There’s no stopping the clock, no turning the hands back and revisiting history to change outcomes. What’s done is done. Today, in my English classes, I read “Viking Burial,” the opening story in Jeanne Leiby’s collection, Downriver. We were studying plot, setting, and so forth. Five times, I read, more recited from memory the lines. “This isn’t yours,’ the mother says to the son in the story.
The start of the school year has gone well (knock on wood). Bright, wonderful students, all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of stuff bubbling under the surface. I’ve been reminded why I teach, several times, by listening to students share their lives; reminded how fortunate I’ve been in my own life.
Jeanne Leiby would have been fifty today. She’s been dead three years now. I spoke of her with kindness in my classes this morning, remembering how she hated my poorly-constructed metaphors and similes. Back then, I was trying too hard, forcing the issue, making my writing conform to some ideal shape that would garner agents and editors by the bagful. After Jeanne’s death things changed for me as a writer, and I pointedly gave up on writing “formulaically” or towards some version of what a story should be according to the gatekeepers. Jeanne urged me to find the truth in my writing and move towards that as a narrative goal. She didn’t mean find the “non-fiction truth,” rather, she meant find the voice you’re meant to have.
The time since Jeanne’s death has been fairly difficult; moving back to California, finding work, teaching again, having a new child in the house, navigating the sadness of my mother’s health issues. But, in this time, I’ve let go of the past in some ways; missing New Orleans, but embracing my world here in California. I haven’t got an agent, or an editor, but I’ve at least found my voice and stuck to my guns regarding what I write. For that, I owe a debt to several people, and Jeanne Leiby is one of them. I raise my glass to her memory tonight.