I tried for a while, when I showed up at college. I hung around the newspaper kids. I submitted a couple of things to the English department's literary magazine. But what I quickly realized is that you need to be 1) thick-skinned 2) good at promoting yourself and 3) a risk-taker.
Anyone who knew me at 19 can verify that I was none of the above. Anyone who knows me now, twenty years later, can verify that I still struggle with all of the above.
My full-time job is as a teacher. For the majority of the last 15 years, I was exclusively a writing teacher and a coach. Although I have a great passion for working with kids, there were moments where I wondered if I was a walking, talking version of that saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."
I hate that saying.
I tell my students that a writer writes. No matter what, this is true. A writer simply cannot be contained. His words buck against closed lips; her fingers search for just the right pattern of sounds. I am no different. I write with my kids in class. I create stories while sitting in traffic. I compose some pretty killer birthday cards and haiku. I've been published before, but mostly I considered that luck. Nothing more. I blog. I update. I spill in 140 characters at a time on Twitter.
But last weekend, I had the chance to test drive my dream. And, in truth, I almost turned it down. (Refer back to reasons 1, 2, and 3 if you're new around here.)
One of those 140 character friends, Shawn Krest, is an actual, real-life, professional writer in North Carolina, and he was one of the first strangers to encourage my writing. While I treasure the praise and support of my friends, there always exists a small fear that they're just being nice. Strangers don't have to be nice.
When Shawn learned that the Duke Blue Devils basketball team would be headed to Houston for the Sweet Sixteen, he knew he needed someone to cover that part of the tournament. Houston is a long way from Raleigh, and, contrary to popular belief, not every news outlet has ESPN-like budgeting. Somehow, Shawn thought it would be a good idea to send me as his substitute for accsports.com. I could catch a cool game or two, keep his credential viable, and write a little "if I wanted to".
I think his logic was something like this: Wide-eyed Duke fan sees her favorite team in person for the first time ever + nationally televised event + need to maintain professionalism and restraint while in the BEST SEATS EVER on press row = either hilarity or a total meltdown (still hilarious).
My thinking was more like this: OMG + WTF x Where do I go?/ I'm not good enough = Shawn's going to get fired.
Somehow, though, he talked me into it. He was paid back with 987 questions/freaked out text messages. I was paid with a seat 20 feet from my idol and court side seats to a dream come true. I think I came out ahead.
It was a tremendous four days. I was able to stay with one of my grown-up camp kids and see Houston through her eyes.
|The sign that Allison posted on her front door|
to alert me that I had found the right house.
|When you spend a birthday with a Skrehart, it's chocolate cake for breakfast.|
It's basically a house-sized wind chime.
And the art car museum. Houston has an art car parade each year. These are a few of the winners. I don't "get" art always, but this little museum is worth the time. It's also free. Definitely going to hit up the whole parade next year.
|The Art Car Museum|
|The curator was also the doppelganger of Pat Garner.|
|"Splinter" -- A full-sized Honda covered in wood|
|And "Lil Splinter": the go-kart version (special appearance by Allison for scale)|
|When Allison last saw Ringo, he was torso-less. We're hoping John gets his left arm soon.|
|This is "The Texican". Avocado, black beans, freshly pickled jalapenos and creme fraiche. |
Homemade buns, homemade dogs, homemade everything. Just do it, Houston.
And then there was the real reason I was in Houston. You know... that dream thing. I went to the first of four press conferences where I sat, working up the courage to ask a non-shaky-voiced question. I went to a Duke practice. Bucket list: check. I scored my first interview. It was with a 5 year-old.
|That's a hall-of-famer, y'all.|
|From my seat at open practice|
|The precious kids who sat behind me.|
|Duke guys signing autographs|
|The Duke Family from my story.|
|This is the street I took to the stadium each day.|
Duke University is located in Durham, NC. #GoodOmen
|My seat for the Sweet Sixteen. Nothin' special.|
|The starting five.|
|The post-game handshake with Utah before the actual end of the game.|
|Hometown Hero, Justise Winslow|
|I love you, Quinn Cook.|
|Coach K, finishing the job.|
|Matt Jones, Quinn Cook, Coach Krzyzewski, and Tyus Jones|
And I got to be a writer -- a "real" writer -- with all of the lavish accommodations you could dream of. Like the women's restroom for the female journalists. It was outside. As in, outside the stadium. As in, "go outside alone so someone can kill you and hide you in the Astrodome next door" kind of lavish.
|The creeptastic Astrodome|
Then today, I came home to my very own name, spelled correctly and everything, in a newspaper. In print. That I can send home to my mom so she can read it to my dad.
Like I said, a dream come true.
Dreams don't happen just because they're dreamed though. They're usually the result of one person with a crazy idea (Shawn) and a hundred people somehow agreeing with that lunacy. I said while I was on my trip that if you ever want to measure how loved you are, announce that you're going to attempt a lifelong goal that could end in total ruined failure. People come out of the woodwork for that kind of stuff, man.
Here are my woodwork people. The list is long, but I don't have time for individual thank-you cards. I am seriously so very blessed. And I mean that in the most non-sarcastic way imaginable.
Shawn Krest -- Proof that not everyone you meet on the internet is an axe-wielding lunatic. Or at least not yet. I hope you're enjoying your first Final Four, buddy.
ACC Sports Journal -- Thank you for this opportunity. And thanks for not thinking Shawn had lost his mind.
Duke University and Mike Krzyzewski -- Thank you for finding one another and then for finding that 10-year-old kid one CBS Saturday afternoon.
The 2014-2015 Blue Devils -- You've made this season one of the best and most entertaining in a long, long time. You are a band of brothers.
Allison Skrehart -- Thanks for being such a great kid/adult and for letting me invade your home for 4 days. I am so grateful for your friendship. And for that cake.
Roommate Kelly -- You're the coolest. Give Hazel and Zelda a massive hug for me.
For my 140 character friends -- Twitter is allegedly full of racists and trolls and dumbasses. I wouldn't know that for sure because I hit the Twitter jackpot -- talented, funny, and kind. #ACCTwitter is truly, truly the best.
My school friends -- You told me things would be fine while I was gone, and you made them fine. Not just last weekend but for so many times this year. It's always a great day to be alive and a Mustang.
My camp friends -- There is no greater support network. Camp is the only place I knew I could fail and be just as loved as if I had piloted a spaceship to the moon and back. You are my touchstone.
JD and Tammy and Hunter -- You have always let me be who I was meant to be and loved me as intensely as I'd let you whether I saw you yesterday or last year.
Becky, Isaiah, and Jaxson -- Thank you for bringing such joy and kindness into my life. You amaze me.
Jim -- You've put up with my Duke passion for the longest, always having to share the VCR as it taped endless games or listen to me shout at my television as if they could hear me. You were the first person to recommend my writing to anyone else, telling Mrs. Hayes, "If you think I'm good, wait until you see what my sister can do." No compliment has ever been more treasured.
Mrs. Estlack and Mrs. Hayes, my junior high and high school English teachers -- You were my first guides in what to say and how to say it. You cracked open my skull and heart and out came my soul. Thank you for helping me scoop all those words into neat little piles. And these are just two of my dozens of life-changing teachers. I hope I make you all proud.
My parents, Dean and Wanda -- Daddy, you taught me how to tell a good story, but I'll never be as good at it as you. I miss them more than anything. Every story I tell now, I tell for you. Mom, you gave me power and strength to put on a brave face even when I'm terrified. Thanks for teaching me all about sports and not ever letting them be "just for the boys". I love you both.
And to my tribe, LJ, Courtney, and Heather -- There are not enough words in the world to ever tell you what you mean to me. You are the stars in my sky, the sun on my face, the prayer on my lips, and the solid ground under my feet. You are what every friend should be and what every person should be lucky enough to have.