Writers, Bats, Alligators, Graffiti, and Talking With a Poet Laureate Over a Glass of Merlot

Bats. Long walks. Sunburn. Alligators. Graffiti. Rejection. Writers. Coffee shops and wine bars. Meeting internet friends in person for the first time. Even a poet laureate.

I’m not sure how much more goodness I can handle in one week.

* * * * *

Monday morning. A young lady drove up next to our minivan, rolled down her window, and peered through the passenger side.


I got out of the van, walked around, and gave her a big hug, because even though we’ve never met in person, I feel like I know her. This was Tamara Lunardo of “Tamara Out Loud” fame, and I was happy to meet her. She’s just as full of life and kindness as her writing makes her out to be.

What a day she had in store for us.

We walked for miles through a beautiful park, the kids searching for alligators and cranes while Maile, Tamara, and I talked about life and parenthood and writing. From there we had lunch at The Swamp, a Gainesville institution. And if you read Tamara’s blog, you know the day wouldn’t be complete unless we did something illegal, so we went to this huge wall in Gainesville that everyone paints. The kids added their own layer of graffiti.

That night we waited until dusk and then watched thousands and thousands of bats fly from a bat house to the lake, right over our heads, each of them trying to avoid the lone hawk picking them off one at a time.

Tamara took me to a coffee shop that night and introduced me to three of her writer friends. We talked about our goals and what keeps us from reaching them. We talked about the importance of reading well. We didn’t realize what time it was until the barista turned off the lights, a not-so-subtle hint that we had stayed past the 11pm closing.

* * * * *

On Tuesday, Willie took to the road, headed south to Orlando, Florida. We spent the afternoon getting situated, and then at 6pm I drove into Orlando to meet my writer friend Stacy Barton in person for the first time.

Again, what a night! We met at a wine bar, and as soon as I saw Stacy I felt like I was seeing an old friend. We talked for about thirty minutes before the others arrived, here and there, one at a time. Even my good friend Janet Oberholtzer, in town for a race and some book talks, was able to be there. We drank wine and ate cheese and bread and everyone was so refreshingly honest about their recent disappointments, their hopes, and their pending potential successes.

Me and Billy Collins

Not only that, but I got to meet Billy Collins, 2-term US Poet Laureate and a recent TED talker. He told me stories of when he joined Garrison Keillor on “Prairie Home Companion,” and what it’s like to write in Florida versus writing in New York, where he grew up. One of the most encouraging things he said to me last night came after he asked me how old I was.

“35,” I said. He sort of looked at me as if I had just been born last week.

“Well,” he said slowly. “I didn’t really make it anywhere as a poet until I was in my mid-40s.”

“That’s every encouraging,” I said.

“It should be,” he replied with a huge smile.

4 Replies to “Writers, Bats, Alligators, Graffiti, and Talking With a Poet Laureate Over a Glass of Merlot”

  1. What a blast, getting to spend time with your family.

    The encouragement you got from Billy Collins reminds me of when we were leaving Payne’s Prairie and one of your kids asked how old you were. One half of the elderly couple who heard your answer joked that you were ancient; the other that you were a baby. And I think that’s a gift, where we both are right now, writing in our 30s– we’re just old enough to know a little something, and just young enough to still do something about it.

    Blessings on your journey, friend. Til we meet again!

  2. Shawn, I’m alternating between awe and jealousy! What an incredible journey. Billy Collins’ words are reassuring…I’ll take them to heart for the next 15+ years. Hope you have more excitement in store!

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