The last of the Vaudevillians.

September 29, 2010 § 2 Comments

Bill Harley, a fellow children’s book author, sat across a Formica table from me in a restaurant in Kern County, California.  “We are the last of the vaudevillians,” he said.

Like those old time entertainers we take our show to our audience (the audience that wants to hear how we write our books doesn’t drive).  So we drive to them, or fly.  I’ve even taken the Greyhound.

Although it’s the world’s best job, being a traveling author is not as glamorous as you might think.

I’ve gotten lost in an all-cabbage landscape in Georgia, broken three teeth on a school lunch, been upstaged by a dog wandering through my presentation, and had my fee paid out of the proceeds from an eighth grade beauty pageant (eighth grade beauties want world peace too).

Like those comics and singers and storytellers who worked the summer crowds in the Catskills, when on the road I live out of a suitcase I schlep myself.

Once, when being picked up by a host family the daughter, who was expecting a FAMOUS AUTHOR peered past me, then asked, “Where are your people?”  Embarrassed, I had to tell her, “I have no people.”

Unless you count the ones in my suitcase.

In that crowded bag are several of my old selves.  I carry my fourth grade diary.  It proves you don’t have to show a lick of early talent at writing or spelling to become a writer.  My high school self inhabits a tiny fifteen cent spiral notebook.  The angsty college art student I once was left an illustrated journal behind when she moved on.

I share these notebooks to encourage kids to write their lives down, to show them that the “you” you are now is a moving target.

And I carry my books—a world of characters I’ve lived with for months or years bulge the sides my suitcase.

Then there is the ever-changing cast of characters the kids and I invent.  Every road-traveling author has a shtick.  We juggle, sing, ride unicycles, create poetry on the spot.  I show kids how easy it is to invent characters and the stories that grow naturally once you get to know them. We usually beginning with a pair of shoes.

The completely imaginary owner of the old brown shoes in the photo is “Wilson.”  The name was given to a character created by a seventh grade class, and although that pair of shoes has generated dozens of other characters since, for me “Wilson” stuck.  Wilson is an older gentleman of careful habits.  In his pockets are a jangling handful of change, a box of sticky cough drops, a white cloth handkerchief and his father’s pocket watch.

Vaudevillians probably carried a photo or two to keep them company, a picture of the wife and kids.  I have Wilson.  Wilson and I are catching a plane tonight, flying through a tropical storm on our way to Miami.  He’ll remind me to keep my seatbelt buckled.

And tomorrow we’ll put on our show in the media center of Westglades Middle School.  The old guy and I are looking forward to it.

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§ 2 Responses to The last of the Vaudevillians.

  • Diana Haneski says:

    The students and teachers at Westglades Middle are glad you and your people traveled with bulging suitcases through the rain to visit us once again. We are going to continue listening to Crossing Jordan on the Playaway and we look forward to the release of “Summer on the Moon.” I like your blog, I have a pretty good visual of Wilson and I can smell the sticky cough drops too. Your friend in the library, Diana


  • Amy Schoch says:

    Adrian I enjoy your blog so much. Your writing always helps me slow down and settle in to relish the moment. Years ago I used to work with elementary school classes to write plays and troubadour songs with children. I had forgotten until you reminded me, how much fun that was. Thanks!


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