Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Set Up (i.e., Part I)

It’s been a week since the SCBWI-MI fall writers’ conference on Mackinac Island. The day after the conference, life swung immediately back into normal mode. So now, one week later, I need to evaluate what went on.

My husband thought it best to make the 4.5 hour drive a day early so I’d be fresh going into the conference (v.s. leaving home at 3 a.m.). I took advantage of the alone time by stopping at Hartwick Pines State Park for logging photos (for Logging Winter) and at McGilpin Rock (for Tales of the Lost Schooner cover shots). I bought my ferry ticket that Thursday evening to avoid the rush the next morning, then drove over to the International Sky Park for sunset over Lake Michigan and a view of the galaxy plane (a.k.a., Milky Way). I returned to the motel room where the owner and I chased a big grey bat out of my room. (It was huge!) And then I slept. I think.

Friday morning I found I ‘d been successful in avoiding the ferry rush to Mackinac Island, for I was the only passenger on board for the 8 a.m. trip. As I couldn’t check into the conference hotel until 4 p.m., I decided to do some research. I’d written a MG story eight years ago, set on Mackinac Island, and thought to revive the story by renting a bike and seeing the inland spots I’d only seen photos of. At Crack-in-the-Island, in the middle of the woods, on one in sight, the chain fell off my rental. I wasn’t too worried. You can’t really get lost for long on an island with an eight-mile circumference. Still, it took me 45 minutes to find another human, during which time I discovered that when a chain if off a bike, not only can’t you pedal forward, but you also can’t brake. Did I mention I was near the top part of the island? My 1-hour ride turned into three, but upon my return I still had an hour before conference registration, so I mingled with the other early conference folk.

From Friday, 2 p.m., until Sunday, 1:30 p.m., the SCBWI-MI writers’ conference hosted speakers like editor Arthur Levine, editor Christy Ottaviano, and agent Jodell Sadler, along with a host of Michigan speakers and writers including yours truly.

The 3 p.m. ferry was the earliest post-conference way off the island. By 4:00 I climbed into my van on the mainland. Four and a half hours and three cans of Red Bull later I pulled into our driveway.

(Stay tuned for Part II of Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation, as in the actual writers part of the weekend.)

Open Air Schools — Kill Those Germs

It’s getting a bit nippy out. This reminds of Open Air Schools. The concept of these schools began a little later than the 1800’s which time period I normally research.

Open Air Schools started in Germany in the early 1900’s to help treat children suffering from tuberculosis, also known as consumption or “the white plague.” The idea behind no heat was that winter killed or froze all germs. The first school of this sort in the United States was in Providence, Rhode Island in 1908. In 1914, Dr. W.K. Kellogg joined the open air school movement in his hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan. In the year 1910 alone, 3,016 residents in Michigan died of tuberculosis.

The day in Battle Creek for the twenty-four students started with cold water showers, usually not lasting more than ten seconds. They then climbed back into their street clothing and into their wool Hudson Bay “Eskimo suits” they wore as school uniforms. They started their lessons at 9 a.m. and left the building at 4 p.m. During the day, the windows were left wide open. The children, in grades 2-5, also climbed into wool sleeping bags each day for two one-hour naps. For whatever reason, a number of the children benefited enough to healthily return to their regular classrooms.

Also encouraged in this line of clean winter air were flexible tent-like tubes one would wrap around their heads, sticking the other end out the open window.

Please raise your hands if you plan on sleeping with your windows opened tonight as the temperature dips into the twentys or teens.

Emmersed in Research and the Lakota People

Our church youth group is heading to a South Dakota Indian Reservation in a couple of weeks. Having spent ten years teaching in West River (the western side of the state), I know a little about the Lakota culture. I came home from church, wanting to put together a five-day read/devotion/meditation for our youth. I dug out my semester of Indian Studies notes and poured over the many books I have on the Lakota peoples. I found it amusing that as I was reading about time (commonly refered to by non-Indians as Indian Time) I totally lost track of it. To try to explain Indian Time here and now it would undoubtedly get lost in the translation, even though I’d use English words.

As I looked up Lakota words and songs, children’s faces flashed before me. Parents’ faces flashed before me. Grammas’ faces flashed before me. And I wondered how could I possibly honor a people in five short paragraphs? Part of me thought, “Let the youth group be Wakanesha — child spirits — and I’ll just wait and watch them after they return.” I think that is the attitude many Indians have of non-Indians, anyway, that we are Wakanesha, although they would be too polite to admit it. I have a couple of weeks to decide if I am going to put together a five-day read for them or not, but after spending several hours pouring over Lakota pictures, words and memories, at the moment I’m leaning towards the not.

Pulling this back to my writing blog and writing research. I’m just wondering if any other writer has this same odd thing happen to her or him? That while you are hours in on your research, you forget who and especially where or when you are, and instead you are watching and listening to another culture, another time, another place. And I also wonder, do you get Research Jet Lag when you look up and realize your present reality? I’m trying to shake off this “jet lag” because there are things I must get done today, while my body is telling me I need a nap to recover from my intense time of research.