Writers tend to be a tad on the obsessive side. A little too caught up in our own little worlds. After all, we sit at our desks immersed in stories that go on inside our heads. And sometimes it's easy to forget that there is actually a world full of other human beings out there. Which is why I like to unchain myself from my desk now and then and actually try to connect with other human beings. Maybe even spread some happiness around.
Recently I had the privilege of doing just that when I visited Macfarlane Park School for International Studies in Tampa, Florida, where my nephew Eli attends first grade. I read a story to his class, and all I can say is that if you are ever feeling disconnected, low, or sorry for your self, I have the cure. Call up your local elementary school and read a storybook to a room full of first-graders. You will rediscover all the childlike wonder and love of story that got you reading or writing in the first place.
These kids were so excited they could barely contain their energy. In fact, their teacher, a lovely young woman named Holly Madiedo, gave them a time-out in the middle of story time so they could shake out all that excess energy. She also showed me how she got the kids to start writing their own stories. First graders! Holly is an extraordinarily dedicated teacher, and what a privilege it was to meet her. Holly's also a dedicated writer, writes every day and who knows where she gets the energy after a day with those first-graders, but I've no doubt I will one day see her stories in print.
After saying good-bye to Ms. Madiedo's class, I headed over to Mrs. Nestor's fourth-grade class, where I talked about—of all things—having one's writing edited! Yes, these were fourth-graders. It seems they had just had their first experience having their writing commented on and edited by their wonderful teacher, and they were having a hard time dealing with the feedback. So I told them that it's not any different for adults like me and that the trick is to play the "what if" game. What if I did change that sentence the way my teacher/editor suggested it? What if I might actually like it? It doesn't hurt to try.
The kids loved hearing that adults go through the same things they do with their writing. And what questions they asked me! One little boy asked me what inspires me; another asked what I do when I don't know what to write. The answer to the first is everything around me if I open myself to it. The second is something I've talked about in my writing workshops, and that's having fun with being in the place of "I don't know." I don't know what's going to happen next in my story. I have no idea what to write. And isn't that great? Because I just KNOW that something wonderful is going to come to me. And you know what? It does.
So if you're feeling low about the world, your life, or the state of the economy, there is definitely something you can do. Read to a child. Even better—read to a classroom full of children. I can guarantee there are plenty of overworked, dedicated teachers who would love to have you visit their classroom and share your excitement about your love of books. And pass that on to a child.
There are even organizations that can help you get started, if you don't feel quite up to doing it on your own. Here's a wonderful organization that I participated in--Readingtokids.org. They're in the Los Angeles area. For an organization in your area, just do a Google search with the keywords "reading to kids" or "reading to children" and the name of your city, and I'm sure you'll come up with something perfect.
And by the way, it's never to young to start reading Jane Austen to kids. But that's the subject of another post to come...