Last Saturday I made myself get out there and attend the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators regional conference. Despite the fact that I have been writing with increasing degrees of seriousness for the last ten years, this was my very first writing conference. I was not really looking forward to it; I registered out of a sense of duty. After all, if I am going to have mainstream books to promote soon, I will need to be out there more. I need to force myself to – gulp – talk to people.
The morning session was fine enough, but I was still nervous. And then, as I was getting a cup of tea, I saw a short woman walk by. I thought, “Wow, she looks like Betty May” – Betty May, in whose children’s theater group I performed for ten years. Betty May, who was without a doubt one of the formative mentors of my childhood. Betty May, who was the first adult I ever met who knew how to respond when I randomly burst into tears. (That happened often when I was a child – there’s a whole other post in that.)
Then I looked more closely, and realized that it WAS Betty May. So I called out to her, we hugged and caught up. And she is doing amazing things, just like she always has. (Seriously, she just directed this play at the Kennedy Center. She’s amazing. Click on the link and go read the article. I’ll wait.)
And as I stood there talking to her, I didn’t feel like a writer. I didn’t feel like someone who communicates for a living in all my weird careers. Because there were absolutely no words to tell her what she meant to me, what her quiet acceptance of me just-as-I-was meant to me as a kid, and still does now. I hope the giant hug I gave her before she left conveyed even a tiny piece of it.
By the time we had started talking, the hallway had cleared out, and there were only a few people left to ask to take a picture to commemorate this reunion. So guess who wound up taking our picture, and then standing around talking to us for the next hour? Self-proclaimed “author and loudmouth” Chris Crutcher, who is, in a word, awesome. Words fail me again when I think of the passion and humor he brought to his conversations with me and the other starry-eyed newbies at the conference.
And guess what? I even managed to make some friends at lunch. Other writers aren’t nearly as scary as they are in my head.
I still had to go and sit in an introvert’s time-out to recover when I got home though. Some things take time.