Maybe I should just sit quietly in the corner…

Some people handle meeting their heroes with poise and grace. I can’t even handle crossing the kitchen without walking into a chair, dropping my fork and knocking the mail off the counter.
Knowing I faced two of my literary favorites in one day, I spent last night preparing myself for impending disaster by making a list of rules:

1. Make sure to breathe. It’s not helpfultotgetsoexcitedyoudon’tpausebetweenwords.

2. Don’t do the scary I-can’t-stop-smiling thing.

3. Avoid topics that could be construed as disturbing, like: the toilet-tweezers incident and the ballet recital brawl. Or pretty much anything that happened before middle school. Or since MS. Maybe just don’t talk about yourself at all.

4. Don’t be overly helpful. People can choose their own meals off a menu. They don’t need an escort to the bathroom or someone to taste their food to make sure it’s not poisoned.

Today I spoke with Jordan Sonnenblick on the phone and ate dinner with Ralph Fletcher and six other PAWLP fellows.

Ummmmm, I did a pretty good job of following rule #4 – does that count for anything?

I’d abandoned rule#1 before Jordan had even been handed the phone. I told his wife my name, my school, the date of his visit, how I’d called earlier whileJordanwasfixingthelawnmower, OMG, that sounds weird, I know because he e-mailed me. I’m not a crazy stalker or anything. *cue nervous laughter* And I spilt this torrent of unnecessary information in my phone voice – because put a phone in my hand and my vocal cords constrict in a way that makes me sound almost 8.

All of this was in response to: “Can I tell him who’s calling?” If she covered the receiver and mouthed “CRAZY” before passing the phone, I wouldn’t blame her.

Despite my kid-hopped-up-on-Halloween-candy voice, Jordan was unperturbed. He even managed to cook stir-fry and keep me on task while I blathered. I’ve got until May 18th to practice my rules so that my first face-to-face interaction with him is slightly less giggly and monumentally more coherent.

Off the phone and off to dinner with Ralph Fletcher. He’s in town as the keynote speaker for this weekend’s Pennsylvania Writing and Literacy Conference. (Strange coincidence? Jordan Sonnenblick’s the keynote speaker at next year’s conference!) As one of the presenters at the conference, I was meeting him for dinner with a handful of other PAWLP Fellows.

A piece of advice: don’t get a large cappuccino when you’re already on a post-writerly-hero-phonecall high. I wish someone had told me this! Luckily I was able to burn off some of the caffeine during my wait by singing ABBA for the employees of the local GAP while I pranced around the store and tried on hats.

My new hat and I arrived at dinner a little early, so I got out my writer’s notebook and pen. How was I to know that just because Ralph writes so much about writer’s notebooks and brainstorming activities, he didn’t plan on giving us a writing prompt at the dinner table? It was with disappointed fingers that I stowed the notebook back in my purse.

Someone thought it was a smart idea to seat ME next to Ralph. Shockingly, even after spending all summer with me, none of my Writing Institute-mates suggested a chair shuffle. In fact, they might have even secretly been wishing they’d brought popcorn to eat while watching the Tiffany-makes-a-blabbing-fool-out-of-herself-show.

The plusses:
*I didn’t break rule #4.
*Dinner was tasty, although I was too busy smiling maniacally to eat much.
*Ralph was just as profound and lyrical in person as he is in writing.

The minuses:
*It may have been mentioned that I’d make an interesting character in his next novel. Ralph even wrote the first line: She felt a need to name everything But I’ve got to admit, I take a certain pleasure out of knowing Ralph Fletcher refers to my Blackberry as Petunia.
*I may have offered to cut up the appetizer for him.
*I may have repeatedly asked if I should take out my writer’s notebook…

But apparently I didn’t scare him off – he did teach high school in NYC for a year, he’s pretty unscareable – when we asked to take a picture, he turned to me and joked: “You’re going to go home and put it on Twitter, right?” (Um, maybe… if the photo’s ever sent to me *cough*). He also accepted my offer to meet him Saturday pre-conference so I can show him the way to the school – little does he know I am navigationally nonfunctional. And as we walked to our cars after dinner, he smiled at me and said: “I bet you named yours.”

He’s right! I DID name my car! See how well he knows me already?

Clearly we’re destined to be best friends. Or I’m destined to be immortalized as a crazy in his next book…

Must practice rules before Saturday…

Fierce Wonderings

What was the headstone company thinking when they posted a sign reading: “Drive Safe. We Can Wait”? I obsess over this each time we drive past.

This would be an example of a FIERCE WONDERING. Something that puzzles you and sticks with you long after it should linger. It’s a Ralph Fletcher term and one I use in my classroom while encouraging the kiddos to record their own Fierce Wonderings in their writers’ notebooks.

I have Fierce Wonderings all the time. The book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is a gigantic fierce wondering for me. I read to my class each year hoping that one of them will know the stories behind the illustrations – or that I finally find closure. Nope, but the kiddos do write great more stories that lead to more Fierce Wonderings.

Other Wonderings of the Fierce variety I’m plucking from my notebook:

Graffiti on a local building (I changed the names): Melanie Smith, I will love you forever. No matter what happens. Love, C. I find it odd that good old ‘C’ had no qualms about using his love’s first AND last name, but stuck with his own initial. So she can get in trouble for his vandalism, but he’s off the hook? Also, what does he expect to happen? Does ‘what happens’ matter to Melanie? Curious…

When I was in the local bookstore about a month ago, a 3-4 year old was wondering from his father to his older sister, to random customers repeating over and over, “I just want to find something to make mommy happy. I just want to get something that will make mommy happy. Can we find something to make mommy happy?” His dad was ignoring him, his sister brushed him off, and I wanted to scoop him up and hug him. What had happened to make him feel, at 4 years old, that his mother’s happiness was his responsibility? His words and desperate tone have echoed in my ears for weeks.

There’s an author I’m not quite sure actually exists. I like her first book a lot, so I googled her to find out if there’d be more. The only place I could find her online was listings on Amazon – where I discovered there’d be a sequel. Even the publisher’s website doesn’t have any more details than were listed in the bookflap bio. When the sequel came out I read it, didn’t like it as much, and went to the web address listed in the bookflap bio (this was the only change from the first bio). The website doesn’t exist. It’s now been six months since I read the book and the website still doesn’t exist. How is it possible for this author to have next to no presence online? I find this fascinating and the conspiracy theory part of me believes she’s not real.

I heard part of a tsunami-story during the media glut in December of 2004 where an American tourist mother was talking about being stuck in a hotel stairwell with her two children. The water was rising rapidly and she couldn’t hold on to both her infant and toddler and keep herself afloat. She chose to let go of the toddler because he had a chance of being able to swim, whereas the baby did not. Something interrupted the news and I never heard the end of the story. In my cupcakes-&-unicorns mind they all survived, but…

This is me – I’m a Fierce Wonderer. I’ll ask St.Matt’s opinion on something (like the tsunami story above) hours, days, weeks, years after it occurs. His response: “Tiffany, you’ve to let things go.”

Let things go? Has he MET me? I can no more let things go than I can stop eating jellybeans, reading, drinking coffee, or writing.

And I don’t really want to. I like fiercely wondering. It’s part of what makes me a writer – I wonder what happened to that mother, both in the stairwell and since then. There’s a story in that. I wonder what motivates a toddler to obsess over buying something to ‘fix’ this mother – and how his father could ignore him. There’s a story in that. The graffiti & missing author? Each could be a story.

And it’s not just sad things that keep me wondering. We just got home from ice cream and the muddy kneed pigtailed nine-year old in front of me in line was squealing, “Today’s the best day ever!” Normally I’d attribute this to winning a soccer game or just the beautiful weather, but her mother had a slightly dazed expression as she leaned down to her daughter and whispered, “Shhh, I know, but don’t tell anyone. Not yet- soon!”

I wonder…