First things first: Tonight, I’ll be reading and signing at the Jay County Public Library at 6:30 PM. There may be cupcakes. There will most certainly be new fiction. So if you’re in the area, come and say hi — I promise I don’t bite. Even if asked nicely.
Last night I had the privilege of speaking at my old high school, the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities. I was pretty nervous about it, since I hadn’t been back for more than a quick walk around the campus in mumblety-ought years, and since the other alumnus who’d been scheduled to speak had to cancel. I had fears of being That Boring Speaker that everyone remembers from high school. You remember; the guy who either spoke in a monotone or attempted to be “hip to the youth of today” and whose schtick got old real fast. Driving into Muncie made me even more tense: for every building I recognized, there were changes I hadn’t known of (many for the better), and almost-scary flashes of deja vu. Hell, just driving past Wagoner Hall brought back a new flood of memories, and when I started pointing out places to the resident organist (“there’s the front steps, that’s where I played my first game of D&D…”) I realized I was stepping into a different role, one familiar from Williams jargon: the Crusty Alum with stories of Back In The Day. Urgh.
So I made it into the auditorium, expecting to give a short, rambling, unprepared speech, then answer a couple of questions and let these poor kids get back to what they were doing before this cranky old lady interrupted them.
It wasn’t like that at all.
It was awesome.
I gave a short bio, a few hands went up, and from there it was question-and-answer all the way through — I completely didn’t notice when we went over our allotted time. The Academy kids were interested, engaged, curious, and their questions made me stop and think several times. I think I managed to give answers that were both helpful and entertaining, and by the time we hit the third or fourth question, I was on a hell of an adrenaline high.
I realize that by saying things like “and the questions were smart!” that makes it sound like I was surprised, or that I was expecting stupid questions. That’s not the case. Hell, in this situation, there aren’t stupid questions. In many ways, the students were very like my class — bright, snarky, sleep-deprived — and that was both encouraging and a little frightening. (Also, it made me feel old, but there’s no way of getting around that.) The Academy shaped so much of who I am today that it’s amazing and scary to see it continuing to shape and train students for the great wide world.
I wonder how these kids will turn out. I wonder whether they enjoyed the evening as much as I did.
I wonder how difficult it would be for me to come back sometime.