Friday, March 03, 2006


I survived! Hallelujah!

In case you missed my last post, yesterday I went and gave a speech to 7th graders at the International School of Monterey (ISM) in Seaside, California. I was pretty nervous about it, too. Right up until about 30 minutes before my time to speak, I had no idea what I wanted to say. Several other presenters were going to simply introduce themselves to the class and then read a portion of a book to them.

And I thought, That was fine for younger kids. But 7th graders? They’ll fall asleep on me! So as I listened to the principal and teachers introduce us to the students, a thought popped into my head. I would NOT read to these young people. I would tell them about the stories in the MONTEREY SHORTS 2 anthology — and the research some of the authors went through — and see where that took me. Initially this sounded rather bland. I mean, who’d give a crap about this little book and any research that went into it. But delivering this material in a gripping way, I knew, could win over these kids.

My first focus would be on the girls. I needed to grab them, then try and hook the boys (mainly because, as I recalled from my own youth, guys at this age were interested in whatever the girls were because the guys were starting to get interested in girls). I told the class about a woman named Charlotte Layton who lived in the Pacific Grove area before it was even a town. I told them how she struggled with a wounded husband and watched him slowly die. Then, battling to keep food on the table, she became the first woman lighthouse keeper on the west coast. Right here! In our little nook of the world!

"Why was that such a big deal?" one girl asked.

"Good question," I said. "It’s a big deal because women didn’t have a lot of freedom and rights back then like they do today. Women didn’t hold such prestigious positions as ‘head lighthouse keeper.’"


Then I told the class about how I and another author went in search of the Monterey Pop festival of the 60s, driving around Monterey, and ended up gawking at Jimi Hendrix’s name carved onto the stage at the Monterey Fairgrounds.

"He carved his own name there?" a boy with curly blond hair asked.

"Yes he did," I answered.

"Wow," the boy said. "My dad loves Hendrix."

Then I told them how a famous stagecoach driver who beat-up bandits, wore a patch over one eye, drank like a fish, cussed like a trucker, and was the best stage whip in the West ...turned out to be a woman.

"No way!" they said.

"Yep," I replied. "And she’s buried in the Freedom Cemetery, just north of Watsonville. And, the fact that she was a woman masquerading as a man wasn’t the biggest shocker. The biggest shocker was that she was the first woman (we know of) to ever vote in the United States."

Every 7th grader, without exception, raised their hand to ask questions. They wanted to know how the authors found out all this ...stuff ...and why hadn’t anyone written about it before and was the lighthouse where Mrs. Layton lived still standing.

"Can I take my dad to see Jimi Hendrix’s name carved on the stage?" the blond boy asked.

"Yes you can," I said. And that was just about the last thing said before I had to leave. But I saw in their eyes that I had "caught on" with them. I hadn’t bored or talked down to them. I’d moved around the class and, when I replied to their queries, treated them like young men and women.

I think I had just as good a time as they did. At least, I hope so ...


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