everyone wants something. I think expects is a better term.
I'm guilty of expecting things too. Want an example? (*That was another part of my consultant work. Get. The. Specifics.) Here you go:
For the past month, I've reached out to various libraries, schools, media, etc. trying to coordinate my upcoming tour in December. Who knows how many dead ends I've hit. Frequent voicemails. Unreturned emails. You get the point. It's times like those I find myself slipping into that disengaged and dangerous mindset.
The one who expects things.
Ugh. I think, in Napolean Dynamite's voice. Why is no one calling/emailing me back? Clearly, I'm awesome! All I need is someone to say, yes. Yes, you can tell people you'll be here and use our room to sign your little fantasy books.
Enter conscience: Hmmm. Did you ever think maybe those people you're contacting all have bigger, more important, things to do then what you want? I mean, let's be honest. You write about people who turn into seals, Galv. And what about those awesome folks who've already agreed to host you because, yeah, they rock! Oh, and by the way, don't you have some emails that you need to respond to, or write the blog post someone was kind enough to offer you a hosting spot on?
Ugh. Stupid conscience.
Yeah. That's what I thought. Get back to work, cupcake.
All of the above is exactly why I've been in a daze since leaving that school yesterday. I needed that shot in the arm, that crazy thrill of seeing kids lean in to learn about the importance of reading and writing. A reminder to keep pushing through the gatekeepers, the unanswered emails, and unreturned phone calls, all to get one more yes. Another stop on the tour. Another - "We'll give you a shot to prove yourself."
But back to that conversation I mentioned earlier...
I met this librarian around a month ago when I attended the Orange County Children's Book Festival. There she asked if I would be interested in speaking at her school.
"You'll come for free?"
"Schyeah! It'd be fun."
I mean, this is awesome, right? I not only have someone offering me a chance to speak with students about the importance of reading, this was a librarian asking me. To say I was excited about said opportunity is an extreme understatement, given that I often feel like a thorn for hounding others to land such opportunities.
But it wasn't just that one gift this amazing librarian gave me.
Apparently, Aaron has finally found his way off Santa's naughty list (give me time and I promise I'll find my way back on there) because this was Christmas come early.
She hadn't just read both of my books, she knew them. We talked about Lenny and Chidi, Bishop and Priest, Henry and Oscar, Sarah and Hecate, as if they were real. People that we two friends knew well and finally had a chance to sit down and talk about. She told me theories, hopes, and fears she had for the upcoming release of Taken. I couldn't stop grinning (and can't stop now) about how excited I am for her to see which of her theories are dead on and the others soon to take her on a startling twist.
All those things and yet it was one of the last bits she mentioned that has me up writing tonight. She mentioned that she has went to that festival for multiple years now, extending the same offer to other authors. Some would say yes, then back out. Some would agree and never show on the scheduled date and time. Most emails went unanswered.
My jaw was on the floor. How is that possible? How is it that none of those other authors can see this opportunity for what it is? Even selfishly they must see it's a way to spread the word about their books. Wha...
But even then, this amazingly fantastic librarian that I'm certain most of those students don't even realize how lucky they are to have as a resource, was not done giving. She asked if I would donate several books so that she could then take to other libraries...to help spread the word about my books...as a thank you...to me.
That's what I am. Speechless.
And it's hard to shut me up, friends.
My wife will tell you that.
The rest of my family will definitely tell you that.
In fact, I'm pretty sure you could ask my teachers and friends from back in the day and they would tell you too. (Watch the comments section blow up in confirmation of this point.)
I joked at the start of this post about viewing myself as the fun Uncle when giving presentations. Yes, the students love the impressions I do of Hank Hill, Joker, and Bane. They'll ask me to do accents on the fly, and I'll absolutely say "Sure, why not," when they ask to do a selfie and stage me for a photo-bomb.
But don't get it twisted.
This fun Uncle knows who the students should really look up to long before I've gone my merry way down the road. I doubt those same students will remember me a few years from now. I don't recall if my school ever had any author come in to talk with us, but I'll never forget my English teachers, Mrs. Beck & Mrs. Collins, and my high school librarian, Mrs. Parker, who came to a book signing this past May. All as a show of their continual support of a former student.
And how could I ever forget my elementary librarian, Ms. Horn, who knew a scrawny little boy might enjoy reading about an equally scrawny Assistant Pig-Keeper named Taran. That I would travel to Mordor after Prydain. Then eventually stumble into Westeros. All of it staging for a journey into the Salt, thanks to those little nods along the way from those who really make a difference and aren't thanked enough.
The good is always right there beneath the surface. We get so focused on what's not going our way that we neglect all the gifts and opportunities that fell into our laps.
I've written this post tonight for a lot of different reasons. Some that are only now becoming clear in my head after all this typing.
I'm writing this for me. Because I am an engaged worker and it's easy to let doubt creep into your mind when you feel like all you're finding are closed doors and locked gates.
I'm writing this for the times like yesterday. For the reminders of those students leaning in for more tips. Watching the ones who read the examples I gave on the board walk a little taller back to their seats because their classmates cheered them on. Seeing the crowd of students' glazed eyes turn bright because I bring up Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, (even if the students are woefully misguided into believing Michael Bay's version is better than the 1990 film). It's all those little things that remind me why I must keep hounding for more tour stops. So I can see those faces and hear those questions again. That maybe something I bring up will resonate with a scrawny little boy, or meek little girl, in the crowd and they'll realize they too can do these things if they'll listen to the voices in their heads and forget the naysayers.
I'm writing this as a thank you. To the librarians, teachers, bloggers, and bookstore owners who have taken a chance on a newbie author when they have no legit reason to do so. It's for the students who might read this and not realize the gems they see and talk with every day.
All those days, working in HR, I would listen to people complain about their jobs. Most times I remember thinking the employees didn't know how good they had it. How sometimes I wanted to tell the group that I had just the previous week visited another organization and their employees would kill to have what this current group complained of.
But at the close of every HR session, I always asked the groups to tell me what they liked most. What was good about their organization? Their jobs? What kept them coming back day in and day out?
Most would usually laugh. Funny that they found it harder to list the good things. But after all the suggestions of what could be made better, the griping for things that upper management made clear would not be made better, and all the in between, most of those in the sessions would say this:
I love my job.
If you three fans keep reading, I'll keep writing.
P.S. - If you happen to be a librarian I've reached out to and you're reviewing my blog posts and content to see if I'm worth taking a chance on...I am. ;)
And I love my job.
Author. Actor. Rascal.