This is The Boring Store. It's a small storefront not far from my neighborhood in Chicago. The sign out front encourages you to pay it no attention, but I'm going to let you in on the truth.
IT'S TOTALLY A SECRET AGENT STORE.
Kinda. The Boring Store is a front for 826CHI, where a group of volunteer "agents" train students ages 6 to 18 to battle "an international conglomerate of super villains, rogue agents and verbal assassins" with their "imagination, inspiration and good old-fashioned creativity."
In other words, once a month or so, I head to the 826CHI headquarters at The Boring Store to help teach workshops that help the kids improve their writing skills. The nonprofit was founded by novelist Dave Eggers and has sister centers around the country (a superhero supply company in Brooklyn, a space travel company in Seattle and so on). In addition to the workshops I help out with, 826 offers tutoring, student publishing opportunities, field trips and more.
For me, it's a chance to share my love of reading and writing while exercising my imagination, laughing and learning a lot along the way.
There's a lot of make-believe involved (beyond imagining we're secret agents). I've played the owner of a Scout the Wonder Dog, who recently went missing. The kids held a press conference to interview me and then write up front-page news stories about the lost Wonder Dog. (Lesson learned: Do not attempt to play your own mysterious twin sister without first changing clothes. It will cause the "press" to become suspicious and turn on you.)
We've taken them to a hot dog stand and asked them to write food reviews that we then published online. And we've played anthropologists from the future looking back on ancient remains from 2010 and chronicling our findings. (Lesson learned: I'm "weird.")
Me (holding a watch): So, we're in the future. Look at this odd item from 2010 that was salvaged from the rubble. What do you think it could be?
6-year-old girl: It's a watch.
Me: Or what if it's some sort of military detonation device?
Girl: It's a watch.
Me: Maybe it's a dog collar.
Girl: It's too small for a dog. It's a watch.
Me: Maybe dogs in 2010 were super small.
Girl: Where's the dog's name on it then? It's a watch.
Me: Maybe dogs in the past weren't named, like, Fido. Maybe they were named 123456789101112.
Girl: You're weird.
And tonight I'll be helping a group of 2nd- to 4th-grade boys write stories about Samurai. Could it get any cooler than that?
If you haven't laughed in a while, if your job isn't playing to your strengths, if your imagination seems drained, share your talents with a kid. It's one of the most enriching things I've ever done. Well, you know, besides my world-class work as a secret agent.
The Boring Store: NotaSecretAgentStore.com