Just a few days ago, I was given the opportunity to speak at the Oak Hill Middle School in Sabattus, Maine. This has been the best experience I have had as a writer so far in my short career.
It all started when I replied to Melissa Haskell Ayres’ Facebook post asking for authors to join in for a writers talk at her school. It took me many hours of lamenting before I was brave enough ask to be included in the event. After a short conversation with Melissa, she welcomed me to the event.
Now the nervousness really started to kick in. I had just volunteered myself to speak in front of middle school kids for an hour of talks. I was going to have to step up to the plate and show my stuff. Nothing in my carpenter career was going to be of use to me now, but my recent stage performances as a musician would be paramount in helping me through this.
I was hoping the kids would have lots of questions and I wouldn’t have to rely on prepared material too much. Just in case though, I made an outline of the things I thought were most important in writing.
After following Garmina’s mechanical voice instructions, I arrived at the school. Melissa found me at the front desk and led me to the other authors. I was introduced to Gail Van Wart, April Wood, John Hodgkins, Jane Harvey-Meade, and Keith & Theresa Evans. Keith, Theresa, and Melissa were the founders of the Oak Hill Young Writers Club. I had not met these authors before, but they greeted me warmly and we made small talk until it was time to go to our assigned classrooms.
I was brought to a good size room and left alone to await the kids’ arrival. There I was standing alone with no other person to prompt or guide me. I thought to myself, ‘Dear God, what have I gotten myself into?’ The bell rang and kids started to fill the room; and I do mean fill. There were so many kids that a third of them had to stand along the walls. A little relief came as I saw some teachers enter the room. At least I wouldn’t be totally alone.
After the room completely filled, one of the teachers said, “you’re on.” I did my best to hide my deer in the headlight eyes. I jumped right in introducing myself and asking for questions. The cricket chirps were a good indication this was not going to be a question and answer kind of talk. I quickly went to plan B. I picked up my keyword outline and jumped in. That outline was the biggest butt saving thing I have ever done. I went through the talking points I had on the sheet and got a few questions. Just as I was running out of material, the bell would ring, and the whole process began again.
I cannot speak for the kids, but I think it went well. I have to give them credit. They were listening to an old guy talk about writing. This was not an activity they had chosen to come to, and they had multiple authors to see over the next hour. I was amazed at how well they kept it together to listen to me for 20 minutes. I don’t think I would have done as well in my middle school days. As with any large group, there were a few kids who were interested in writing and they asked most of the questions. My hope is that some of the things I had to say may stick with the kids.
After the final bell rang, the authors settled into the cafeteria. Several of the kids from the writing club came and visited with us. They asked questions and did interviews. I wish I had their ability at that age. I was very impressed. One of the students passed her writing on to me to look at. This was an honor I was not expecting. After looking at her work I am jealous of her ability. She will be schooling us before she realizes it.
Melissa had a last surprise for us. She presented each author with a beautiful journal, a young writers club pen, and a gift certificate to a local restaurant. This was icing on the cake.
Thank you Young Writers’ Club, Oak Hill Middle School, and especially Melissa for this experience. I hope your writers’ club will catch on with other schools in Maine. I believe we need to give kids more outlets for self-expression besides phones, and computers. This is not limited to writing. So many of the arts need to be promoted; painting, sculpture, theater, photography, music and of course writing.