Monday, February 25, 2008

The Little Towns of Michigan

I’m sitting in a hotel room in a little town in Michigan as I write this. It’s 16 degrees outside and the ground is covered with a blanket of snow. However, the sun is shining and the landscape resembles a Norman Rockwell painting.

The reason I am here is because I spoke to students from Freeland, Bullock Creek and Vasser high schools. Speaking to people and having them ask questions about writing and my life is still all new and baffling to me. I can’t believe I just used the word, “baffling.” I guess that “Word a Day,” calendar is really paying off.

Anyway, this whole experience has made me think about what my life used to be like and what it might be in the future. I’m reminded of my days as a tie salesman and running up and down stairs at Ralph Lauren while wearing a three piece suit and carrying a pile of top coats in one hand and a silver tray with a glass of sparkling water in the other. The water was for an impatient customer who couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to make it up four flights of stairs in three minutes without breaking a sweat or forgetting to put a lemon wedge on the rim of the glass. We weren’t allowed to sweat at Ralph Lauren, because we were supposed to look like we’d just stepped out of a magazine or the “After” picture on one of those make over shows. And after I would manage to do all of this in three minutes and fifteen seconds, without perspiring, the customer would usually down the glass of water and look at me like I was some mangy dog and say, “Let me know when these coats go on sale.”

Those were rough times for me and I spent almost every minute of the day wondering why I was putting myself through that torture. I thought taking a chance and trying to become a writer would never pay off, or that the reward just wouldn’t be worth it. But here in Michigan, I’m reminded that those days of sweat (or trying not to), and tears have paid off.

You see, the teachers at these schools took a genuine interest in their students’ future. They are not rich schools, but somehow found the money and time to have me speak. As I looked out at those students yesterday, who had hopes and dreams of their own, and whose innocence and desire to learn inspired me, I realized that running up and down stairs was a small price to pay. I applaud the teachers of these schools for their determination to make the intimidating and confusing world that teenagers live in, more enjoyable and rewarding.

So to writers, artists, musicians, teachers, philanthropists, environmentalists or anyone struggling to reach their dreams and to make the world a more tolerable and creative place, I am here to tell you that your fight will pay off in the long run. If you don’t believe me, just visit the schools, students and teachers amongst the blanket of snow covering the little towns of Michigan.