Once, a long time ago, I was fired from a job for excessive chatting.
This comes as no surprise to my children, who have been convinced for some time that my propensity towards chat is simply one element of my insidious plan to murder them from sheer embarrassment. If chatting could be weaponized, I’d be the most powerful woman in the world.
The fact, though, that I could be fired for chatting seemed, at the time, to be a bit rich, given that I was a waitress, and the people I was chatting with were my customers. Still. I do enjoy gabbing from time to time, and if it takes me an hour just to get to the end of my block because there are neighbors to chat with between my house and the corner, well so be it. I’d rather be chatty than the neighborhood grump.
And I bring this up because last week I was lucky enough to attend the annual meeting for the American Library Association. Now, I have always loved librarians – school librarians in particular. I think anyone who has ever worked in a school holds a deep and abiding love for school librarians. But recently, as the parent of voracious readers, I hold a respect for my neighborhood librarians that deepens by the day. My eleven year old, for example, reads at least a book a day, and relies on the librarian to help her navigate her next choices. (In fact, we’re heading over there shortly). Librarians have, in my family, had a deep and measurable impact, and I appreciated being able to tell them so.
I met librarians from Michigan, from Minnesota and Alabama and California and Florida. I met librarians from Alaska and Maine and Texas. I met librarians from everywhere. And they had books in their brains and books in their skin and books in their mouths and books under their fingernails and books hanging onto their skirts and belts like naughty children. Books fell onto the ground when they coughed and shot out of their eyes when they laughed and fluttered out of their hair like masses of butterflies.
They were magical, these librarians. But really, are you surprised? I wasn’t.
And while it was fun reading to them from my book and talking to them about my book, it was way MORE fun listening to them talk about their jobs – both the good stuff and the bad stuff – because I’ll tell you what, librarians are wicked passionate about what they do. And god bless them for it.
The point is this: I ended up in a gigantic building filled to the rafters with book lovers – the guardians of books, the catalogers of books, the organizers of books, the sellers of books, the writers of books and the producers of books. All under one roof.
And oh! The chatting!
I chatted about the relationships we have with books, about the constructivist principle in reading. I chatted about the lack of non-white characters in children’s graphic fiction and the power of a single collectively read novel to change the culture of a classroom. I chatted about kids, about career choices, about food, about airlines, about sensible shoes, about variations in language, about wildfires, about e-piracy, about breastfeeding, about college, about the strange twists in a single life, about the people who altered our paths, about janitors, about Odd Jobs, about novel construction, about God, about laundry soap, about castle construction and cathedral design, about comic books, and about my beautiful beautiful city.
It was glorious.
Additionally, I was also able to do a reading at a breakfast in front of a bunch of librarians, along with the the incomparable Grace Lin and Andrea Davis. Here is a picture of the three of us. I am the gigantic woman in the middle.
(I mean, I’ve always known that I was tall, but holy smokes, that picture makes me look like I could destroy entire cities. I kinda like it.)
My job now requires an abundance of silence. I plan in silence, I take notes in silence, I scribble in silence, I brood in silence, I draft in silence and I worry in silence. The only time when I’m speaking is during the revision process, when I read my book out loud over and over and over again until the neighborhood is convinced that I’m utterly insane (they’re not wrong) and I’ve gone hoarse, but that’s a different kind of talking. That’s talking to myself. There’s no connection, no revelation, no learning. I love chatting because it affords me the opportunity to connect to another person’s experience, and, in that moment, to truly and openly love them. Because listening is an act of love, you know?
In New Orleans, the weekend before last, I had the opportunity to chat, to listen, to connect, and ultimately to love approximately 400 people.
And it was awesome.