I've actually never aspired to be famous, at least not on a Kate Middleton or Oprah level. Okay, it would be pretty awesome to hobnob with the other rich and famous folks, some of whom are just dreamy. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to be invited to a party with the likes of James McAvoy (I heart you, James!), Jesse Williams (I heart you sooo much), or the cast of Glee (yes, I'm a die-hard Gleek)... And I'd gladly take a celebrity's bank account balance, and their ability to raise awareness and obscene amounts of money for charities. But the rest they can have. The rest seems like kind of a nightmare. I mean, who can take that kind of scrutiny? That total lack of privacy and pressure to be perfect all the time? Not me.
I still find it a little strange when someone I've never even met before invites me to come speak to a group of kids, some of whom have actually read my books. Even though I've now done seven book signings (including the two that were attended only by my friends and family), I'm pretty shocked when people who aren't blood relatives actually show up to see me. The most recent occurrence was on May 14th at the Montclair Public Library. Thanks to a recommendation from Tonya Johnson, the same woman who invited me to participate in the Watchung Booksellers panel last year, the head librarian, Matilda, asked me come visit as part of their mother/daughter book club. Of course I said yes. But the closer the day came, the more nervous I got. Was I supposed to be entertaining somehow? Should I have prepared a speech, peppered with just the right amount of jokes? Would I be expected to be wise and witty, saying things these girls could take with them for the rest of their lives? More important, what should I wear??? I swear, I don't know how actual celebrities do it. If I have this much angst over a friendly visit to the library, I'd surely have a full-blown panic attack on a red carpet.
But once I got there, I felt kind of silly for being worried about it at all. Matilda welcomed me with the warmest smile, even though I got lost on the way there and ended up arriving right when the event was scheduled to begin. She told me to relax and breathe. She showed my mom and me to the third-floor room where about fifteen people were waiting patiently for my arrival--a bunch of young girls and their mothers, and some teachers and librarians. Tonya was there with her daughter, Bria, and Bria had brought her friend Gina, who I'd met at her birthday party. And my friend Maria was there with her baby. Smiling faces everywhere! I immediately apologized for keeping them waiting and told them about the evil GPS that had nearly sent me to Newark. They all laughed, and almost instantly I felt like I was among friends.
I started by telling them a little bit about myself. (Right away I got a "Me too!" from one of the girls, Jayla, when I said that I was born in the Bronx.) Then I did a short reading and chose Jayla to take the first quiz in the book. In case you haven't read Your Life, but Better yet, the book begins with a girl who is at the mall with her friends being approached by a model scout who offers her the chance to be in a photo shoot. The first quiz is meant to determine if you will go for it or not. When I asked another girl in the audience if she would try to be a model if given the chance, she totally surprised me by saying, "No." When I asked why, she said, "Because fame is fleeting, ya know?"
Wow! Not the answer I'd expect from anyone, let alone a nine- or ten-year-old girl. Everyone laughed, but I think we were all impressed. How refreshing to find a young girl who recognized that fame was not the be all, end all of existence. I have nothing against models, and I can't say that if I were a foot taller and few dress sizes smaller that I wouldn't be one of those America's Next Top Model hopefuls, begging Tyra for a chance at the big time. But I don't think the message of some of these shows is getting through in quite the way they intended. I heard once that there was a teenage girl who got pregnant on purpose in hopes of being cast on an MTV show about teen moms. How unbelievably sad! I thought. Did this teenager really think that fifteen minutes of fame was worth a lifetime responsibility that she most likely wasn't ready for? Or had she simply not thought beyond the thrill of seeing her face on TV? In an age when the more outrageous your behavior, the more likely you are to score a reality show, I can understand why kids might be confused. The message seems to be that fame is the most important thing in life and you should try to achieve it by any means necessary. So it was nice to hear a kid acknowledge that while fame might be nice, it can also be brief and there are more lasting goals to shoot for.
For the next half hour or so, I signed books for the kids and talked to the adults about possible future events. One girl hugged me and thanked me for coming. And we all took pictures together. If this is what being on the V or W list is like, it suits me just fine.
|I don't remember why I had that look on my face.|
|Matilda, Bria, and Gina getting their snack on|
|Me signing a book for Maura|
|Most of the people who attended. The one who told me that fame is fleeting|
is on the left in the green striped shirt.
|Baby Aida. Isn't she a cutie? Look out, Angelina Jolie!|
|Matilda, one of the nicest librarians I've ever met.|
|Matilda and me. I'm holding the flyer she had made for the event.|
|My mom, me, my friend Maria, and the adorable Aida|