I visited three middle schools in Pasco recently, talking about reading, writing, music and my books under the umbrella of a presentation I call, “The 12 Life Lessons I’ve learned from Writing “Stringz” and “Seattle Blues.”
Middle aged white guy talking about reading of all things. That’s a formula for boring. Part of the problem — in addition to, well, “me” — is the fact that not many kids read for pleasure anymore. For boys, the need to be immersed in the mythic has been co-opted by video games, so instead of watching movies, or reading even about great heroes past, present and fictionalized, they’re all playing first person shooter games. Most anyway. So a presentation about “reading” is a recipe for boring.
Girls seem more interested in reading. And the statistics support that. But my books, unlike what’s popular right now, include no hot looking vampires, or hunking werewolves to add color to their imaginations. No magic whatsoever in my stories.
So I decided to keep my presentation simple. In addition to enjoying writing, I’ve also learned something from the process. I haven’t gotten rich from my books, but I’ve managed to find a craft that is worthy of my time and devotion. And the hours I’ve spent agonizing over the cadence of the words in a paragraph, thinking about a character, have all made me a better person. Enriched me in other ways. It isn’t the kind of value that Wall Street, or Madison Avenue might recognized, but I recognize it. I’ve learned diligence, empathy, perserverance — I’ve learned how to deal with criticism and disappointment without having it harm my soul, I’ve learned to trust people I don’t really even know like editors and agents.
Strike. . . ?
I wondered how it would play. I’m not sure I hit a home room, but I didn’t strike out. After each presentation, I had teachers AND kids coming up to me, not only telling me how much they enjoyed my little talk, but telling me about their dreams, and thanking me for encouraging them to not give up. One thank you note in particular from a 6th grade boy named Julio really touched my heart. He said he was “proud” to shake my hand, thanked me for believing in him, and he wanted me to know that he would continue to work on his stories . He ended his note with a promise: “I won’t disappoint you, Mr. Wenberg.”