Log in

rhcrayon: The Blog!

Nov. 20th, 2012

05:10 pm - This Dec. 1st: Kid Lit Holiday Happy Hour, LIBRARY OF THE EARLY MIND, & Apocalypsies Book Signing!

Hello, Everyone!

Just wanted to let you all know about three (3) exciting children's book events coming up on Saturday, Dec. 1st, open to all.

1) Kid Lit Holiday Happy Hour--and Book Drive!--2012
is taking place at Wokcano in Santa Monica on Dec. 1st, from 4 to 7:30 pm. An informal mixer with holiday cheer. Come socialize with fellow creators and lovers of children's books! And bring your unwrapped, new and gently used children's books (board books through YA novels)!

Visit the "Kid Lit Holiday Happy Hour--and Book Drive!--2012 Facebook page for more details on this year's event.

Click images above to view pictures from last year's Kid Lit Holiday Party and Book Drive. It was super fun--and produced a lot of holiday cheer for children in need!

2) This year's party immediately follows the nearby, FREE screening of Library of the Early Mind, a documentary interviewing nearly 40 celebrity children's book creators, at the Santa Monica Public Library Main Branch from 2 to 3:45 pm.

Library of the Early Mind interviews nearly 40 celebrity children's book creators, exploring the impact of children's literature on our kids, our culture, and ourselves.

The screening is co-sponsored by SCBWI-LA. For details including parking info, visit the "LIBRARY OF THE EARLY MIND - Free Screening!" Facebook page--and feel free to RSVP/"Join." I have been excited about this movie for a long time. By all accounts, it is wonderful.

3) The Kid Lit Happy Hour also follows the Apocalypsies Book Signing Party at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach from 2:30 to 3:30 pm, where nine (9) of our celebrated local authors will be signing books. Check out the superstar lineup through the link! People attending the book signing party will still have time to come to our Happy Hour, after . . .

So come one, come all! These events are open to all who love children's books, so please help spread the word!

Many MANY thanks to the organizers--especially Karol Ruth Silverstein this time around, who played an instrumental role both in bringing the screening to our area and getting this year's Kid Lit Holiday Happy Hour and Book Drive underway.

Cheers, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I hope to see many of you on Dec. 1st!

P.S. Feel free to "Join"/RSVP at the above linked Facebook event pages. RSVPs are purely optional, but always appreciated.

Sep. 10th, 2012

12:35 pm - (TED talk:) Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

We interrupt our regularly promised post to say, Listen to this TED talk:

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

Amazing. Freakin' amazing. We know these things to be true, but when you hear it, you can use it in a new way. Especially if it ties into your book. But your book comes from your life, too. So we really have to know what we're doing. embrace not knowing what we're doing?

Something like that.
In order to do it.


Kind of like what M.T. Anderson once said at a past SCBWI Summer Conference: "The experiment is the piece of literature, not the preparation for the piece of literature."

So with life!

P.P.S. With thanks to Irvin Lin at Eat the Love for leading me to this talk, after an amazing weekend of Irvin and AJ hosting me in SF. Love you guys so much.

Dec. 6th, 2011

06:46 am - Photos: Kid Lit Holiday Party! 2011

Hey, Everyone! Here are a few photos from the Kid Lit(erati) Holiday Party this past Saturday.

Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-1 Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-3 Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-5 Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-6 Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-9 Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-21

To see the full set (I wish I'd taken more of everyone!!),
click here for Facebook, where you can tag or untag yourselves,
click here for Flickr, where you can download the images in sizes of your choosing, and/or
click here for Zenfolio, where you can download the whole batch and order prints, if that's your thing.

Thanks, everyone, for the drinks, delicious treats, and fun conversation--and THANKS for bringing all those gorgeous children's books to donate! The schools they're going to are really going to appreciate them!

Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-22 Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-24 Kid_Lit_Holiday_Party-20111203-25
Lee Wind and Sara Wilson Etienne pose with all the beautiful, gleaming children's books to be donated. I seriously wanted to borrow half of them to take home and read first, but that wouldn't have been in the spirit.

As mentioned in my previous post, the YA titles--in the two stacks on the left--are going to Central High School/Tri-C, a continuation school serving at-risk youth throughout the LA school district. Picture Books through Middle Grade novels (the right two stacks, plus spillover onto the game table) will go to the Knox Elementary School in South Central LA. Both schools were arranged by Lee Wind, who also brought lovely, decorated boxes to sort the donations into as they arrived.

With double thanks to all of the organizers who made this event happen and got the word out--Lee Wind, Jenn Bosworth, Sara Wilson Etienne, Greg Pincus, Jill Corcoran, and me, I guess :) --and triple, quadruple thanks to all the people who helped sort and carry books at the end of the night (in addition to having helped lug them in!).

And always, I cannot thank enough the people who bring the delicious snacks . . . and the hilarity and good times!

Happy Holidays, Kid Lit Community!


Me with Elle Jauffret, who drives up specially from San Diego because LA Kid Lit events are so fun. (She makes the most amazing cookies, by the way. Good to know.)

Speaking of delicious baked goods, who brought those amazing dark chocolate espresso brownies in the pie tin? I would like to shake your hand . . .

:) :)

Nov. 30th, 2011

11:32 pm - This Saturday: The LA Kid Lit Holiday Party!!

Yo yo, what's up y'all . . .

Just wanted to remind everyone that the LA Kid Lit Holiday Party is this Saturday, Dec. 3rd, from 5 to 9 PM (and after!) at the Wellesbourne. Our last Kid Lit event was Halloween-themed. This one is all about the holidays!

179-SCBWI-Nationals 2009 SCBWI Summer Conference 2011-238 SCBWI Summer Conference 2011-239  20111022-Kid-Lit-Halloween-23 
Photos from LA Kid Lit parties past. Don't miss the upcoming LA Kid Lit Holiday Party, this Saturday, Dec. 3rd at The Wellesbourne!

In the spirit of holiday giving--and celebrating--we're suggesting everyone bring new or gently used, unwrapped books to donate. Lee Wind has found some fantastic schools to donate them to, who will appreciate the books greatly.

* * *
Saturday, Dec. 3rd, from 5 to 9 PM

Join other writers, illustrators, agents, editors, bloggers, librarians, educators, and people who just love children's and teen literature at a Kid Lit Community Holiday Party!

Cash Bar, pay as you order.

Cookies, bring and share.

Books for needy kids, donate unwrapped books, picture-books through YA, and feel all holiday-festive!

Your Picture Books through Middle Grade Novels will be donated to Knox Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles. They're a new school, and even though they don't have a librarian, their Principal, Ms. Ward, is a huge advocate of reading and has teachers take their students to the library to check out the books. They're incredible excited at the prospect of more and new books for their kids! New and gently used books are fine, ARCs are fine, and donating more than one book is better than fine!

@ The Wellesbourne
10929 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
(Across the street from the Landmark Theater and the Westside Pavilion Mall)

This is not an official SCBWI-L.A. event, but it's open to all our members as well and everyone in the kid lit community!
* * *

For the YA books that people bring, Lee has also made arrangements at Central High School/Tri-C. Says Lee:
I got confirmation from Janet Seary, the principal of Central High School/Tri-C, that they would love to accept our YA book donations. They are a continuation school serving at risk youth, and they have 29 classrooms all across the LA school district. There is no main library for these 600-800 students, but each classroom tries to have some books for their teens. The teachers will choose which ones they want for their classrooms from the donations brought.

I'm very excited that we now have two very worthy schools to accept all the books that get donated during our holiday party!

So come one, come all, and let's have a joyous time singing,* dancing,* snogging,** and eggnogging*** this Saturday, Dec. 3rd, at 5 PM at the Wellesbourne!

* suggested activities are purely optional
** for snogging you will need an accomplice
*** eggnog not guaranteed; you might have to bring your own.

I'll be there with bells on . . .


P.S. For more info, visit

The Kid Lit Holiday Party Facebook event page
Lee Wind's blog post

And you will probably hear about this event from its many organizers (which include Lee Wind, Jenn Bosworth, Sara Wilson Etienne, Gregory K. Pincus, Jill Corcoran, and me) as well as excited attendees.

* * * BONUS!! * * *
On the same day, you can also attend Carol M. Tanzman's book launch party for Dancergirl,  a young adult thriller published by Harlequin Teen. Carol's book launch is happening from 4 to 6 PM this Saturday at the Curve Line Space Gallery/Frame Store at 1577 Colorado Blvd. in Eagle Rock. Lots of people are planning to attend both. We actually extended the time of the Holiday Party so everyone could!

This event will feature live performances, Brooklyn Treats by Eagle Rock Bakery, book sales by Skylight Books, and, of course, Carol and her new book, Dancergirl!

Spread the word, everybody! Hope to see you Saturday!
* * * * *

Oct. 14th, 2010

02:55 am - The latest Westside Schmooze--on "Voice: The End-All Definition"

Agnes Parker Girl In Progress.GoodReads.1556085 Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg.GoodReads.4414890 I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil.GoodReads.6192443 Hold Still.GoodReads.6373717 Gorgeous.GoodReads.5973767 Monstrumologist.GoodReads.6457229

Some of my favorite reads (and examples of Voice!) this year: Agnes Parker . . . Girl In Progress, by Kathleen O'Dell; The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, by Rodman Philbrick; I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb; Hold Still, by Nina LaCour; Gorgeous, by Rachel Vail; The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey. (All images from GoodReads.)

All right. So here's the promise Lee and I made to the world in our latest e-blast about the SCBWI Westside Schmooze.

Subject: The SCBWI Westside Schmooze -- Wednesday, October 13th at 7 PM

Does October mean thrills, chills, and suspense to you? Well, it should if you attend the next meeting of the SCBWI Westside Schmooze! Because on October 13th, at 7 PM, we will meet to unmask . . .

VOICE: The End-All Definition

That's right. Editors and Agents often say that while they can fix everything else in a manuscript, Voice is that one special quality a manuscript must have from the start, for them to fall in love. Yet when it comes to defining what Voice IS, even the greats flounder, with many falling back on the axiom "You know it when you see it."

What is THAT about? Are we in the business of describing things or aren't we?? At the next Westside Schmooze we aim to settle this mystery once and for all--AND come up with an End-All Definition--by showing great examples of Voice, analyzing WHAT IT IS, and sharing exercises that will help each of us find and perfect our own. For Picture Book through Young Adult, fiction and non-fiction. Let's do this. It's time.

Now, I'll admit I've been frustrated in my outside life lately, and I wrote this email with a mad gleam in my eye when the weather had taken a turn for the worse.


I think it's hilarious to set out to do "impossible" things--especially because (in my experience) 60-65% of the time, it totally works. Most of the time, the only reason anything is perceived as "impossible" is because it's unlikely you'll get enough people to back your vision. Once you have that, the thing itself is easy.

We had 41 people attend this Schmooze, and I really thought we were going to do it. Not come up with an "End-All" Definition like I'd advertised (that would be impossible!) but come up with a definition that we 40+ children's book writers could live with, which we would then throw down in cyberspace like a gauntlet to the world. I wanted to stir things up.

We had . . . an excellent discussion, full of impassioned, articulate insights--which I will blog properly with Lee at the official Schmooze blog. It's not true that no one knows what Voice is, or can define it in a few pithy words. Plenty of people can--and did tonight. It's just that every time someone put theirs out there, we all agreed with and then rebutted it. The spirit was willing, but the time ran out.

(Also, I think a lot of people like that Voice is an ineffable mystery and subconsciously sabotaged our efforts.)

I've been fed up lately with how no one can agree on what Voice "is," in a few blunt words, even though we do all recognize it when we hear it. Lee and I and Karol read examples from books tonight that gave everyone thrills and chills. Few people had the view of the room we did. 41 grownups turned into rapt little children, falling under a spell, every. Single. Time. Grr!


I had a vision of us gathering like tribal leaders that would go down in history.

Nathan Bransford, for your excellent post on Voice written May 10th of this year, I bow at your feet.


Dec. 23rd, 2008

06:11 pm - Rita and Damon's Holiday Bright Idea

Seasons Greetings, Everyone! Our paperless, "animated" Holiday Greeting Card is up!

Click on the image above to view Rita and Damon's Holiday Bright Idea

There's music on the page. Give it a few seconds to start.


Wishing you all a wonderful 2009,


Nov. 7th, 2008

01:27 am - Wicked

Just saw the musical Wicked tonight. After the emotional highs and lows of this week, the release of immersing myself in 3+ hours of feel-great fantasy (both the show and its afterglow) seemed immeasurable. My dear friend Irvin knows how I can get at musicals, with all those people singing their hearts out—their hopes and dreams—onstage. (The last one I saw was Sweeney Todd with him in 2001! And it made me spontaneously ask him to be in my wedding! During intermission!) It really clears out the soul's pores. It's like detoxing for the heart.

Back to reality tonight. But Wicked is fantastic.

And they know how to use it, too. At the end, while we were still applauding, they announced their twice-annual, Broadway charity-donation drive, for children with AIDS and women with cancer. We just opened our wallets and gave.

May. 1st, 2008

12:49 am - For the Love of Books: LAPL and the LA Times Festival of Books


I"m holding the Darkangel Trilogy. Damon"s holding The Phantom Tollbooth.
Rita and Damon support the Los Angeles Public Library!
(This photo was taken on our first wedding anniversary
in 2003because I wanted to make our own Celebrity READ poster. We can't live without this place. We almost got married here.)
(Camera on auto timer on a tripod. I'm holding Meredith Ann Pierce's
The Darkangel Trilogy. Damon is holding The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.)
LAPL and the LA Times Festival of Books

First of all, Save LAPL.

The Los Angeles Public Library is in peril!

The good news is that the recently proposed $1 fee for every book obtained through interlibrary loan has already been defeated. (Ayy me! That would have ended my ability to use the library completely.) But they still need our help, right now! Go, go, go! Read all about it! Write your letters! Hurry!! Please!

Second, I went to the LA Times Festival of Books this past weekend.

The LA Times Festival of Books is truly incredible. Every year, hundreds of thousands of authors and fans converge on the UCLA campus for one weekend, and the Festival get all these stages and panels going simultaneously, all for the love of books. Normally I pay lots of money to hear these same people speak, but at the LA Times Festival of Books, you can hear everyone speak for free!

Of course, the major difference between going to the LA Times Festival of Books and going to a writers' conference is that the audience members sitting around you aren't your fellow writers; they're fans. This changes the dynamic of what's being said—and heard. At least, that's especially true if your chief interest is middle grade and tween fantasy series, and the audience members around you are kids.

"Oh! There she is! It's Erin Hunter!" a little ten-year-old Asian girl said behind me, as she whipped out a camera just like mine. (I loved this kid!!!) "She does Warriors—the Warrior Cats series," she informed her hapless chaperone.

I only attended two sessions this year (and they overlapped in time, wouldn't you know it, so I couldn't even go to all of the second one). The two panels I saw were:

Tween Fantasy Series at the LA Festival of Books 2008

 "Tween Series Writing: Other Worlds," with Rick Riordan, Erin Hunter (Victoria Holmes), Cornelia Funke, and moderator Sonja Bolle;

"Young Adult: Fantastic Fiction," with Francesca Lia Block, Geraldine McCaughrean, Neal Shusterman, and moderator Jonathan Hunt.

(I took pictures at the second panel, too—right before I was told it wasn't allowed. D'oh. At the Tween panel, they only said No Flash. Maybe it would've broken the kids' hearts too much to tell them No Pictures outright.)

I originally hoped to stay at the Book Fest all Saturday and Sunday. For one thing, I knew Jay Asher was speaking with Cecil Castellucci on Sunday, and Robin and Eve were coming, and, in addition to wanting to say Hi, I really wanted to see them interacting with fans. I thought that'd be so cool!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
I also wanted to hear Sherman Alexie speak Saturday afternoon. (How much do I love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian! That book is crazy good, yo. Crazy good.) And, basically, there were tons of speakers I was excited about. Thank You Bear, by Greg Foley(I'm currently obsessed with the picture book Thank You Bear! Ohhh, that book kills me!!)

Math Doesn"t Suck, by Danica McKellarAlso—just as an aside to Irvin and others—Danica McKellar was going to do math on stage—or at least read from her new book, Math Doesn't Suck—and Damon was going to that. (Back when Irvin passed us her Web site years ago, we were most interested in her "Mathematics" section, in which readers of all ages could write in math questions—of any level—and she would explain how to solve them. The first question wasn't even hard—it was basic fractions—but after reading her first reply, Damon was all, "She's awesome . . .")

But, after about five minutes of agonizing indecision, I ended up going home after the first two panels because of something Cornelia Funke said.

On the age-old topic of Writing For Children (or, in this case, "Tweens")—and right after Erin Hunter (as voiced by Victoria Holmes, the lead writer of the trio behind the Warriors series) had given this fascinating, insightful reply that, in fact, she doesn't write "for children" and gave incredible examples of the intense issues you can tackle when you use cats instead of humans as characters, and also what you can do with a concentrated life span (which was amazing), Cornelia Funke said,

"I do write for children." And she went on to explain that the absolute best part of her job was the way, in a room full of a thousand children exactly this age, you could drop a line—drop a word, even—and watch it "implode into a world" in all their heads. She said you could see this happen, and that we lose this ability as we age.

Sitting there amongst the kids, feeling their energy, feeling them hearing the words, made me remember what it was like to hear this as a kid. Every day of your life, during that time, you're told how much potential you have; how truly powerful and special is your imagination. How great you are during this exact window of your life in a way you'll never be again. (I think this has something to do with why I "arrested" at this age.) I always bought into it completely.

Sitting there amongst the kids, I could hear and feel them buying into it, too. (Because it's true!!!) It made me remember, far beyond my love of writing and my need to do it, a certain belief and faith in myself, and how much I had loved reading as a kid.

You'd have thought I'd never forgotten this—especially as my reading patterns today are exactly the same as when I was ten—but it made me remember it in a new way. There's an extrasensory love that surrounds you as you read. That lifts you and intensifies every feeling. That makes anything possible—especially magic.

It was liberating and freeing (both!). It woke up a feeling that was both inside and outside me. I wanted to drop one of my lines into this room and watch it "implode into a world."

I had to go home and write.

And so,

P.S. Cornelia Funke has the most charming accent. Hearing her say the words "implode into a world" really does make it happen. In your mind. Like that.

And so, after last week's post, I go back from being a Fan (among writers) to being a Writer (among fans). But charged with something different.

Talk to me like I'm a kid!

Dec. 4th, 2007

02:57 pm - Robert's Snow: The Last Round!!! (Auction 3 Ends This Friday, Dec. 7, 5 PM E.S.T.)

If you roll over these images, you should see the snowflakes' titles and artists' names pop up (though I've noticed this feature doesn't work in Firefox).

Once again, just "a few" of my favorites:

Loch Kindness, by Scott MagoonSupportiveness, by Randy CecilSkippyjon "Snow Flake" Jones, by Judy SchachnerThree French Hens, by Laura Huliska-BeithGilbert says "Hi," by Diane deGroatPaddington at Paddington Station, by R.W. AlleyFlower, by Grace LinChillax! by Dan SantatJingle Pig Rock, By Jarrett J. Krosoczka     A Cozy Night for Cuddling Up, by Juli KangasThe Great Crab Hunters by Kelly MurphyWithin Reach, by Joy AllenChowder"s Snowy Bounce, by Peter BrownWishing, by Jui IshidaHopper Holiday, by James T. WilliamsonBird and Flowers, by Kristina SwarnerGrace, by Linda S. WingerterBe Strong, by Meghan McCarthySnow Taxi, by Selina AlkoYikes! by Mo Willems

Bid bid bid bid bid bid bid.

I lifted these images (fronts and backs) off the Auction 3 page of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Robert's Snow Web site. Too many wonderful snowflakes to post here! Go to Auction 3 and get tempted by them all!


Dec. 2nd, 2007

01:38 am - Everybody's A Cynic (Lift Up America!! September 25th, 2007)

Note: I wrote the following post two months ago. Post was seriously delayed because 1) I took film pictures, and 2) life keeps happening. :)

Ty Beanie Babies from Lift Up America's awesome Hollywood Movie Premiere event

Lift Up America
September 25, 2007

HOLLYWOOD, CA— So I did this volunteer activity with Tony W recently, wherein the full-on celebrity treatment was given to a gajillion less fortunate children who got to walk the red carpet on the Hollywood Walk of Fame like the superstars they are (inside) and have their pictures and autographs taken, before attending a real Hollywood premiere. Our role—that of Tony and me and an extraordinary number of other volunteers in yellow t-shirts—was to offer support to the glamorously dressed, actual celebrities who played the front line of paparazzi and fans, by way of handing them Ty Beanie Babies and designer bracelets to heap upon the kids. We also got to play the madding crowd ourselves, clamoring for autographs and taking photos, too. (That's what Tony and I really did: played paparazzi.)

This is the kind of thing that sounds awesome at first blush, but that immediately gave me pause. I was like, Wait a sec. I don't have dreams of walking the red carpet and doing this whole thing. Why is this the experience we're giving these kids? How "less fortunate" are they? Less fortunate enough that they might appreciate the resources being used toward something a little more . . . practical??

I know, I know; I could not believe I was thinking this, either. That's so not the way I think, normally. But for some reason, before this event started, I even went so far in my cynicism as to say, out loud, "Doesn’t this sound like such the Hollywood idea of a charity event? You know: 'Let them walk the red carpet!'"

I normally disapprove of cynics and haters, especially when it comes to other people’s good deeds. I think . . . I've just lived too close to "the Industry" these past few years, plus haven't watched TV in forever, so my associations with Hollywood have gotten especially specific and disconnected. It’s also been a while since I've given real time to a volunteer activity (as opposed to money), so part of me was surprised and questioning all around.

But, so. This event was the real deal: Full-on red carpet; all the big lights and huge-screen TVs; traffic blocked-off all around Hollywood & Highland. There were velvet ropes and security guards everywhere. Spots were labeled where photographers from major journals and newspapers would stand. Pedestrians craned their necks in huge crowds across the street, trying to figure out what was going on.

It was like we were at the Oscars.

“Can I get your autograph, please??”

The second I said anything to Tony about my doubts, he busted up. It hadn't occurred to him to ask what, exactly, we were "teaching" these kids—like if we were sending a message of materialism (his words)—or feeding them the US Weekly dream (mine). He did inform me, however, that he had looked into the organization a little more after he'd first emailed me. He'd first heard about this event through an entertainment listserv, which hadn't provided many details, but he had since found out, for example, that all the children who needed hearing aids or glasses had been given those things. So when those children went into Mann’s Chinese to watch the movie, they would be able to enjoy the experience fully—in addition to getting free drinks and popcorn.

So, that was cool.

Others were indeed being given food, and, as the night went on, we could see for ourselves that all kinds of other cool organizations had also come together under the aegis of this larger, umbrella event to let disadvantaged people of all types join in the fun.

[EDIT from 12/4/07—
I have since learned that a potential value of six million dollars of scholarship money was also distributed—in $5,000 coupons to every child at the event—by a participating college.]

I was looking forward to the red-carpet aspect of this night from the beginning, just from a photography standpoint. I’d never been to a red-carpet anything before, and this seemed like an cool way to see what that was like. I also realized, during the final seconds of that countdown, that I was made for this role. To act like paparazzi and get all enthusiastic, treating every next kid like a star?? That's what I live for!

Look! On-the-spot interviews conducted from the red carpet, rolling real tape!
"So how would you describe how you're feeling right now? Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans?"

Of course, the whole evening was awesome. The kids loved it, the celebs loved it; everyone had an amazing time. We got more inventive in our role as fans as the night went on. In the beginning, we shouted all the obvious stuff: "Can I get your autograph?" —"Me, too! Me, too!!" –“Wait!! One more, PLEASE??!” One of the guys walking along as a chaperone started joking around, acting like a manager for one of the kids, saying, “No more autographs, please! What? One more? All right, one more, but then we have to get going. What? One more?? Alll right, but that's it!” until the girl (who had Down Syndrome) had to shout quite forcefully, without looking over her shoulder, “I! Don’t mind!!” That made us all laugh.

But there was one guy—
  actually, a couple guys—
    actually, several guys—
who really took it to the next level and inspired all the rest of us. One of them drank a Red Bull right before the start, and he never stopped yelling, "There she is!! It’s her! Get ready!!" and "Here he comes!! That's him! I can't believe it!" at every next kid that came down the line. That, for me, was the heart of the matter, and that guy nailed it. I started copying him, and everyone started shouting each other's best lines over and over—each time with gusto, like it was for the first time—cracking each other up. An event is what you make it, and these people made it awesome.

We also got better at the whole art of straining over and under and through each other (as shown to us by another of the actors) to create a tangle of arms and notepads in the kids' faces. With the bright lights and popping flashes, we made a good scene.

This guy on the right was not the Red Bull guy, but he was also super awesome, really leaning in and acting super excited to meet every kid—asking questions and soaking in and appreciating every moment of attention they gave him. I was moved.

All the celebs were awesome. They gave this night flair.

Afterward, as each kid walked away, my Red Bull friend would still be all, "YEAHHH!! She hooked us up with that autograph!! I got her autograph!! YEAH!!"

My autograph card (actually the front and back of my volunteer namecard, since I didn't get one of the little autograph notepads they handed out) got filled up pretty quickly. It wasn’t until that happened that I realized I had something even better to contribute than getting autographs. I was carrying a huge camera, hello! What was I thinking?

I had actually been shooting film (for my black and white darkroom class) and my one roll had gotten used up in the first five minutes. But that meant I could pop the flash everywhere now, without consequences.

I was shooting blanks.

I wished I was shooting real images. Tony was getting awesome shots the whole night on his digital. Eventually I broke down and bought another roll of film (color) from a tourist shop—which lasted another five minutes.

"Smile for the camera, please! This way, this way!"

"Over here! Quick photo! Smile!"

Other people chimed in around me, directing the kids' attention my way (even though there were plenty of cameras going off). People paused mid-autograph to look up and pose. This thing we already knew, was more evident than ever: if you treat people like stars, they shine.

How can you argue with that? He's in a wheelchair! And he's radiant!

The most affecting thing was the parents and chaperones that walked alongside their kids. Some laughed and were taken aback by our crazed behavior, but a few of them cried and touched their hearts and mouthed Thank you at us from behind their kids, as the kids signed and shook hands and worked their way down the line. That got me. I wasn't prepared.

My hard, hard heart was melting.

It was obvious that the celebrity contingent, at least, had no doubts whatsoever that this was the most amazing night ever. They kept saying, "This is a great event for the kids. This is incredible. This is awesome." (And that same little voice inside me kept replying, Well of course you think that!) There were also a few schmoopy people affiliated with the organization who had clearly put a lot of hard work into this night, who were shedding tears left and right.

I did recognize one of the celebs: the guy who played the deaf football player in The Replacements. (Woo hoo for The Replacements!) Before I saw him, Tony and I had speculated whether any of the actors would be recognizable, whether their agents had told them to come, whether they were being paid, etc. (Not that any of that would be bad, and not that I believed for one second they weren’t genuinely into it.) I Googled this event just now, and apparently some of the actors were from The Office and Heroes. The Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) was there, too.

There was one moment when a celeb answered his cell phone and I totally heard him reply, "I'm at Mann's Chinese right now, signing autographs." He was all, "Yeah, I'm signing! You hear that? You hear that??" And he held up his phone to the whole whooping, cheering crowd and was all, "That's all for me!"

I hope that was his friend on the line whose leg he was pulling, whom he planned to tell the truth later. 'Cause that'd be hilarious, but otherwise, yikes.

About an hour into this thing, I began to understand what about this gig qualified as volunteer work. The kids were getting dropped off at the start of the red carpet via an endless parade of limousines, and there was no sign we were even halfway through.

"This celebrity-stalking thing is exhausting!" someone joked, just as I was feeling it. "I have a whole new respect for these people!"

But all the fans around me were brilliant, and we kept getting more inventive, and every next kid hadn't heard our bits yet. By the end, I wished we could go back and do it all over again for the kids who had walked in the beginning.

As a kid, I totally pretended to be in this situation now and then. Of course I did. ("Thank you, thank you! No more autographs, please! I'd like to thank all the little people—") And if you think about it in a metaphorical way, then I'm still pursuing this dream now. It was just the literal realization, the physical signs and signifiers of opulence, that took me aback in the beginning. But, as my good friend Sara says, “Anything that makes people feel special is good.”

True that, my friend.




Read more about this event and other Lift Up America events coming to cities near you! (The second link has photos of the actors.)

There's a more complete list of links here:

And don't forget Tony W's Web site, with all the great photos he took!!

I even spotted a couple pictures of Tony and me on the other sites—just from knowing where in the crowd to look. :)

It's funny, because when we were first told to hand Beanie Babies to the "celebrities," Tony and I couldn't tell if they meant actual actors were coming, or if they were referring directly to the kids. I didn't think they meant the latter, but the idea grew on me and was very pleasing. (Just the idea this organization had decreed the kids would always be called "celebrities.") I was a little disappointed when a train of glamorously dressed grownups showed up at the last moment. But only for that reason. The presence of the celebs definitely amped up the production value of the night and made it awesome. :)

I mentioned this post was initially delayed because I took pictures with film. Actually, only the color roll caused delay. The black and white roll I took to my class and within hours held 8x10 glossy enlargements in my hands—that I had processed and printed myself! That was incredibly gratifying.

Here, however, was a photo I was unhappy with:
Somehow I managed to take a picture that conveyed the exact opposite of the spirit of this event! This was while we were waiting for everything to start. In fact, this is the moment the kids first realized they could see themselves on the huge-screen TV. They got all excited and started goofing off—and we cracked up and took pictures. But I could feel mine was wrong the moment I took it.

It looks like the ribbon-cutting-ceremony tape is keeping them out!

This is my fault as a photographer, and it gives me lots to think about. We are all storytellers, always . . . (Well, I think of it as storytelling. If you were in sales, for example, then you would say, Everyone is selling something.) The point is, we need to stay in control of the messages we're sending out.

:) :)


Navigate: (Previous 10 Entries)