“Are you famous?” he asked. “Do you know the President?”
Marcus had patiently waited his turn with raised hand at the back of the room. All of the students that day were delightfully young and sincere. Brilliantly authentic. They had been exceptionally engaged during the readings I was doing for their school, the talks I was giving about authoring books and the magic of words.
We had discussed the inherent cadence and “theater of the mind” that language offers. We had explored the process of publishing. We had examined the many ways a writer can express himself or herself beyond the pages of a book. We had touched on all the ideas and experiences and craftsmanship and possibilities in the world of being a writer. All the “what ifs” and “why nots.” The potential that perhaps awaited them if they chose to take this path themselves. We had even all danced the conga in a giggly line to demonstrate the rhythm and rhyme of one of the stories I had just read out loud to them from The Childornot Tales.
From kindergarten to 6th grade, I had spoken to all the classes of this relatively small elementary school in Loon Lake, Washington, with lively questions and answers following each presentation. This was the last group of the day, made up of 4th and 5th graders.
And then came the question sliding out of left field: “Are you famous?” Along with the most natural of follow-ups, of course: “Do you know the President?” I responded that I did not, in fact, know the President, but that I thought it would be ever so much fun if I did. And, as for being “famous,” I believed that for a writer, there are two ways to look at fame – one being known as a person, and the other being known for one’s work. I said I much preferred the second way, and thought most writers probably did. And, although I had many friends in my hometown, I didn’t think I could claim being famous even there. I just hoped my books would make people happy in lots of places – both near and faraway.
After more pondering and observation, however, I suspect now I might answer Marcus’ question a bit differently.
Throughout that day, every time I began my presentation, we were all seated on the floor. Do you remember, Marcus, how you and the other students all sat about five or six feet in front of me? Without saying a word, I began beating out a rhythm with my hands on the rug. Immediately, you all joined in – tapping out the same rhythm on the floor perfectly in meter with mine. Then, I began speaking a simple verbal rhyme as I drummed out the rhythm, and you all did the same – completely in sync with me. And we talked about the music of words. By the time I had finished reading the first story to you, you had all scooted in so close you were only about five or six inches away from me. And then we all danced. And there was a great deal of laughing.
Some of you stretched out on your backs and sides and tummies as you listened to my readings. And you asked for more. And even more.
And there was Lucius, who was delighted to find I had a character with his name in one of my stories. And Zoe, who wants to be a writer, and so she took one of my business cards so we could write and call and generally keep in touch. And then you all wanted one of my cards, too, so we could write and call and generally keep in touch.
At lunch, some of you made room for me at a large group table and we ate chicken legs and shared milk. You broke your bananas in half and offered them to me. And gave me spontaneous, sticky warm hugs. At recess, there were more hugs and giggling, and I was asked to join some of you on the swings and others in a rousing game of ball.
Throughout the day, you welcomed me without reservation. You invited me into your lives and your hearts. And I’ve read someplace that that’s the very definition of fame. And so, Marcus, even though I don’t know the President, I know you. And all your friends at Loon Lake Elementary School. And that is the best kind of “famous” I could ever wish to be.