TRAVELOGUE #34: Birmingham, Michigan 2016

If bikini and suntan lotion constitute real travel in your books, then you might have to stop reading; there is no bikini in this story.

But if leaving your country to enter another country in just under thirty minutes to give a talk on writing to some 40 middle schoolers counts as travel, welcome to Travelogue #34.

Last week, I was one of several guest speakers who talked to children at a private school in MI about what it’s like to have a career in writing.

The presenters – journalists, authors, freelance writers, etc – enjoyed a complimentary breakfast in the parlour complete with fireplace and winged chairs, some roped off. The children’s uniforms made me smile. Once upon a tartan time, I wore these numbers, too.  

So somewhere between deciding where to sit and eating this sumptuous pound cake that you know some sister made from a tried-and-true recipe, I met some wonderful people: an editor, a travel writer who was well versed in all things Quebecois, a fundraiser organizer, etc.

The “wait, what?” moment arrived when a twenty-one year-old, published fiction author sat down with us and discussed how her second book is coming along and how she might illustrate the cover of her next book. She showed us sketches that you expected (hoped, more like) to look like paint-by-numbers but of course she presented Andy Warhol meets Marc Chagall material. I wanted to kill her, of course. Death by pound cake.

Kidding aside, what a beautiful person at this table. Young, vibrant, and full of ideas.

While we ate, talked, and exchanged life stories, we also recited some of our favourite lines from authors and I shared Ernest Hemingway’s advice on writing: “Write drunk; edit sober” that garnered a blank look from the 21 year old. A writer who doesn’t know Hemingway; be still my heart.

After breakfast we separated to our respective rooms and talked to the children about writing. My talk focused on how to write poems from visual media bundles, with warm thanks to my neighbour Ralph Talbot who contributed to these bundles with boxes and boxes of National Geographic and racecar magazines, Jordan Penz for the decade-supply of greeting cards, and Pat Campbell for her deep dish piles of photographs (some of the children had never seen a black and white photo until that day). These were leftover materials from a fall study that I had done with pre-service teachers and I’m working on that manuscript currently, hoping to make a July deadline.

I’d like to share one of those poems with you written by a 5th grader whose bundle included a black and white photograph of boys playing hockey. He wrote this freewrite in just under 4 minutes:

Once the talks were done, we headed back to the parlour and enjoyed a catered lunch of gourmet sandwiches (this was no Subway but a olive oil-drizzled ciabatta wonder) and cookies easily mistaken by their size for 6” pizzas.

The boy’s poem was one reason to write this travelogue, for in writing it I feel like we’re collectively celebrating it (and him), and the second reason goes to a brief encounter with one of the presenters. A woman, a 67-year-old retired professor who took up writing later in life and who now lives on a hobby farm with two horses, told me that every morning she reads a sign that hangs in her kitchen. It reads:

“This is your last chance. Bloom.”

If you were sitting where I was sitting you would have been moved, too. What a formidable lady. I rather think, if the fictional character Anne Shirley were real and lived to be 67, lordthunderingjesus this was her. 

Love to all

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© 2017 S. Rebecca Leigh