By Kelley Lindberg
There I was last Thursday, walking along the sidewalk outside the terminal at the Los Angeles airport, following my printed instructions that explained how to find the SuperShuttle (note to SuperShuttle: there ARE no overhead orange signs saying “Shared Ride Vans”) until I finally stumbled across the SuperShuttle representative (still no orange signs). After I gave the helpful woman my name and reservation number, she radioed the van with the secret code for “don’t stop here for at least 20 minutes,” then she looked at my hair and said, “Is there something going on where everyone has to have purple hair?”
Right, I have a streak of purple in my hair this month. I’ve been adding color to my hair for a couple of years now, and I tend to forget about it until I catch my reflection in a plate-glass store-front window. And even then I sometimes fail to notice the color, because I’m busy disguising my horrified gasp as a coughing fit. Plate-glass store-front windows are not kind to women who are not 16-year-old gymnasts. (Trust me. It’s the window.)
So yeah, I have purple in my hair. But as far as I knew, I hadn’t accidentally staged a flash mob of purple-haired performance artists to converge on the LAX passenger pick-up area. Although I have to admit, it’s probably been done.
But I was in Los Angeles for the international conference of the Society of Children’s Books Writersand Illustrators. I explained to the SuperShuttle woman that over a thousand writers and artists were arriving in Los Angeles for this conference, and perhaps that crowd might contain a higher-than-average number of people with color in their hair.
|Me, Jean Reagan, Neysa Jensen, and Bobbie Pyron
at SCBWI LA 2013
But what I really wanted to say was:
“This is L.A.! How does a bit of color in one’s hair stand out in L.A.?!”
Had she not noticed where she was working? Had she failed to see the staggering variety of the mostly (but perhaps not exclusively) human-shaped beings flowing past us on the sidewalk?
I mean, we writers and illustrators of books for young people might embrace our inner whimsy a little more freely than, say, accountants from Poughkeepsie (although I’ve known some pretty hip accountants in my day), but seriously, in L.A. – a town that canonizes plastic surgeons, where bodies are renovated from the ground up, where even the nearby shopping mall sported a sign saying “Pardon our dust – we’re having a little work done” – here of all places a lock of iris-colored hair raises an eyebrow?
She accepted my explanation with skepticism, clearly still hoping for a glimpse into an underground society of violet-haired revolutionaries wielding airline-approved carry-ons and shampoo in 3-ounce bottles.
But then I got to the hotel, made my way to the conference registration desk, and discovered something kind of wonderful.
I was surrounded by a society of revolutionaries wielding airline-approved carry-ons and shampoo in 3-ounce bottles. And some of them did, in fact, have violet tresses. Or scarlet. Or blue. Or yellow. Or blond or black or brown or gray. And we were all there for one reason:
To subvert the children.
|Matt de la Pena signed a book for my son, even though
neither of them has colored hair.
Every one of us at that conference writes or draws or edits or (even worse) sells subversion. We lure those precious young people, from babes to impressionable teens, into that most dangerous land: Imagination. We write and illustrate them into places where they can explore and think and dream and think and love and think and cry and think and tremble and think and triumph and think and escape and maybe even think some more.
And we do it gladly, with everything we have within us. With or without colored hair.
And the children thank us.
Muchas gracias to everyone who organized SCBWI LA 2013. The speakers were luminous, inspiring, and laugh-out-loud funny. The workshops were enlightening and invigorating. My fellow attendees were friendly and supportive, and it was great to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. And the party was, well, a party! Congratulations to my wonderful roomie Jean Reagan, who received the Crystal Kite award for her picture book How to Babysit a Grandpa. (And a shout-out to my other roomie extraordinaire, Bobbie Pyron, author of The Ring, A Dog’s Way Home, and The Dogs of Winter!)
Now I’m back home in Utah, my purple hair still proclaiming my subversive nature. I am inspired. Stand back, everyone. I have a keyboard in front of me, and I’m not afraid to use it.