Saying Yes

I hadn't planned to do any Bored Villains Workshops this spring. Chaos rules my life. I have a book hopefully going out on sub soon, revisions due on another, a short story deadline coming up---not to mention homeschooling, field trips, conferences, and boxes of my mother's belongings yet to sort.  When asked to put my name into a directory of speakers, I declined.

Then a request came from a friend of a friend.  Would I be willing to talk about writing with some students in a small, rural town?  The combined classroom of 4th and 5th graders consisted of only thirteen kids.  They'd love to have me spend the day with them.

I admit it's a dream of mine to someday do a book tour across all the counties of Idaho
, stopping at schools where kids attend kindergarten through high school in the same building.  Yes, it's true.  While some authors dream of stops in big cities, I'm dreaming of workshops in Bliss and Arbon and Rockland and Carey .  I can't help it. My heart leaps at the thought.

Still---bad timing, right?  I had to say no.

Then the teacher said the name of her town and it worked magic on my heart.

My husband and I have driven to that tiny place many times in our lives.  I remember dearly the first time we went to the cemetery together and Greg walked me through, introducing me to the lives represented by all those names carved on headstones.

"I'm related to just about everybody here."  He caught my eye for only a moment, making sure I understood what this meant to him.  Then he took my hand and told me story after story about couples and families---about the hardships and wonder that made up their lives.

Now we take our kids to that same place, walking them back through six generations of family in Idaho.

So yes, I did say yes to this small community, as I always have, and I'm so glad I did.

Those kids are creating great stories about unicorns and bull riding and hunting. One kid tells about a peanut planning to take over the world!  Another spins magic around a girl whose wishes come true. Oh!  And in another? You'll love this. All the buildings are held together with gum---and there's a terrible boy stealing all the gum.

Students shared narratives handed down to them, bits and pieces from their own lives, and jokes---so many jokes! Through it all, we discussed why it matters that they continue this tradition of telling tales, why it matters that they develop voices that could only be developed through their individual experiences.

At lunch, a quiet boy leaned across the table. In a low voice, he confided, "I'd have told you some of my family stories, but they're too long." He looked from side to side and leaned in farther.  "Everybody just goes on and on and on."

I couldn't hold back the grin.  "You know," I told him, lowering my voice to match his, "I think we might just be related."

And somehow, in that moment, my life felt slightly less chaotic.  Sometimes knowing who you are and where you belong is enough.  The pieces start falling together on their own.

- - -

I'll be adding some video created by the kids in the Bored Villains section of the website soon.


  1. John Ross Barnes (@BarnestormJohn)May 24, 2013 at 5:41 AM

    This is beautiful, Johanna.

    As I read this, I'm listening to Steve Martin/Eddie Brickell - "Love Has Come For You". A certain synchronicity there, I think. Beautiful piece.

    I never had that very small school experience. It was pretty much twenty sum odd kid classes all through elementary and high school. Interesting to try to imagine that tighter dynamic through childhood.

  2. Thank you, John. You leave the best comments. I didn't grow up in a tiny school either, but my parents and grandparents did. Those small schools are amazing.

    I have that album too. Loving it.


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