Friday, October 23, 2020

It's All Right Just to Be the Same Old (Adequately Wonderful) Person That You Are

This weekend I'm speaking at a children's book writers' conference jointly hosted by the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Graduate Programs in Children's Literature at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, where I am a faculty member. I'm giving a keynote address on my favorite topic - "How to Have a Joyous Creative Career in an Hour a Day" - and an afternoon breakout session on my other favorite topic - "Structure and Sparkle: Writing the Transitional Chapter Book."

I love to speak at conferences, and I've given both of these talks before to appreciative audiences, but this time the conference is via ZOOM. It feels very different to sit all alone at your desk speaking to your computer screen than to stand up in front of a live audience in a chandelier-hung ballroom. And nowadays everybody - as in EVERYBODY - has a PowerPoint to go along with their presentations, and: 1) I barely know how to make a PowerPoint (I did all my decades of teaching via chalk and chalkboard); 2) technology makes me tense and jittery; and 3) I'm already tense and jittery enough presenting via the weird ZOOM format with tight time constraints for each session.

So my dilemma was this. Should I accept that audiences nowadays (especially ZOOM audiences) expect to have some appealing visuals and not just my big round head talking on their screen? Should I face the fact that it is time for me (quite belatedly) to join the 21st century and start making PowerPoints like the rest of the world? Or should I just stick with being my old-fashioned, tried-and-true, Claudia self? Put another way: Would it be good for this old dog to rise to the challenge of learning some new tricks? Or should I just do what I've always done, in the way I've always done it? 

I was bravely leaning toward the first option, but feeling knots in my stomach about the whole thing: not just figuring how to make the PowerPoint, but fiddling with the technology during the presentation itself, struggling to share my screen, having the slides not advance... oh, so many horrors to foresee! But somehow everyone else manages to do it (though not without a good number of snafus). Perhaps the time had come for me leap into these turbulent modern-day waters and hope I would somehow, miraculously, transform from desperate dog paddler to Olympic champion swimmer?

I asked my brilliant and wise friend Lisa, one of the conference organizers, what she thought I should do. Within minutes she emailed back what I was hoping, in my heart of hearts, to hear: "Be your tried and true Claudia Self. There is no question about it." 


So now, instead of spending today churning my innards with dread about tomorrow's terrors, I can be pleasurably excited, with just the usual rush of energizing adrenaline.

 I can just BE WHO I AM, which is, I've decided, adequately wonderful.

Maybe one of these days I'll have a surge of courage and try out a PowerPoint presentation in a lower-stakes setting, one more suitable for trial-and-error. 

But tomorrow, I'll just be my Claudia Self. 

After all, that's who the conference organizers invited. It might as well be who they get. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Packing My Bags for Children's Literature Adventures in Sweden

At the start of 2020, I knew the year would be a challenging one for me because of family woes, so I decided I needed not just a bunch of little treats along the way, but at least one HUGE treat. So I submitted a paper to a conference on "Conceptions of Girlhood Now and Then: 'Girls' Literature' and Beyond," to be held at Linnaeus University in Sweden on October 6th-8th. What a wonderful jaunt this would be!

Well, it's still going to be a wonderful jaunt, but now of course, thanks to COVID, the conference is taking place via ZOOM. WAHHH! But also HOORAY, because this makes it even easier for children's literature scholars all over the world to attend. Although many of the presenters are from Sweden, with the USA a distant second, by my count a total of 19 countries are represented. Joining the Swedish and American scholars are scholars from Spain, the U.K., Thailand, Canada, Ireland, Belgium, Croatia, Poland, Finland, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, Greece, Denmark, and Italy. 

The papers look wonderful. I want to hear them all, but here are a few I've starred on the program: "Black Girls and Their Nineteenth-Century Autograph Albums," "What about the Fat Girl in Fiction?", "Emotional Socialization in Swedish Post-War Literature for Girls," "Meaning of 'Girlhood' in Slovak Children's Literature of Communism," and "Anglophone Constructions of Chinese Girlhood in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century." An intellectual FEAST!!

There is only one small challenge re attending this global conference from the comfort of my home in Boulder, Colorado. The schedule is on Central European time, eight hours later (or is it earlier? I'm never sure how to make sense of these time zones!) than U.S. Mountain Time. This means that the panel I'm on, which is taking place from 9:15-11:45 a.m. Wednesday morning on Swedish time, is taking place at 1:15-3:45 a.m. for me. I am a morning person. I adore getting up early. But 1:15 a.m. is VERY VERY early even for me!

I've decided to consider this a thrilling part of the adventure. So on Tuesday night I'll go to bed at 7:00, just as it's starting to get dark, and set my alarm for midnight. Then - ooh! - I'll wake up when the new day is barely beginning, and be ready to present an hour later. Most of the other panels and talks throughout the conference are at a more civilized time for me: the 1:00 p.m. in Sweden panels will be at 5 a.m. for me, and the 3 p.m. in Sweden panels will be at a most mellow 7 a.m. 

To add to the fun, the conference includes a Pippi Party one evening (well, one late morning for me):  Pippi Longstocking is one of Sweden's national treasures, and one of the the most remarkable girl characters in all of children's literature. The organizers even sent us Pippi candies mailed all the way from Sweden.

So today I'm clearing my desk the way I always do before a big trip. Time to cross off all those pesky little chores so I can set forth on my travel with nothing but eager anticipation of the joys that await me. Because tomorrow morning - VERY early! - I'll be arriving in Sweden!