Tuesday, April 10, 2007


(First things first - the title of this post comes from Cynthia Lord's Newbery Honor book, RULES.)

I’ve seen it on three different news programs now - Joshua Bell playing his 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius in a Washington Metro station. Although Bell entertains in the world's finest concert halls, nearly 1,000 communters virtually ignored him. (One woman did recognize him and gave him 20.00. She, and several others, including a child, really listened.) But most went on their way. Work was calling and of course, we all understand the allure of the timeclock.

You can view Bell’s subway performance (an experiment of The Washington Post) in this article called Pearls Before Breakfast.

I’m fascinated by this story because it feels like it has some connection to the writer’s experience. Not sure if I can explain it coherently but I’ll try.

It reminds me of something Christopher Paul Curtis said when he came to town a few weeks ago. A child in the audience asked him if people treated him differently after he won the Newbery Award. He chuckled and said that, just the day before, as he was leaving one of our public schools, his hostess allowed him to carry a file folder or notebook of some sort while she insisted on carrying a larger, heavier object.

Curtis’ sly conclusion was that “after you win the Newbery, people think you can’t pick things up anymore”.

Of course, this woman was simply treating Curtis as any of us would treat a guest.

But, perhaps his experience reveals something about how we value people based on what society says about them. I have to admit, that as much as I don’t want to be that way, I fall into the same trap. For example, I left a comment (not a very bright one either) on Cynthia Lord’s LiveJournal last week. Later in the day, I got a response from her in my email box. Wow – it was a thrill! All of a sudden I felt so “real” to have heard from a Newbery Honor author. Like she was especially valuable because of her award. And like, maybe suddenly, I was more valuable by association.

Fame is a strange thing. Part of me loves being at home with my computer. Hubby goes off to his job – leaving me and God and the computer to ourselves. I am so happy for the solitude. And mostly that’s how I want to live my life.

But there’s the other part – the part of me that loves speaking in schools and knowing that real people are reading my book and enjoying it. The part that enjoys a little “fame”.

Still, I never know quite what to say when someone out there expresses excitement about meeting a “real live author”. Because truthfully, I know I’m the same person that I was before Blue was published. And you wouldn’t have heard anyone gushing over me then!

On the day it came out (or when it won certain awards) I didn’t become suddenly brilliant or interesting. Or even nice! In the long run, my book’s worth doesn’t depend on whether it wins an award. It becomes valuable the moment a child begins to read it!

And my value?

I believe my worth lies in the fact that the God of the universe stops to listen to my every word. That’s true of each of us – whether we sleep on the streets of DC or perform in its finest concert halls.

It’s easy to forget that.

Which takes me back to Cynthia Lord. I just finished reading Rules. In many ways, her story struggles with this question of an individual's worth. Check it out. It’s invaluable!

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