Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fangirl Rises

I have just returned from Orlando and Disney’s Magical Kingdom, where I attended the National Writing Project Annual Meeting. It was a whirlwind three days of sessions and meetings that have the very strange effect of sending me home exhausted yet energized to look at my teaching and think about how to make it better.

I will discuss this in an upcoming new blog I’m creating focused on my teaching and writing career. I’m developing this in anticipation of requiring pre-service teachers to do the same this spring when I teach Teaching Writing, an adventure I’m excited to start. But for this space, I will keep to the adventures within the adventures. There was the trip to the Flying Fish, a wonderful restaurant located in Disney’s Boardwalk area. Six of the team gathered for food, wine, and laughter, and the taking of many pictures of our food.

Presentation is everything!
This was followed by an incident that I cannot do justice to, but I’m hopeful my colleague and fellow blogger Patrick Swope will expand on what it’s like to be rejected by Mickey at the bus stop. Even while clutching one of his $13.99 refillable mugs. I haven’t laughed like that since Mike Nelson’s imitation of Joseph Merrick in high school.

On Friday during our lunch, I teleported to another resort where the NCTE Conference had housed the vendors. Ok, I exaggerate. I rode the bus. But if you’ve never been to a meeting such as NWP or NCTE or AWP or any other combination of letters you can think of, I will try to describe what the vendor hall looks like: heaven. Anyway, to a book lover like me. In the vendor hall one can buy some books very inexpensively (I picked up My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me for FIVE DOLLARS!) and also pick up advance reading copies (ARCs) of other titles for free. There are also book bags, posters, magnets, pens, and other items that are free—until you pack it for the flight home and the airline charges you for the extra weight. But that’s another blog. (Along with my personal observation of a TSA pat-down. I’ll leave it at this—before anyone subjects me to one of those, I expect dinner first. With wine.)

I was meandering down one of the aisles with Sarah when I looked at a woman sitting at a display table. I stopped. I stared. I gave a sound that can only be described by Savannah’s term—SQUEE! There was Erin Gruwell, teacher, author, and inspiration for the film Freedom Writers. I admit it. I started fangirling (another term Savannah assures me is real). I had to meet her! I went to the end of the line, which was remarkably short, but then again, this is Disney World, where magic is suppose to happen. After a very short wait, I met her. I have to say, Erin Gruwell is one of the friendliest people you can hope to meet. She hugged me like we were old friends. She asked about my teaching. She signed my book. And the DVD. She posed for a picture with me. Fan. Freaking. Tastic.

After I left, beaming like a good fangirl, I looked at the pictures. The first was a great shot of Erin’s wonderful smile, and my face covered by a sheet of paper someone was handing over to another person. The second shot showed me, but Erin had her eyes closed and was caught in motion, making her look like she was fighting to get away from me. Now I had a dilemma. Do I just accept my luck and remember my encounter with a personal hero? Do I go back to stand in line? Or do I just walk up to her and ask for a quick picture? In a rare moment of uber-aggression, I decided on door number three. I returned to the table and waited for her to finish talking. She looked up at me and said, “Did the picture not come out?” Then this incredibly warm woman stood up, gave me another big hug and said, “Let’s do it again!” And she remembered my name. Little squee. Someday, when it’s me sitting at a table signing my books, I want to be just like her. Of course, I’m absolutely challenged when it comes to remembering names, but I can always aspire to make people feel the way Erin Gruwell made me feel. And the picture came out great. 


Of course, it isn’t a trip to the Magical Kingdom without a trip to the Magical Kingdom. After facilitating a session on Friday afternoon, (which started with me being turned away by a Mouse Henchman—a six-foot-plus mass of man who looked like he had been recruited from the Mafia and somehow made the mouse ears on his lapel look intimidating) Sarah Pope and I sprinted to the park to enjoy a couple of hours before going to see the Cirque du Soleil show “La Nouba.” We had purchased the tickets before leaving, and in hindsight that wasn’t such a good idea when it came to the park. As the friendly Cast Member gave me the ticket, he asked “Are you planning to use this tonight?” “Yes,” I told him, “I leave in the morning.” He shook his head and sadly informed me the park would close at seven pm, but then smiled and added, “Have a magical evening!”

It was now 6:10.

Sarah and I strategized our attack: “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion.” We raced to both rides and were thrilled to find no waiting. After finishing “The Haunted Mansion,” it was 6:40. I think there may be a Guinness World Record waiting for us.

As we came out of the spook house, feeling quite smug I might add, we noticed how many people were still milling around the park. It didn’t look at all like a fantasy land about to turn off the lights. I went to a Cast Member working the entrance to the mansion, curiously dressed in period prairie style, and asked her to clarify for me when the park closed.

She looked around conspiratorially, making sure no one was listening to our conversation. Leaning towards me, she pointed to the green wrist band on my right arm and whispered, “Midnight. You get to stay for the Christmas party!”

Despite this stroke of luck, we couldn’t stay. We had to catch a bus across the kingdom for the show. As we worked our way through the crowds back towards the entrance, walking through the magical snow falling about us, we discussed the actual price of our magical evening—a magical dollar a minute.

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