A few years ago, while traveling with a colleague, he mentioned his bucket list to me. I had never given much consideration to mine, beyond the usual, “Oh, I hope someday to…” whatever. But in talking to him, I realized that it wasn’t such a bad idea; more of a goal setting, giving yourself things to work toward. If you looked at mine, you’d see some of the usual things: visit all 50 states, go on an international mission trip, go to Italy, see KISS in concert, etc. I made short work of it within the first several months of writing it, crossing several states off in a busy season at work, traveling to Romania on a mission trip and many other fun adventures.
Last night, I was taking care of some things at home in the late afternoon when I took a break to thumb through my Twitter feed. In doing so, I saw a quick tweet from one of the local news stations that Judy Blume was in town to screen the movie version of her book, Tiger Eyes. It said she would be doing Q&A and a book signing afterwards. And best of all, tickets were still available!
I think my heart may have skipped a beat as I looked at the clock and calculated if I could make it downtown in time. I shot off a quick message to two friends I grew up with, asking if they thought I should go while all the while I was getting ready. The resounding answer came back: “OMG!” “Yes!” “Go…and go once for me too!”
To us, Judy Blume is so much more than an author. Her books, and especially her preteen and teenage protagonists, SPOKE to us. In many ways, they were us. They faced the same struggles and uncertainties and confusion that we all did. Some of us hid it better than others but believe me, it was there for each and everyone in one form or another. We learned about getting our periods for the first time; we learned that “we must, we must, we must increase our bust” exercises didn’t really work. We learned about first love. We learned about bullying. We learned about racism. We learned about sex…and what the oft-discussed “first time” might be like. We learned that coping with loss was incredibly heartbreaking and hard but that we could and would emerge on the other side of that sadness.
I can’t tell you how much her books meant to me growing up, especially one in particular. “Deenie” is the story of a girl who finds out she has scoliosis and is confined to a back brace to try to correct it. While my experience wasn’t exactly the same, I dealt with some of the same fears and issues in dealing with my own diagnosis and brace. I can’t even begin to go into all of that – we’d be here all day. But suffice it so say, her book had a huge impact on me.
I was so excited and a little nervous driving over. I was really holding out hope that tickets would still be available and they were. I grabbed a large popcorn for dinner and settled in to relive a book I’d read for the first time over 25 years ago.
The movie is on limited release to about 20 small theaters nationwide but it’s also available for download from various outlets now. I would highly recommend it. In many ways it is very true to the book and, although I’m usually a purist, the artist liberties didn’t bother me at all. I think it helped too that I knew that Judy Blume and her son had made the film together; in that way, changes didn’t seem a betrayal of the author, as sometimes in the case!
After the film, Judy came up and answered audience questions on a wide variety of topics. I wanted to ask her about Deenie but I couldn’t find the words in front of everyone, so I chose to wait until the signing.
Strategically, I tried to plant myself at the back of the line but others had the same idea and I ended up about 3/4 of the way back. When my turn came, I handed her my copy of Tiger Eyes to sign while a gentleman took our photo. (I look terrible but she looks fantastic!) While she was signing, I told her that her books had meant so much to growing up and that I just wanted to thank her for that. (And I’ll admit, I got a little teary as I told her. Yes, I am a sap.) And I told her I wanted to specifically thank her for Deenie because I was Deenie, back brace and all for many years. She and I spoke about that for a time and she asked if I remembered that the book was dedicated to a girl named Jane; I did. She said Jane was the inspiration for the story and that she had actually come out to a recent signing. She is 53 now and doing great.
My time with Judy Blume had come to an end. I thanked her again and shook her hand and went out to my car and burst into tears, my heart full. I was thinking of that uncertain, confused girl I was back when I read and reread her books, of how much they meant to me, of how much they taught me.
And I realized that sometimes your bucket list items aren’t on your bucket list.