An odd moment last night. What Malcolm Gladwell might call a teeter point (is that the phrase he uses? It doesn't sound right. I have not actually read Mr Gladwell). I was in front of -- also beside and behind and among and surrounded by -- a large group of kids at a school in beautiful Claremont Ontario. It was family literacy night, parents and kids, snow boots and Timbits and cider. And me. I was the entertainment, the keynote, the rocket launcher for the evening. The gym floor was covered with mats for the kids to sit on. They were not sitting. Their ages varied from ten months to twelve years, their behaviour from hyper to uber-hyper (uber meaning super or above, from the German, a language I know about six words of, one of which is uber. Let's see if I can work in zeitgeist). They roiled and bubbled and exploded across the mats, knocking into each other like uranium atoms in the moment before critical mass is reached. When I made a joke, they screamed uproariously, which would have made me feel good except that they also screamed uproariously when I wasn't joking -- sometimes, in fact, when I wasn't speaking at all.
Don't get the feeling that I was hating this. Not at all. I was having a great time. I love kids and energy. I admire parents who can find time after a day at work to drag their kid back to school in the evening. The point I am making has to do with my sense of crowd control.
Normally, I do not try to control my crowd. I enjoy a little bit of chaos. I like to ride it, like a runaway horse, steering the chaos across unfamiliar and scary countryside towards the safety of the home field, and a gentle trot back to the barn.
Last night the chaos was bigger and stronger than usual, a hulking sixteen-hand stallion, and I was almost thrown. My reference to critical mass (see the diagram) was apt -- I was afraid the whole gym was about to explode. I remember pausing in the middle of a joke, with the noise and energy of a hundred moving bodies eddying around me, thinking -- can I DO this? I didn't want to walk away, and have the librarian yell at the kids until they calmed down and the evening became another yucky hour in school. And I certainly didn't want to yell at the kids myself. They weren't my kids. I only yell at my kids. That was my odd moment, my tipping point (Gladwell's phrase has just come back to me. Maybe I should read one of his books). And then I looked out over the sea of arms and legs and wide open mouths and found -- her. An eleven year old girl sitting perfectly still, staring up at me with total attention, drinking in every word. She nodded at me, as if to say, Please go on. And I did. I finished my joke. She laughed appreciatively. So did her girlfriend, sitting beside her. And the boy doing a somersault behind her.
I took a sip of water and carried on. I didn't direct the rest of my talk at this girl, but I did check in with her from time to time. She was my anchor. When I finished speaking I thanked the crowd for their attention. The parents laughed heartily. The kids screamed. I nodded meaningfully at my savior, but by then she was talking to her girlfriend.
Shoot, I never worked in zeitgeist. Maybe just as well. I am not 100% sure what it means.