On this day, many, many years ago, I was born. This morning, my daughter Annie asked, “What does it feel like to be half-way finished with your life?” She thought she was funny, but her words took me back in time. I thought about when my mother was the age I am now, I was five years old, and well on the way to becoming a writer. Her intertwined lessons of love and instruction have stuck to me like the velcro on my son’s shoes.
We didn’t have computers or cell phones, MP3 players or microwaves. Momma taught me how to cook food that didn’t come from a box, look people in the eye and talk, tie real shoe laces and conjugate Latin verbs before I could even conjugate their English versions. Fluent in many languages, and a former decoder for the FBI, my mother stressed language for all of my years, and the importance of Latin as the root of all modern languages. It has been a goal of mine to pass on a love for reading and writing to my children and others. My father is credited also with my love of writing and history, as he wrote books as an historian, and as a lecturer, there was no one as engaging or as funny. He also taught me how to shoot a .45 caliber Smith and Wesson without falling backwards, and how to keep a straight face when finding the humor in social situations. I think these last two lessons have made me feel the most comfortable in life.
When my husband, a teacher at Annie’s high school, asked me to come and talk for Career Day, I thought I had my chance to pass on my love for all things written and ironic. Annie overheard her Daddy and cried out, “Oh My God! NO! MOM! You can’t come!”
It took Chris a week to convince her that I would not talk about being a medium. The students at her small Catholic middle school were relentlessly cruel after she appeared with me on an episode of the Bio Channel’s My Ghost Story. While the administration was supportive of her, mean girls raised the bar on verbal bullying, and she is happy to be back in public school with her friends again. As a result, I do understand her position, although in my defense, she is in a syndicated tv segment, two best selling books, and my blog and Facebook pages. I don’t think Career Day is going to be her demise.
But trying to be a supportive mom, I went through my list of occupations as if I could choose one from my closet like a colorful sweater…
- Mom (Boring, busy, and rewarding––multi-colored striped sweater with food stains)
- Magazine Editor/Banking Industry (zzzz––gray sweater with holes), and
- Writer (Conservative––Blue sweater, high neckline).
Then I got an email from the PTA welcoming the New York Times Bestselling author. Oh No! Red Sweater––Low neckline! I was embarrassed. Were they really talking about me? After all, I wake up after most people have had their morning coffee, I work with a dog in my lap, and don’t own a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Could I pull this off?
On Friday, I was welcomed by students at Richard Montgomery High School. I had eight periods of honors/IB/AP Literature, English, and Theater to entertain. In period one I talked about how writers are needed for everything. I passed out Dove chocolates as proof, but none of these had the empowering statement within the wrapper, as they usually do. Possibly, I thought, a foreshadowing of my day. The teacher began to talk about her masters degree in Puritanical Literature. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet, my coffee was cold, and I had lost them.
After that period, another class came in, along with another teacher. I talk about how being a writer is about observing and persuading, entertaining and seeing the humor in life. Shedding light on that which is dark. Learning to write in different genres, and accepting criticism and then discarding it. Yada, Yada, Yada.
These kids are smart and I loved them for asking questions. They were beginning to awaken. They asked my favorite authors, and I encouraged them to read more Welty, Faulkner, Hemingway, and the classics. Life is always the same, I tell them, but culture changes and influences people. Those cultural boundaries in history tell you a lot about human nature. I decided to remain exclusive with my true love of Dave Barry, Diana Gabaldon, and Audrey Niffeneggar, for fear that they may never read a school book again.
At this point, I’m not sure if anyone cares what I’m saying or is just being polite, when a hand is raised in the third row from the back. A girl who looks a lot more put-together than I was in the 9th grade, is smiling at me and waving her hand impatiently. I start to say, “Sure, you can go to the bathroom,” when she blurts out, “So, what’s it like to see ghosts?” The class went silent.
I was caught speechless. I looked at the teacher who says, “Oh yes, we went to your website and read about you.” Still processing this, I hear “How did you become a medium?” from the other side of the room.
Oh Crap. Annie is going to be M-A-D!
Then I started to think like a teenager. Maybe I can get away with this without being caught by my daughter. Maybe I won’t get punished if she never finds out!
Since there are over 2,200 students in the school, I decide to take a risk and answer their questions, and tell my ghost stories. After all, authors spend most of their time lecturing when not writing (or playing with their dogs).
From then on, my most commonly repeated phrase between ghostly stories was, “See if you learn how to write, then you can be a writer no matter what your occupation.” But these cloaked disclaimers were as inaudible as ghosts themselves. These inquisitive young minds were thinking about what to ask next.
By the time I saw Annie, I was bracing for the storm. She gave me a big hug and said “You talked about being a medium!” Chris blurted out, “They already knew and it wasn’t her fault!” Annie laughs and tells me that it was cool.
And I remembered what it was like to be young again. But I’m glad I’m half way.