This week I had the opportunity to talk with the kids at Eastside Preparatory School. It’s one of the most academically rigorous schools in Washington state, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the student body because they defy the geek stereotype. As 200-plus kids trickled into the room, I was struck by how beautiful and shiny they all were. Stylish and smart? Unfair.
Feeling a twinge of self-doubt, I checked myself for stray scone crumbs and dabbed a smidgeon of gloss on my dry lips. Ah, better. And then for some reason, I thought back to when I was a teen. At any given moment, I could name off a laundry list of shortcomings, a pimple, fat butt, cheap jeans. I also remembered how hard I worked to seem perfect.
So, as I looked out at the faces in the crowd, I wondered if they felt the same as I once did? If I could read their minds, would I hear thoughts dripping with self-loathing and doubt? My heart broke.
I sucked in a gulp of air and a feeling washed over me. Like the rays of the sun, it warmed my hair and face, and with it came a clear conviction. Writing the novel, Four Rubbings, wasn’t the most important thing. Teasing a storyline and selling copies of the book, that didn’t matter anymore. In fact, I realized that writing the book was just the vehicle that brought me to this place, in front of these kids to deliver a message of hope and encouragement. As I clicked ‘play’ on my Powerpoint slideshow, I knew that the words to come might be the only encouragement they’d receive all week, or month, or year. And I lost my breath.
My mother, a longtime public school principal, spoke of this often. In September every year, she committed all student names to memory. She ate lunch in the cafeteria with the kids. She checked in with teachers to find out the details of her students’ lives. Who was struggling? Who was making progress? Who was having problems at home? She sleuthed out the details and then reached out to her kids to offer help or congratulations. She told me it was important to touch each child with kind, personal words as often as possible because she was keenly aware that her compliments might be the only nice things some of these kids might ever hear. Ever.
I clicked the first slide and spoke to the kids of EPS about knocking down stereotypes, dreaming big, blocking out the negative and accepting help. I hoped my words might resonate with one student. If I came off as an idiot to the other 199, then so be it. If my positive message empowered one person to reach for their dream, then it was worth it. One kid. One kind word. One life changed.
Fellow Booktrope author, Tess Thompson blogged about a similar subject in her post titled, “I’m with Stupid.” Read it. She said it more artfully in her post than I did at the assembly, but the message was essentially the same. If you follow your heart, success will follow. Be bold and follow your passion. It’s an upbeat message, to be sure, but one worth repeating.
Why does it feel like I’m always apologizing for being positive? My whole life I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna – a reference I didn’t understand until adulthood. Pollyanna was a fictional character that saw the positive side of every situation, regardless of how dire her circumstances. She lost family members. She faced death. And still, she smiled. Well, I suppose I’m sort of like that.
Fine. It’s true, I am Pollyanna. Toss your eggs at the computer screen, flip me off in your head, I can handle it. After spending time with the students at EPS yesterday, I know with such clarity what the world needs right now is more positive. So, I’m not going to apologize for being who I am anymore. I’m an optimist in a cynical world. I choose to see the best in people, hope for the future, see the invisible members of our society, smile, overuse exclamation points, wave at cops and construction workers, and add smiley faces to the end of my emails. Deal. With. It. 🙂
But, get one thing straight. Being positive doesn’t come naturally. It takes work.
In college, when I was broke, held two jobs to pay for tuition and books, had way too much homework, and subsisted on cheap ramen, I posted a list on my dorm wall called, “Good Things Comin’ My Way.” I updated the list often to remind me that there was always something worth celebrating just around the corner. So what if I needed a microscope to see the good? My list included wearing clean white socks, sleeping in on Saturday, visiting home, talking to my brother, attending a football game, crunching fall leaves, having a day without rain, etc. You get the idea. Small joys kept me moving forward.
Today, more than ever, it takes real effort to stay positive. I was a student of the media, so I know the studies about how disproportionate the violent/crime-related news segments are compared to the actual instances of crime. They overblow the bad, undercover the good. Yeah.
And in our current political climate when every politician (it seems being inept crosses party lines) works to pit you against me, us against them, him against her; I find that the news is no longer safe ground for me either. Of course, I have to track the news to stay informed. But, I can only take it in small doses. Then, I must unplug. That’s why you won’t find me posting political stuff on my Facebook wall. I refuse to feed the derisive climate of the day. I love you. I could never hate you.
After my talk with the kids at Eastside Prep, I stopped caring about selling books. This is about me being a positive voice for others. Yes, I wrote a novel. I fought all the negative forces out there and within myself and got it done. You can transform your goal into an accomplishment, too. But, the book is no longer the thing.
So as I climbed off the stage, I knew my goals had shifted. The lights on the stage dimmed and I found myself surrounded by students. They hugged me, asked questions, shared stories and shook my hand, and I listened. Selling books doesn’t matter anymore. But, being a positive voice for others does. So, that my friends, is what I’m going to pursue now. 🙂