Jone MacCulloch, the fabulous youth librarian who is organizing the auctions for Bridget Zinn, interviewed me for her blog. Thanks, Jone!
Also, to all ye merry Portlanders: the live auction is tomorrow, Friday May 29th, 6:30-9 PM at the Lucky Lab Brewpub at 915 SE Hawthorne. More information here. (If you missed my first post about Bridget and why an auction is being held for her, check out my previous post.)
And for all ye merry non-Portlanders, the online auction runs until Saturday, May 30th, 11 PM PST. Check it out, great stuff is up for grabs!
I wish I could be at the Lucky Lab tomorrow night, but due to my work schedule I'll have to miss it. (The upside of working every Fri/Sat: I get to write Sun-Thurs. The downside: I have no social life. Wah).
And now, for no reason whatsoever except it's my blog and this video made me almost fall off my chair laughing, I present to you: Le Wrath di Khan. A Star Trek opera. In Italian, with subtitles. And stop-action action figures. And if that last seems like a paradox, then let your mind be free, my friend, and struggle not to comprehend, but instead admit that yes, you wish you'd thought of it first.
This was me a couple of weeks ago. You can’t tell from the photo, but I’m thirty feet up in the air, and I’m about to walk across this log to another tree.
Bear in mind that my natural habitat involves couches, novels, and central heating. At any given time, I have at least one knee or shoulder bruised from slamming into doorjambs and/or table legs. In my entire life, I’ve never been able to cross a log without falling off, and yes, this includes logs lying flat on the ground. Crossing one thirty feet up in the air on a cold Sunday afternoon is an act completely foreign to my inclinations, my sensibilities, and my talents (ie, anything requiring physical prowness and a sense of balance.) The number of people in this world who can induce me to do such a thing are few indeed.
Among those few, however, are my fabulous co-workers. So when it was announced that our annual staff retreat would involve a “challenge course” in the woods, I took a leap of faith. If anybody could make this fun, I thought, surely they could.
I was right. Little did I know, though, that the leap of faith would be literal.
First, though, the Camp Tillikum staff divided the forty of us into smaller groups, then led us into the woods to learn about teamwork and problem-solving. My group’s first challenge: move ourselves along a series of four small wooden platforms, using only two boards, neither of which was long enough to reach between any of the platforms. If a board touched the ground, we’d lose it. If any body part touched the ground, the person to whom it belonged would be penalized with a handicap. We lost one of the boards in the first five minutes. Then Rob’s foot accidentally hit the dirt, and his penalty was having to negotiate the rest of the course blindfolded. But we did it! Here are the eleven of us on the last platform, about a millisecond before we all fell off. Our challenge course leader told us we made it look too easy. And we were having too much fun, to boot. “My job is teaching people how to work together,” he complained. “You guys aren’t giving me anything to do.”
We’re a veterinary hospital, we told him. This is what we do all day long: solve problems as a team. As far as having too much fun, well, that’s the fault of the guy in the red jacket. He’s Dr. Don McCoy, boss of the whole dang outfit, and he has a couple of key philosophies:
1. Hire the best people and then get out of their way 2. If it’s not fun, why do it?
Dr. McCoy is also a believer in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. So when, after lunch, we were led back out into the woods for the grand finale of tree-climbing, he was the first one in the safety harness scrambling up the pine. Then, one by one, the rest of us gave it a go.
...Climbing (that was the easy part.)
I’m not normally afraid of heights, but I’ll tell you—thirty feet in the air looks skyscraper-tall when you’re standing on a narrow, curving log with nothing but empty air below. Some of my co-workers strolled across that thing as if they were in the park on a sunny day, but me? Ha! After only five or six steps, I knew there was no chance I'd get across on my own two feet. So—bolstered by shouts of encouragement from my colleagues below—I reverted to quadruped form. Hey—if it works, it works.
But simply getting across wasn’t the end of the challenge. Leap of faith, remember? We were supposed to jump off the end of the log—yeah, that’s right—and grab a trapeze bar suspended about five feet away. So far, every else had fallen short (literally.) A few had been too nervous to try. I figured, I’ve come this far…and I thought maybe I could reach it, if I really jumped hard.
But I was terrified. My mind knew I wore a safety harness and that my team had firm hold of the ropes. I knew nothing would happen to me. But no amount of higher reasoning could quiet the racing heart, the shaking, the absolute gut-level conviction that I was about to plunge to my…well, if not death, then at least a whole lot of unpleasantness.
“You’ve got me, right?” I called down to my co-workers. Classic stalling tactic.
“We’ve got you!” they called back. “You’re doing great! Go for it!” Ten voices shouting with such sincerity and enthusiasm that even my gut believed them.
So I jumped.
And my fingertips brushed the bar.
And I fell. A second of sheer terror, and then the ropes caught me. Thirty seconds later, I had sweet, solid earth beneath my feet.
It took half an hour before I stopped shaking. Some folks have experiences like this, and they say, I couldn’t wait to go back up again! I knew I could do it even better the second time!
This was my thought process: I did it, yay, thank God THAT’s over. Is there any potato salad left?
But mostly, I was enormously grateful to my co-workers. Their support made all the difference. I’m incredibly lucky to work with people who are not only the best at what they do, but who are committed—every day, not just at a Sunday staff retreat—to pulling together as a team to get the job done right. Who look out for each other and care about each other. And who never let an opportunity for a good joke pass them by, because—as the bossman says—“If it’s not fun, why do it?”
Here’s to you guys, and to an outrageously fun staff retreat. And here's a suggestion for next year. I vote we push our comfort zones at sea level. Maybe even indoors. Surely, if we can just put our minds to it, we can come up with a challenge involving coffee. And doughnuts. And comfy couches. Don't you think?
Last fall, I had the good fortune to attend the 2008 Kidlit Bloggers Conference. That’s where I found out that Portland is practically teeming with very, very cool people who write young adult literature. (Seriously—teeming. Watch where you step.) And now, this fabulous community is stepping out to support one of its own.
Bridget Zinn is a YA librarian and author who recently landed an agent to represent her debut novel. Days later, she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. On her blog, she writes: “...I am a super super healthy non-smoking, non-drinking, carcinogen avoiding young vegetarian who wears sunscreen every day. I looked at the list of risk factors for colon cancer and it turn out that I don’t even have one. Not one risk factor. So that was a surprise.”
I think “a surprise” might count as the understatement of the year.
AND, if you live in the Portland area, be sure to pencil in “Bridget Zinn Live Auction” for Friday, May 29th. There’ll be tons more items up for grabs, including—thanks to my fabulous coworker and certified canine massage therapist Tammy Moody—two gift certificates for canine massage! Got a dog friend who could use some pampering? Then be sure to show up at the Lucky Lab brewpub, bid early and often! (Oh, and there'll be signed copies of Ten Cents a Dance and Tallulah Falls, too.)
To Bridget and her new husband (did I mention she got married the same month she got her agent and her diagnosis? If you want to know how that came about, read here), we wish you much strength, health, joy, and big-time cancer-ass kicking. Many kudos to Jone for organizing the auctions, Lisa Nowak for creating the auction blog site, and all in the kidlit community who are pulling together. You all are amazing.
I'm a veterinarian who started writing and never stopped. I've published two young adult novels: Ten Cents a Dance, which was named a Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association, and Tallulah Falls, which was named a 2007 Book for the Teen Age by the New York Public Library. I practice veterinary medicine part-time; the rest of the time, I'm up in my office, clacking away at the keyboard.