Why there will be different answers to these questions, and why that’s ok

Each of my writing classes was subjected to the following experiment.

I’d divide the students into three groups, have all of them close their eyes, then, one group at a time, they’d open their eyes to read three words on the board.

The first group would read this:

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After they closed their eyes, I’d erase those words and write the next three for the second group:

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After they closed their eyes, the third group would open theirs to find I’d written this:

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I’d erase those words, then write the following:

chalkboard-r-pe

Once the all the students opened their eyes again, I’d ask them, group by group, what the missing letter should be to complete the word.

The first group would quickly supply, “It’s an i. The word should be ripe.”

This is when the third group would begin to squirm, feeling like they’ve missed something.

The second group would frown a little, but they weren’t too concerned as they said, “No, the letter should be o. The word is rope.

While the RIPE group would be a little surprised, their response was nothing compared to the discomfort of the third group.

Apologetically, I’d turn to them next. Always there was hesitation, until someone would offer, “The word should be rape.”

The first two groups would stare at them in shock.

“Sorry,” I’d say to the third group, “but you proved this point: all of us see the world in different ways, based upon what you’ve been exposed to. As writers—as people—we frequently don’t understand why one seemingly obvious situation presents itself in a completely different way to others. We assume our interpretation is always the clearest, but depending upon our experiences, there may be many different ‘correct’ interpretations. And, as you can also see, our responses to a benign situation are deeply affected by what’s going on in our heads.”

If my students remembered nothing else from my classes, I’m fairly certain they remembered this example.

And it’s probably the most important lesson.

What we’re exposed to creates our interpretation of the world.

How we’ve been raised, what we watch, what we fantasize about, what we believe all taints—for good, or for bad, or for indifferent—how we interpret the world around us.

Repeatedly our society screams about what’s right and wrong, just and unfair, malignant and benign.

And here’s the crazy part: everyone is right . . . in their own minds. According to their experiences, they are interpreting the world as they think it really is.

Paul discovered 2,000 years ago, that “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Not only are our perceptions warped by glass, but it’s tinted so that what we see isn’t even cast in the correct light.

I’ve never met anyone who actively promotes ideas or beliefs that they felt are inherently wrong.

Everyone thinks they’re seeing things as they really are, pushing for what they believe is the best thing.

Everyone.

There’s no solution to this. And there doesn’t have to be. There’s no correcting those who see “rope” when you know it should be “ripe.” There’s no changing someone’s mind by telling (or shouting at) them they’re wrong. That’s never worked.

Never.

There is, however, recognizing that everyone interprets the same situation differently.

Each one of my classes did the same thing at the end of this experiment: they turned to their peers in the other groups and asked, “Why did you see that word as rope when I thought it should be rape?” In less than a minute, everyone’s answers made sense.

No one argued that someone offered the wrong solution. Everyone agreed that, based upon their exposure before, each person’s response was correct.

If you don’t understand why someone thinks the way they do, try asking. I don’t believe you have a right to argue against someone’s point of view until you fully understand it. (And when you do, you may not want to argue at all.)

Two things I’ve taken away from this experiment:

  1. People don’t HAVE to agree. I’d split up friends for the groups, and they’d be surprised to hear each other’s differing responses, but they’d still remain friends. They didn’t argue, or belittle, or shun, or mock, or condemn. They’d take a few minutes to understand each other, then they’d just let the differences be.
  2. People can choose to change their minds. The attitudes which most impressed me were those of students who said, “I don’t like the way I was thinking about those letters. I now want to see the word as RIPE instead of RAPE.” And they would. No one forced them to change their minds, but they listened, open-minded and open-hearted, to why others interpreted the letters differently, and they chose themselves to accept that new way of thinking.

So can we all.

       Perrin turned to his wife. “That’s why I married you, isn’t it? You always see the sides I can’t.”
       Mahrree reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “And you always see the sides I don’t notice. Works pretty well that way, doesn’t it?
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

3 ways in which parents are like God (and 3 ways we aren’t–yet)

I’ve always known that parenthood is how God teaches us to be like Him, but now that I’ve been at it for 25 years, I feel like I’m finally understanding some of those aspects. For example:

1) God WANTS to hear from us. Wherever, whenever. I know this, because currently our family is spread over the country. Five of my nine children are at home, one’s serving an LDS mission, and three are away at college. My husband also works out of state, so connecting with everyone doesn’t always happen. But on some Mondays (the day my missionary son can email home) I find that I’ve chatted, emailed, skyped, texted, or messaged everyone in my family. Those are successful days when I feel as if everyone’s still connected.

BUT, how I am not like God is that by the evening, I AM DONE! My kids will tell you that there comes a point when I loudly announce, “I do NOT want to TALK or even SEE any more children! I NEED QUIET TIME!”

Invariably this occurs after these children have already been read and prayed away to bed, and they sneak into my room while I’m trying to work on my computer to annoy me with something irrelevant. After my explosion, and they retreat to their rooms, sure enough, that’s when one of my away-children will  pop up to chat online, or my husband will skype about something.

You should see the look I give my poor husband when he skypes at those moments. “Ah,” he’ll say, “one of those pecked-to-death-by-ducks days. I’ll make this brief—”

Sometimes (ok, often) I lose it.

But God never runs out of patience, or wants time to Himself, because He doesn’t deal with time. (That still boggles my mind.) He’s got all the non-existent time in the world, and there’s never a queue for those waiting on Him.

I know this, because I’ve prayed at all hours of the day and night, and have never heard celestial bellows of, “I Have Had It With These Children—Today, I Am Done!”

Nope, He’s never going to do that.

2) When you truly love God, you just want to be with Him. I know this, because when I have been patient and kind with my kids (something I pray for every single day—“PLEASE help me be patient and kind!”) they actually want to be with me.

This occurred to me on Sunday as my youngest children squished me on the pew at church. My preschooler is getting too heavy to be on my lap, but since he’s the last, I tolerate it even as my legs lose feeling. My nine-year-old tries to lean on me at the same time because she’s too big for my lap, and my thirteen-year-old will lean on the other side because I’m convenient for when he falls asleep five minutes into the service.

And so I sit, squashed and growing numb.

For a naturally claustrophobic person, this has taken a few years to get used to, but I discovered some time ago that if my kids didn’t like me—or even tolerate me—they’d be sitting much further away. On days like that I think, “I may be doing something right.”

Or I’m just convenient, but I’ll take that.

It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. When we truly know Him and understand His nature, we want to be closer to Him. We read the scriptures more, we pray more, we include Him more in our daily mental conversations. We do all we can to feel closer to Him, and He in turn draws closer to us.

We discover He’s an ally, a friend, a confidante, and while sometimes He needs to chasten us because He loves us, His arms are outstretched still, waiting for us to come back into them.

Image result for painting of jesus with man on bench(I love this painting, “Lost and Found,” by Greg Olsen.)

As a mother, I’m not always successful in this. There are times when my children have done something so heinous (i.e. ruined an appliance/electronic device/toilet) that I have to step away in fury, or my child might be permanently wounded; not physically, but emotionally.

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To be fair, this child had permission to destroy the light fixture . . .

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. . . only because she wouldn’t let go of the hammer, and I feared for the rest of the house.

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw a flood at an “evil” child and wash it far away, but then I remember that God had been warning and pleading with and trying to save His truly evil children before The Flood for 120 years while Noah labored on the ark.

But after 120 seconds, sometimes I’m ready to call down hail-fire and brimstone. (See why I’m always praying to be “patient and kind”?)

3) Heavenly Father wants to be our Father. Before I get into this, allow me backtrack—children need parents. I think this should be obvious, but almost daily I read philosophies that try to downplay the importance of parents, claiming they can be replaced by exceptional schools (I haven’t found any truly exceptional yet), well-structured day-care centers which can care for your child from before breakfast to after dinner, and a socialistic state which “serves” to alleviate the burdens of parenthood, so that adults can do what really matters—work for the betterment of the state.

Parenting, in some socialist theories, is a purely physical function, with those functions ending as soon as the child is delivered.

This isn’t how God sees parenthood. In fact, the title this all-powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth has chosen for himself is Heavenly Father. I’ve referred to Him here frequently as God which, while accurate, I think downplays His role in our lives. “God” is often seen as a distant figure, full of power and anger, ready to trick and punish His subjects in Zeus-like ways. The gods love to mess with us puny mortals.

The problem is, much of the world regards the Supreme Being of the cosmos this way. But that’s not a true image. Rather, it’s one Satan tries to promote in his effort to keeps us as far away from our Father as he can.

Our Father is an all-loving, ever-patient, ever-tender Father—to all of us. No matter our race, religion, political background, or any other potentially divisive measure, He wants to parent us, as a Perfect Parent would: solely concerned about our well-being.

Our Heavenly Father has no other agenda, no other pressing concerns, other than our eternal happiness. There’s nothing He wants more than to bring us home again with our souls intact from this life-long test we told Him we wanted to take.

Think about the best dad you know—maybe yours, maybe a friend’s. (Interestingly, a lot of people’s perceptions of God are based upon their relationships with their own fathers.) What made that dad so great? His every thought was for his kids, wasn’t it?

Just like our Heavenly Father.

But we puny mortals usually aren’t as wholly devoted to parenthood. Certainly not me, unfortunately. Sure, I’m concerned about my kids, put aside my own plans to help them with theirs, and often forsake sleep, food, and sanity to help them when they’re troubled.

But even as I type this morning, I’m interrupted by my daughter getting ready for school, my son splashing in his bath, my other son  failing again to wake up . . . and here I sit typing. (Notice how I said they’re interrupting me—how I come first, instead of them?) I’m not 24-hours-a-day focused on my children.

“Helicopter parenting,” on the other hand, is not God-like parenting, either, because it’s not done out of concern for children, but out of anxiety of what society may think of us as parents.

While wholly attentive, Heavenly Father is not a helicopter parent. He allows us to make mistakes, to skin our knees, even to punch our siblings, because He knows this life is a test, and no one ever learns from a test if they’re not allowed to actually take it. He allows us to fail so that we can begin to improve.

However, I admit there are times I probably should be more attentive than I am, so that the above-mentioned ruined appliances/devices/toilets don’t get ruined.

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Or so that this, for example, doesn’t happen.

That’s not a problem Heavenly Father faces. A nearly-ruined earth, maybe, but nothing that His Son cannot heal. No, Heavenly Father is far more focused and far more in the details of our lives than we’ll ever understand while in mortality.

Only when we get to the other side and review our existence will we see how often He nudged a situation for us, or diverted a disaster, or steadied us, much like we steady our own children as they learn to ride a bike. Rarely do they know, in their excitement that first time without training wheels, how closely we’re running behind them and straightening their bikes until they can do it themselves.

Likewise, we’ll be surprised to see how often our Heavenly Dad’s hand was touching our lives to make sure we stayed on course.

People occasionally ask me why I have so many kids, and I give my usual, flippant answer of “My husband and I really don’t know. What keeps causing this? Can you explain it to me? Draw diagrams?”

But once another answer came to my mind, when my Heavenly Father was gently nudging me to not be so trivial.

The answer was, So that I can learn to be more like my Heavenly Parents.

Because yes, there is a Heavenly Mother, too, but my theory is that She’s dealing with the children not yet born, or who have already died and gone back, so Heavenly Father is dealing with those of us on “away missions” while She focuses on those “back home.” Even Heavenly Parents have a division of labor.

I also have a lot of children because I’m a very slow learner (no, we figured out how they’re conceived a few years ago—glad we got that cleared up). Each child has taught me a different aspect of how my Heavenly Father wishes me to be, and I’m needing lots of years of practice to start getting close to His vision for me.

But, fortunately, I have Perfect Examples to follow.

Mahrree often felt as if she were looking into the eyes of the Creator Himself as Gleace listened earnestly to Peto’s description of kickball, offered advice to Deck on selecting cattle to start his herd, chuckled at Jaytsy’s explanation of her mother’s first attempt to garden, and laughed at hearing how Perrin became a cat owner. He paid full attention to each of them, as if no one else existed, and what they had to say was the most important thing ever.

Mahrree knew there were some people who envisioned the Creator as a great and terrible Being, full of impatient vengeance for the fallibility of His creations.

But Mahrree had always pictured someone else: a perfect Father who wanted to make sure His children knew they were loved and cared about. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

High Polish Tatra mountains

If you could give your younger self a message from the future, what would it be?

That’s how I felt two days ago, and wondered if I could.

Allow me to back up a bit. My blog is a little late this week, because I spent a few days in a hospital two hours away assisting my oldest daughter with her second born, and then with her toddler son.

When her little girl was only hours old, and big brother was on his way with his daddy to meet her, I warned my daughter, “He may not yet be two years old, but you’ll be astonished at how old your son will suddenly appear in relation to your newborn. He’ll age years in just moments.”

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Big brother and baby sister.

Because that was the shock I felt when I sat years ago in a hospital room holding my second-born, and my mother brought my oldest, barely two years old, to meet her.

All I could think was, “Who is this giant child?!” It was as if time had taken a enormous step in seven-league boots, and my first baby was now a kid.

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My two oldest daughters, 2 years old and five days old, 1992.

As I warned that same “kid,” now 25 years old, I felt that immense step again, striking me with sudden reality that those two tiny girls were now women; the older a graduate student nearly finished with her thesis, just as I was with small children, the other a nursing student hoping to be a newborn nurse in a couple of years.

I wish I could have stretched through time and tapped my younger self on the shoulder—the me who stared at her two little girls and wondered, What have I done? Why did I think I could be a mother to two children?!

I would have said to her, “For just a moment, look here. See what will happen in twenty-four shockingly short years.

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“You’ll have some rough years, difficult months, and terrible days, but also many wonderful ones, and eventually you’ll see this: your two formerly-baby daughters, with your first granddaughter. Hold on to this image for when your hope flags and your confidence wanes. It’ll be good. Eventually, it’ll all be good.”

(I would not have told my younger self, however, that I’d have seven more children. I/she would have dropped in a dead faint,  never to be revived.)

As I watched my daughters and yearned to encourage my younger self, I imagined that I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I wondered if it were a distant me, another twenty-four years in the future with too much white hair to pretend it’s only highlights, and with so much experience that I’m sure I’d regard my forty-seven-year-old self as naïve.

I imagined I heard a seventy-one-year-old whisper, “For just a moment, look here. See what’s happened . . .”

I hope that I/she was smiling, as I was this week. I hope that I/she was sending me a message of encouragement, of never giving up. I’m sure there’ll be events that she’ll have witnessed in our future that will be heartbreaking, but others that will be glorious beyond my current imagining. I hope it’s to one of those scenes I/she is wishing to draw my attention, just for a moment.

And I hope that the ninety-five-year-old Trish, witnessing yet another scene of astonishment, is tapping the seventy-one-year-old me on the shoulder, and chuckling and weeping with joy as she does so.

Two hours later an exhausted Mahrree, drenched with sweat and tears, and shocked that so much could change so quickly, stared at the bundle in her arms. Her mother and the midwives were surprised that the baby was so small. Mahrree’s seeming enormity must have been a trick of the eye, they decided, magnified by her slight frame. The baby probably came early.

But she didn’t know what they were talking about; nothing about the newborn she spent the last hour and a half birthing seemed small. ~Book 1, Forest at the Edge of the World

22 Random things I learned at Comic Con 2016

I ran a booth, I dragged six of my nine kids with me, had two others meet us there, and three days of 12+ work days are still a blur in my head, but I remember a few things:

1. I am not in shape to run up three flights of stairs to see Mark Hamill in the distance. But once I got my breath back, hanging with Mark in the Vivint Center was totally doable.

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Me and Mark. I’m sure he saw me waving to him.

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2. My knowledge of geekdom isn’t as deep as I thought. I recognized maybe only a third of the costumes which paraded past my booth. But I did recognize TwoFlower—and the older man dressed as him was delighted that I also knew what his elaborate imp-in-a-box was. (Terry Pratchett’s version of a camera.)

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(My four-year-old doesn’t yet understand the difference between pretend and real. He thought it was a real Tardis, just like he ran from the R2-D2 droid because it was too real.)

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(My daughter, in the green shirt, didn’t fear R2 whatsoever.)

3. People will freak out when the curtain they’re sitting by suddenly parts and someone (me) walks through it. Probably my best entertainment was leaving my booth by the back curtain to dart over to the bathrooms, shocking lurkers that life exists beyond the panels. I also got to hear a lot of juicy gossip from people who didn’t realize I was sitting just a foot away eating my dinner, especially about someone named Cheryl.

Wherever you are, Cheryl, your associates don’t believe for one minute you didn’t have surgery, and Daniel’s on to you.

4. Listen—really listen—to people to discover marvelous things. One young woman came to my booth asking if I had a Doctor Who clock. I told her I was gathering suggestions for one, and did she know anything about the older Doctors? She pulled out her iphone, wrapped as a Tardis, and in seconds she had up wiki pages of Doctor Who to back up her suggestions which she proudly stated.

Next she pulled out her ipad and showed me the scripts she’d downloaded from audio plays, and she trembled slightly with joy to find someone willing to appreciate her fanatical fandom.

Maybe, the thought occurred to me, she’d been waiting for three days to find someone needing her expertise, and while it was Saturday night and the Con was closing, we chatted for ten minutes about her knowledge. I gave her my card and told her to email me if she had any other suggestions, because clearly she was the authority, and she blushed with pride.

That’s when I also noticed she was alone. Maybe she’d come with someone else and would find them later, but I doubted it. I hadn’t yet seen anyone alone at Comic Con, but she wasn’t looking or waiting for anyone. She was hoping, perhaps, that someone would find her. We did.

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(My oldest daughter, due in three weeks, learned that working all day and evening won’t induce labor, unfortunately.)

5. A middle-aged woman not dressed in cosplay but wearing a badge (see photo above of my daughter’s all-powerful badge which got us passed all lines) looks like an authority. One afternoon I took a break and wandered over to where the celebrities were signing autographs. My purpose was to catch sight of Manu Bennett, who one of my old high school friends who I saw earlier says was worth gawking at, and who I’ve always thought would make a great Perrin Shin (one of the lead characters in my book series).

But I’d never be brave enough to meet him, because what would I say? Something creeper-stalker-like, such as, “I’ve written a book series, and I’ve imagined the main guy should be played by you”?

So I stood with my arms folded, about 70 feet away from the entrance where the celebrities came into the convention center, and I must have looked rather stern as I was lost in thought. Stern enough in my black t-shirt and beige pants that people gave me wide berth, except to ask me questions. “Where are the celebrities when they’re not here?” “Where’s the food court?” “Can I just go up to a celebrity and shake their hand?” I made up believable answers.

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My daughter and Rory from Doctor Who, Arthur Davrill. Hanging out at Celebrity Row.

I didn’t realize until later that I was dressed like the security guys, and that people probably mistook me as a supervisor (since my build obviously doesn’t scream, “SECURITY!”).

That’s when I wished I’d tested my philosophy, that someone walking purposefully will not be stopped. I wanted to go behind the black screen where the celebrities hid out, and stride down the corridor as if I belonged there.

But then I realized how embarrassing it’d be for my kids to have to go to the security office and bail me out (or whatever happens if someone’s caught). And there I’d be, weeping and saying, “I just wanted to see if he could be Perrin!”

The fantasy of doing it is better than the reality, in many ways.

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Manu Bennett finally did come out, grinning and sauntering.
Definitely could be Perrin.

6. Some costumes are astonishing. I want to redo my bedroom to look her.

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(Not the Pickachu, but Queen Elizabeth.)

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Best/tallest Hagrid I’ve seen.

7. Some costumes are ridiculous. As my friend David Jensen observed, bikini armor is quite useless.

(No, no bikini armor here–just my old friend and helpful beta reader David Jensen who noticed the bikini armor. I love writing that: bikini armor.)

8. Even if the costume is many sizes too small, some people will insist on squeezing most of their body parts into it. Mercifully, I didn’t take any photos of those. But I still feel nauseated at the thought of bulging flesh.

9. People respect a soldier’s uniform. My oldest son wore his army fatigues (and bought a matching outfit for his girlfriend), swapping out his army patch for a Zombie Fighter patch. He was surprised at the amount of people who came up to shake his hand. Even the Asian workers at the Mongolian BBQ food truck, where he bought us all lunch, wanted a picture with a “real American soldier.” And here he thought no one would want to take his photo.

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The only shot I got of my family, as they were leaving Thursday night.

10. Some people will complain, no matter what.
“There’s too many people!” (You’re one of them.)
“I just know I’m going to get sick from something!” (When you’re with 100,000 people, yeah . . .)
“That costume is so awful.” (Have you looked at your own?)

11. Some people will find the bright side, no matter what. Those folks give me hope and inspiration.

12. Utahns with children really like Harry Potter. As evidenced by the amount of strollers parked outside the ballroom to hear Evanna Lynch (“Luna Lovegood”) speak.

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13. Don’t give up in the middle. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but during the last week I lost five pounds because of a knotted belly and twisted bowels. I’ve never, ever, done something this stressful in my life. (Except moving cross country, driving a van 2,000+ miles only four weeks after I had my 8th baby–that maybe was worse.) Never before have I invested and created and worked so much, and halfway through Friday I realized that the sales weren’t going to be what I had fantasized.

In fact, we’d barely break even. No one around us was doing huge sales either, and I found out later that very few of the vendors had the success they were hoping for.

I was ready to quit and leave, even though I knew I wouldn’t do it. I privately castigated myself, however, for my arrogance, my naïve hope. Why did I think this was a good idea in the first place?

Because every morning, for the past two months, I’d waken up with the clear image of what I needed to accomplish that day to be ready for Comic Con. Every day I felt the gentle reassurance that this was what I should do, that it would all be well, and that I should continue.

And so I did, waiting for whatever was to come, and eventually learning to have fun. By that evening I was talking freely with people and actually enjoyed myself. That’s huge for an introvert like me.

14. Watching it all come down is depressing. Like seeing the clean-up after a funeral. It really is all over.

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15. I saw marvelous things I’ll never see again. My favorite, which I didn’t have time to whip out my camera for, was the true Rastafarian, with massive dreadlocks, on the street outside the convention center on his skateboard, blaring reggae music. He was dressed like Spiderman as he whizzed by. Beautiful.

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The balloon Star Wars folks were also good, if not a bit squeaky.

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And this pirate ship, quietly gliding behind our booth at the end, like the Black Pearl in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” when it’s carried by crabs across the salt flats (filmed here in Utah).

 

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And I realized I really, really want a pirate coat someday.

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This massive box was on the loading dock. Welcome to Comic Con.

16. Awkwardness reigns. It’s a well-known fact that many geeks, nerds, and cosplay folks feel out of place in the regular world. They come to these conventions to find other fringe folks, and to be part of the group for once. Even then, there are still those on the fringes of the fringe groups, but they’re the ones who get all of the attention—positive attention, usually.

I told my kids that whoever seemed truly bizarre, but was wearing a wristband, was probably still ok.

It was the folks who weren’t wearing wristbands or badges they needed to steer clear of.

17. Not everyone “gets” it. The nice women running the booth next to me were clearly not part of the geek/nerd/cosplay world. Their product was kids’ books, and they were used to community fairs. Their eyes would bulge in shock or fear at what walked by next.

Then a very shapely woodland sprite sauntered past, wearing only a g-string and a lot of body paint, and I heard one of women murmur, “And I thought the state fair had some weirdos.”

18. Playing “Who is he/she with?” is a new sport. During quiet selling times, my daughters and I would sit back and watch who’d come by our booth, then try to guess what their significant other would look like, as they often were a step or two behind. We were often quite surprised, and occasionally uttered, “How’d he/she get her/him?” Some folks I’d never pair together, then again people probably think the same thing when they see me with my cute husband.

19. Karma exists. In my religion we don’t talk about karma per se, but I’m convinced it’s out there. I over prepared for Comic Con, bringing a lot of stuff I didn’t need, but that others around me did. My booth neighbors on various sides borrowed my tablecloth, my phone charger, my blank paper, my markers, took a lot of my free mints, and even let me bounce a wailing newborn while they handled customers (the hardest duty, I assure you).

For one brief moment I did feel slightly put upon as the child of my booth neighbors took candy from my booth for about the seventh time, but then I thought, “If I’m not here to help others, then what good am I?”

Maybe it was that attitude that karma recognized (whoever or wherever she may be) so that she allowed Billy Boyd, aka “Pippin” to wander by our shop with his security (dressed in black shirts like mine) and nod in approval at our stuff Saturday afternoon. I had missed seeing his panel Thursday night (you can see part of it below) but my kids had all gone and hadn’t stopped talking about him for two days.

By the time my daughter, who was in front and noticed (while I was sitting behind snacking) recovered enough from her shock to tell me who had smiled at our stuff, he was gone. But still I grabbed a Lord of the Rings clock and took off running into the mass of tens of thousands of people. I just had to give a hobbit a clock!

But I didn’t see him, anywhere, even after 20 minutes of searching. I admit I even prayed silently, “Dear Lord, if there’s any way I could give him a clock, may I? Where do I go? I know this seems silly, but I really would love to give him a clock . . .”

My oldest daughter, whom I called to tell what happened, later texted me, “I bet he’s gone back to sign autographs. Give the clock to his handler.” That’s when I knew . . .

20. Sometimes, you’ve got to just be braver than you’ve ever dared, even if you think you’ll vomit. “I’m going over to see Billy Boyd,” I told my daughter. “I have to try.” So I took the clock to celebrity row, and also took a Harry Potter one for Luna Lovegood, in case she was there. I was intending to leave the clock with Billy Boyd’s “handler” (that’s what they call them, as if they’re displaying their beasts at the zoo), because I hadn’t signed up to meet Pippin, nor had I paid $50 for an autograph. I stood in line anxiously, watching as the dozen or so in front me went to gush and have something signed. When I got to the handler, I explained what I wanted her to give him.

“No,” she said, with a slight smile. “You’ll give it to him yourself.”

I was not expecting that response. “I’m so nervous,” I confessed, “that I might throw up.” She told me they had buckets, and go ahead.

By this time Billy Boyd, down the table, was looking at me quizzically, so I thought, Gotta do it.

I took the clock out of the box and told him that he walked by our shop and smiled at it, to which he responded, “Yes, I remember!” because he could see my label on the box which matched the sign. (So all my work in branding actually was effective!) I said that we made a LOTR clock, too, and he said, “I didn’t know that.” I also didn’t expect him to respond to my frantic monologue, so I’m sure I stumbled in my words as I said, “My daughter was too shocked to say anything as you walked by, but she stared at you.”

“I saw that, too!” he grinned. That’s when I began to realize he was just an ordinary man. Sort of.

Then I told him, “All of my nine kids are huge LOTR fans–”

“You have NINE KIDS!?” he exclaimed in his awesome Scottish accent.

Oh, how I wished I could have recorded that and made that as my ring tone. “You have NINE KIDS?! You have NINE KIDS?!”

“I do!” I exclaimed back. “And they’ve all helped design and make this clock. They would love for you to have it, if you’d accept it.”

He took the clock and smiled at it, saying. “It’s lovely! It’s beautiful. Thank you!”

Mission accomplished!

As he read what each number represented from Middle Earth, and I sighed in satisfaction that I’d done more than I anticipated. I started to leave when Mr. Boyd surprised me with, “Is that the clock you want me to sign?” He was gesturing to the one tucked under my arm, the Harry Potter intended for Luna Lovegood.

Stunned by that, I said, “Actually, this is for Evanna Lynch. I don’t have one with me for you to sign. I really just wanted to give you that one from my kids.”

“Well then,” he said, “run back to your shop, get another one, and bring it back. I’ve got only five minutes before I have to do photo ops, so when you come back, jump to the head of the line, and I’ll sign it.”

I really wasn’t expecting that, and, with some embarrassment, I said, “But I haven’t paid $50 for your autograph.”

He looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t care. Run and get it.”

Pippin always was my favorite hobbit, now more than ever.

“Really?” I said (or maybe shouted.) “All right! Thank you so much!” and I took off running.

I’m not a sprinter, by any means, but I went as fast as I could, occasionally elbowing people in my way. I was nearly dry-heaving in exhaustion when I grabbed another clock at our booth and gasped to my daughter, “He’s going to sign this!” Then I ran back to get to his table again, propelled by so much adrenaline that I didn’t come down from it for about six hours.

Billy (we’re on a first name basis by now) was talking to some other people, so I had a minute to catch my breath and try to regain some composure.

He saw me, smiled, and I told him as I approached, “You’ve made this middle-aged woman run faster than she ever has. My kids are going to freak.”

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(My daughter, freaking.)

He wrote quickly, because he already knew what he was going to write—he’d been thinking about it! Under Towers for 2, he wrote “Second Breakfast.” Then he signed it, “With love, Billy Boyd, Pippin.”

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“Thank you so much! You’re just wonderful to do this.” I told him, and he did a little “Ah, gee it was nothing” shrug. “It’s going up on my living wall tomorrow,” I told him, then I bounded off.

I probably could have gotten a hug from him, too, and I’d seen him do selfies with others, but I hadn’t gone with the intention of taking something from him, even though he freely offered it. I already had a signature on something we made—a one-of-a-kind item. Somehow asking for a photo would have changed the moment, and I wanted it to be just as it was. Evanna Lynch was already gone, but I didn’t care. I’d gotten more than I’d expected.

I thought then what would have happened if I had given up halfway through Comic Con, if I’d let my anxiety and worry win, if I’d left and never came back. That’s when I learned . . .

21. Success isn’t always measured in $$$. That’s what God was trying to teach me, I realized toward the end. We did, in fact, cover our booth costs, along with advertising, parking, and food, which meant we didn’t lose anything but gained a lot in exposure. But more importantly, I think we were successful in who we reached, like the timid Doctor Who expert and TwoFlower, who was sure no one would appreciate Discworld.

I met several old friends from high school, and made some new ones.

I discovered I can do really hard things, and my kids learned more about business than they ever will any other way (my excuse for letting them skip school).

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One of three booth configurations we played with while there.

I also met people I never would have before. For example, I carried on a fun conversation with a transgendered couple, discussing Alice in Wonderland, clocks, and how difficult it is to walk around with branches in one’s hair (eye-poking hazards for those who follow.)

Had we met casually on the street, I doubt we ever would have chatted, sensing too many differences between us. But barriers come down in events like this, and we find ways to connect through common interests, and parted as friends who have shared compliments and a laugh.

And, I have to confess, I enjoyed the ego stroking. As a writer and Etsy shop owner, my world is pretty much what goes in and comes out of my laptop. Occasionally I get feedback from those who have read my books or purchased my goods, and those are magical days indeed when they tell me they liked my stuff. But rarely have I met the actual people behind the words. (And that’s fine; we introverts communicate best through writing.)

I admit that I teared up when, one afternoon, I realized there were five different people in front of my booth taking pictures of my signs and clocks. Many times the aisle in front of us was blocked by those stopping to read and chuckle. And when someone mentioned, “That’s clever,” or “No one is doing anything like this,” I felt validation. I’m embarrassed to admit that I needed and wanted that, but then I realize that’s all that everyone wants—assurance that they’re doing something good, something that brings others joy.

22. I wish I’d done more of that for others—given more compliments and reached out more to strangers—although my introverted self had stretched further into extrovert territory than I ever had before. There’s nothing better than to see someone light up when I tell them I admire the creativity they put into their costume, that I appreciated their work.

Even though we plan to move across the country next year, still my mind is reeling with ways to make it to the next Comic Con or FanX convention. Because now I know what to do, and how to make it even better for everyone with me.

Plus, it’s a great way to lose five stress pounds. Two months of this, I’d be down to my dream weight.

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I took a picture of our last set-up for “next time,” even though I doubt there’ll be a next time. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it . . . And that pirate coat. I need a pirate coat.