Tuesday, May 05, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: HAWAII

The 50 States Against Bullying campaign began October 1st at my alma mater in California. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year, I spoke at one high school in every state, plus the District of Columbia. The tour ended, fittingly, in the last state added to the Union.


Other than Oregon, where we have family, this is the only state where my family joined me on the journey. Since this is the Aloha State, we had to fit in some touristy things, too...

...like swimming with dolphins (but not for me, because I'm too chicken for that)...

...taking a submarine tour...

...and visiting the beautiful Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, which highlights Hawaiian culture and natural history. They also currently host a dinosaur exhibit, which Isaiah loved.

While in Honolulu, I was also able to speak at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival. And that meant there were new authors to meet! At midnight the night before, as people do when surrounded by such tropical beauty, Austin Aslan and I met at...Denny's! His book, The Island at the Ends of the World, is a survival story set on these islands, which I can't wait to read. (Read the book's description on his website. You'll want to read it, too!)

At the festival, I met Lisa Freeman and got a signed copy of her novel, Honey Girl. Ms. Freeman had acting roles in some of my all-time favorite movies, so the autograph was extra cool!

For my speech, I was introduced by Stephanie Wang, Miss Chinatown Hawaii. She founded Bully Free Hawaii USA, making her another one of the very inspiring people I've been so fortunate to meet as an author.

But the school that brought this literal cross-country opportunity to a close was Campbell High School in Ewa Beach. Their campus has a Power to Choose Courtyard, surrounded by inspiring quotes.

All of the quotes were beautiful, but I was drawn to the one by Walt Disney, one of my lifelong creative heroes.

In the gym, I first spoke to 7th and 8th graders who walked over from the neighboring middle school. As they arrived, I noticed myself playing with my #ReasonsWhyYouMatter wristband, which matches those that were passed out at each school on the tour. I've worn my same wristband at every stop!

At lunch, I ate and chatted with several students, including members of the Lit Con Club. If this awesome club was around when I was in high school, maybe I would've actually been involved in something!

Then it was back to the gym to talk to mostly freshmen, plus a few sophomore classes.

The following pic was taken by a student during the Question-and-Answer part of my visit. After a few questions, another student shared with the rest of the room how my book helped her through a rough time. And then the other students applauded her bravery! That will remain one of the moments from this tour that will stay with me forever.

Leading up to the Hawaii visit, as the tour began to wind down, I'd been reflecting on what I'd seen and heard since October 1st. I'm still processing it all, and probably will for a while, and this made me reflect on aspects of my own life and what had to line up to bring me here. Being only a few minutes from Pearl Harbor, which I would soon visit with my wife and son, I left Campbell High and drove to Asher Court, a street named after my grandfather. You can read about his role on December 7, 1941 by clicking here.

Along with the wristband, I took another item with me on every stop of the 50 States Against Bullying campaign, but this one no one knew about. The day before that first tour stop was my 39th birthday. When I blew out my candle, I made a special wish concerning this tour. I can't share that wish with you (you know the rules!), but I will say it came true. And the evening after my tour finished, I lit that candle again. JoanMarie and Isaiah helped me blow it out.

Friday, April 24, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: ALASKA

On my journey up to Alaska, I stopped in Oakland, CA to participate in a heartbreaking yet affirming and inspiring fundraiser called "We Are Here: A Benefit to Raise Hope and Awareness for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion". The event was prompted by Gayle Forman's novel, I Was Here, which was inspired by the events surrounding Suzy Gonzales, who took her life at age 19. Suzy's parents also shared their story with us that evening.

In between our talks, The Bayonettes played beautiful music.

Early the next morning, I flew up to Alaska, the fiftieth stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign.

Hold up! The tour is not over yet. Along with the states, I visited a school in Washington, D.C., but 50 States and 1 District Against Bullying was too much of a mouthful. So there's still one to go!

Before officially adding Alaska to the tour, I gave a workshop to the local SCBWI chapter about adding suspense to their novels. If you've seen me give this talk, you know it requires the help of another author who happens to be terrified of specific types of candy. What does that have to do with suspense? A lot! But I can't tell you unless you attend one of my workshops.

Are you in suspense now? That's because I've got this thing mastered!

In Alaska, I used Jolene Perry's irrational fear of M&M's as my example.

Then I went to the Anchorage Museum, which tells the fascinating and changing story of the people who call this home, and how heavily the environment plays a part in their lives. Miniature scenes depicted how Native Alaskans lived in various regions.

Newspapers proclaiming Alaska's entry into the U.S. were displayed, as well as the compelling history of the Alaska pipeline.

In the children's area, always the most fun area of any museum, I took my first infrared selfie.

Finally, it was school time. I spoke at West Anchorage High School, and was welcomed by a large banner and the school librarian, Stacie Cox.

The students, as usual, were wonderful to speak with. But, the entire time, part of me was freaking out on that stage because there aren't many places to perform in Anchorage, so I was giving my anti-bullying talk in the same place Led Zeppelin played!

All around the school, students had filled out and posted cards describing why they matter. Reading their reasons is one of my favorite parts of visiting schools on this tour.

Their words get me right where it counts.

Then I had lunch with several students who won a "Reasons why I want to have lunch with Jay Asher" contest. One of the students, Ariella, did a project on teen suicide that inspired her to create a club on campus called You Are Not Alone. (When I was in high school, I joined the ski club but didn't know how to ski and didn't learn for another ten years.) The room where we ate, the classroom of Temperance Tinker(!), was so cool. She even had a record player next to the classroom toaster(?), and she let me choose the music.

One student, unbeknownst to me, was sketching me as I answered their questions. She then filled the page with things I said during our conversation. For example, "I wanna form a punk band called The Wet Koalas."

After that came a beautiful drive to Girdwood. I mean, it was so beautiful. Everywhere I looked!

Unfortunately, I never got to see any beluga whales. My 4-year-old would have been so impressed by that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Disneyland for the Very First Time (Again)

Before having our son, JoanMarie and I went to Disneyland every year, usually around the holidays. We even went while she was pregnant, but were waiting for the right time to bring Isaiah for his first time. It was a very important decision. So this past weekend, since I was already going down to southern California, we thought...why not!

Of course, the first thing our garbage truck obsessed son had to do, even before getting our tickets, was marvel at the number of garbage cans. Here he is, after grabbing one of the cans, dumping it into his hopper. 

We bought a park-hopper pass and started the day in California Adventure. The Ferris Wheel offers a great overview of the park.

Isaiah was most looking forward to meeting some of his heroes: the Disney princesses! The first, and most important, was Anna from Frozen. When we walked around the corner and saw her, he was starstruck. And JoanMarie and I got choked up.

Slowly, she lured him closer.

And then the embrace that almost never ended.

There was a very fun Frozen sing-along, and Isaiah helped conjure the frozen fractals all around.

Over in Disneyland, there were more princesses to meet-n-greet-n-hug, like Cinderella.

Rapunzel brought a silly grin to Isaiah's face, and it was like watching two old friends hang out.

An unexpected bond formed with Merida, from Brave. Isaiah hasn't seen that movie, but he was completely head-over-heels in love. Everyone around us could read the look on his face, and she finally asked, "Do you have a crush on me?" and he looked her in the eyes, smiled, and said, "Yes."

So I took him on the rockets in Tomorrowland to bring him back closer to Earth.

The ride he asked to go on twice was Ariel's Undersea Adventure, but he seemed most in awe on the Jungle Cruise.

Finally, after spending over ten hours in the parks, it was time to head home.

Disneyland is called the Happiest Place on Earth. This was definitely one of my happiest days on Earth.