Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tiger Hunting in Topeka, Kansas

Today I drove to Topeka to talk at the District 1 meeting of the Kansas Authors Club. I spent a couple of years attending monthly KAC meetings in Topeka, so it was a little like going home again. I knew most, not all, of those in attendance. I missed several who are no longer with us; Elizabeth Nichols and Trudy McFarland especially, and a few others who have moved away or just weren't able to attend today. It's funny how you can leave a place, return several years later, and find yourself feeling surprised that it has changed. I've certainly changed in the seven-plus years since I left.

When I got there, I realized that I didn't have my notes. I don't really have a speach--I usually take more of a just-let-my-words-flow approach--but I have constructed a couple of sets of bullet points that have been useful for keeping me from straying too far from the topic at hand. I think of them as tools to prod myself along so that I don't end up staring dumbly at the crowd, but more accurately, I use them to keep myself from getting lost to the detours my mind has a tendency to take. I am terrible about being reminded of something mid-sentence and allowing myself to wander off elsewhere without ever fully finishing a thought.

Writing works like that, as well, but at least when the words are captured on paper I can go back and see where I veered away from topic. I can physically examine the words that belong together and the words that don't. I can regroup and rearrange, all luxuries that don't exist when speaking.

Several times I've drafted entire talks, thinking that if I could memorize exactly what I wanted to say, I wouldn't forget any of the important parts. But I don't like the way it sounds when I read it back to myself and besides, memorization is not one of my strengths. I don't like standing in front of a group and reading, even my own words. It feels unnatural. I prefer my talks to be more like conversations. I like to be open to whatever questions people have rather than being stuck in my own agenda.

Still, my bullet points would have been nice.

Overall it was a good experience. I had a good friend in the audience who helped tremendously. She's heard me talk about Tiger Hunting a couple of times already, and she was great at asking questions that helped me fill in some of the blanks I would have covered if I'd had my notes. (Thank you, Carol Yoho!)

The best part was after my presentation. Several members stayed and chatted and I'm only sorry we didn't have a chance to talk longer. I sold a few books. I got some good feedback on my talk.

One couple in particular was very interesting. He was a pscyhologist who has been writing since retirement. He has a manuscript complete and it sounds like a book to be published very soon. Our conversation led us out of the restaurant and into the parking lot where his wife, who had been holding a copy of my book in her hands, started looking seriously at the cover.

"So your name was Tracy Million," she said. "And you're from Dodge City?"

In the ten or so minutes prior to this I had learned only that her name was Carolyn and that she was a fan of her husband's work. Perhaps I was looking at her now for the first time, but the way she said my name made me pause.

"You went to school there? When did you graduate?" she asked.

I answered, but at the same time my mind was busy accessing archives I probably wasn't aware still existed.

"You are Carolyn Clement!" I said, the name coming to me almost more quickly than the facts of who she was, or had been in my life once-upon-a-time.

She was the Vice Principal at Dodge City Junior High School which I attended from 1982-85. I don't suppose we ever had a reason to speakto each other all those years ago, but once we made filled in the blanks, we hugged like long lost friends.

It's funny how you can leave a place, end up entirely someplace else, and find yourself feeling surprised that another person's history with that same place is enough to connect you.

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