(This was written eleven years ago when I (Traci) first became a writer.)
“Mommy, the car needs more perfume.” My 11-year-old daughter was saying this as we were driving home from Arizona yesterday.
As a Personal Coach I am often recommending that my clients “step outside your comfort zone”. In the interest of “walking my talk” I did the very same thing this weekend. I stepped outside my comfort zone—right into the discomfort zone.
I was asked to give two talks at WalMart on the topic of literacy. I chose two stores that are located in small towns in Arizona. I grew up in Lake Havasu City, Arizona and figured I’d combine work and pleasure. Its abut 350 miles between my Redondo Beach apartment and my family home in Havasu. It’s another 100 miles to the WalMart in Kingman, Arizona. Because I would be driving 950 miles in a span of three days I decided to arrange a book signing in the hopes of selling some books while I was there.
Being the Martha Stewart of Personal Coaches, I went nuts before the trip. I wrote a 15-minute talk on literacy and practiced it in front of my cats. (They are currently working on a product for the other cats in the neighborhood, “Hooked On Feline-ics”)
I printed up t-shirts for the family to wear bearing the book cover on the front. I made magnets, business cards, flyers, and sample chapters to give away. I sent out press releases and other media support. I gathered raffle prizes and was fully prepared to return home as a celebrity! This was my big return! Celebrity Author Traci comes home.
Yeah, right. The day before the talks I began to get suspicious that it was being run in a less than professional manner. I called the WalMart in Kingman. “Hi.” “Yes, is this WalMart?” “Yes it is. What do you want?” “Can I speak with the manager?” “You want to speak to the manager?” “Yes, I’d like to speak to the manager on duty.” “Hold on.” Covering the phone with her hand, “MARK. TELEPHONE.”
Is this WalMart, or somebody’s back yard?
After confirming the date and time of my talk, I hung up. Shaking off my worries I thought, “Hey, this is a nationwide campaign. It’ll be fine.” I went to the beach to practice my talk on the seagulls there.
When I arrived at the first WalMart, I was informed that it was a children’s book reading, and they handed me a book about bunnies to read to kids. What? Where is my talk on literacy? For that matter, where are the children? There was only one very frightened six year old who started to cry as I gave her one of my magnets.
I read the kids’ book to my own children and left.
Undaunted, I assured myself, “The next WalMart will be better!”
After a 100-mile drive and lunch, I approached the second WalMart refreshed and enthusiastic. “Look at all these kids! They’re even lined up!” I was sure that I would have lots of kids to read to, and lots of parents to hear my literacy talk.
“Look mommy, it’s the Easter Bunny!” Three-year-old Lea was pointing at the line. “No honey, they are lined up to hear mommy talk.” “No, mommy, there is a bunny!”
She was right. Ten feet from the literacy table was an Easter bunny taking photos with the kids. Not only were the kids not lined up for me, but their mommies and daddies didn’t want to get out of line to hear me talk. There were also several other authors fighting over the right to read the bunny book to the 2 kids who were there. I let my kids listen to the bunny book again and left dejected. As of this point, the only audience I’d had for my talk was my 2 cats, the pigeons at the beach, and my dad’s half-deaf dog.
Is a literacy talk wasted on animals?
Fortunately, my new friend Gail showed up to save me and took me to a local brewery for a beer. “I want to hear your talk, Traci.” So I gave her the speech.
“There are three things you can do to help fight illiteracy.” “Excuse me,” the blonde waiter interrupts. “Would you like some appetizers?” “No thank you.”
So now the only people who have heard my talk are my friend and some waiter at a brewery in Lake Havasu. I’m having a real impact on this community, aren’t I?
I go back to my Dad’s house and try to feel better. “Tomorrow is the real deal. My book signing will go better. I know it.”
I no sooner think that thought when my 11 year old comes running in the room. “Mommy, Lea just threw up.”
She did indeed. Figuring it was because of too much soda and sweets at Grandpa’s house I didn’t think much of it. “Let’s go get you some tummy medicine.” Bad idea. She threw up in her car seat. Not once but twice.
I strip her naked, put her in the front seat with a seat belt and head back to my dad’s. “What on earth am I going to say if I get pulled over?” I have a naked three year old buckled into the front seat of my car. Luckily I made it home okay.
The rest of the night was spent cleaning my parents’ new carpet, disinfecting my car, and doing laundry. I didn’t even have time to worry about the book signing.
The next morning Lea was fine. “Okay kids, it’s time to go to the book signing. Let’s get in the car.” “I’m not going in the Barf Mobile. Can I go with Grandpa?”
Things look encouraging as I pull up. My name is all over the store. They have a table for me right in front. I AM going to be the famous author returning. Won’t my friends and family be proud?
“Sign up for my raffle!” I enthusiastically say as shoppers enter the store. “No thank you.”
“I wrote a book!” I say with a big smile. “Good for you.”
“Want me to sign a copy for you?” “No thank you.”
My mood was plummeting. I’ve driven 900 miles to not give a talk and not sign any books. I could have done this at home.
At the end of my two hours I pack it up.
My poor father was hurting for me. He wanted so much to see me succeed. “How about you give us the talk and we will use my professional video equipment to tape it?” He was a broadcaster for 40 years and knows the business. “At least your whole trip wouldn’t be a waste.”
So, I scraped myself up off the floor, wiped my tears, put on some makeup and gave my talk to my parents, the video camera, and five chintz pillows. My 16-year-old niece would have been there, but we accidentally locked her in the backyard.
The tape turned out really well. You couldn’t see the tearstains on my cheeks, I didn’t look as fat as I thought I would, and my dad really loved the talk. But then again, he already knows how to read.
The next day we were packing the car to go home. “I am NOT riding in the Barf Mobile for 12 hours, mommy.” This was Madison standing with her hands on her hips. “What do you want me to do, Madison? Fed Ex you home? Besides, it’s only 6 hours not 12. We’ll leave the windows open.”
And we did. For about an hour until it started raining. “Ewwwww. It smells.” “Madison, put some perfume on your shirt and breathe through it.”
We are driving through the desert with our noses covered like they did during the plague. The Barf Mobile gets stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and it takes 12 hours to get home. Pretty soon I am laughing.
“Madison, honey, I want you to remember this weekend forever.”
“Don’t worry about that, mommy. I won’t be forgetting this any time soon.”
“Good. I want you to remember that your mommy did something very important. She tried. Yes, we drove almost 1000 miles, half of it in the Barf Mobile. Yes, mommy spent more money than she made. Yes, it seems like a giant waste of time and energy. But it isn’t, honey. No effort is for nothing, and I did something that makes me very proud. I tried something new. Not everyone is brave enough to do that. Now, hand me that perfume. It’s starting to rain again.”