Two years ago, it was the hopeful faces online that kept me going.
When my entire speaking schedule in Spring 2018 was cancelled by my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, I went virtual instead. A screen became my audience. Skype replaced the cafeteria stage.
To keep things simple, I donated the virtual visits. Schools knew that if my hair fell out from chemo…or if I had an unexpected doctor’s appointment…or if I just wasn’t up to talking—their visit wouldn’t happen. Everything was “subject to change without notice.” They were okay with that.
Fortunately, my hair stayed intact, and the virtual visits saved my sanity. They gave me a schedule and a reason to get up every day. Kids wore pink t-shirts. They held up signs of hope and encouragement. They made me believe that life would get better someday—and it did.
One of the biggest surprises was the realization that I could still reach readers through a screen. With a little practice and creativity, it was possible to keep being the interactive, thoughtful (and slightly random) author/presenter that I am.
Then came Spring 2020 and the COVID outbreak demolished everything again. I’ll admit that it felt like an awful kind of déjà vu.
But this time it wasn’t just me sitting at home worrying that I might die from a dread disease – it was the kids too. I spread the word that I would donate virtual visits to any school group anywhere in April and May.
I’ll never forget those first Zooms and Google Meets. Kids joined from living rooms, unfinished attics, closets, stairwells, and kitchen tables. They appeared with homemade slime, family pets, and screaming siblings. Some kids floated in blue galaxies or tropical forest backgrounds. Others had their family seated around them like a solemn portrait.
Despite the challenges, these impromptu visits actually worked. (A ton of credit goes to the parents, librarians, and teachers who made them happen.) I was able to chat with kids about books and brainstorm characters with them. Virtual classes “toured” my office. We shared what we were going through and the various ways we were coping. As I’d discovered two years earlier, there is something to be said for being there for each other in tough times.
And as the school year starts at home again for many kids, I’m determined to keep stretching the virtual learning limits: Can we compose poetry on Zoom? Can we use our closets/attics/kitchens for writing inspiration? Can we create fictional characters from shoes? Can we build stuff onscreen? (Tetrahedron pyramids for All of the Above? Mini-sculptures for The Seventh Most Important Thing?)
I believe that creativity and joy, even the virtual kind, will keep us going.
I’m proof of that.
Teachers, librarians, and parents: If you are interested in finding out more about my 2020-21 virtual programs (some free and some fee-based) for your students, please check them out on my website or reach out to me at email@example.com.