For a teacher and a mentor of a young person with exceptional talent, she carries a heavy burden. Youth are impressionable, their path malleable. How much does the guide intervene? When to direct, when not. What are the resources to bring to them and when is the right time for it?
These thoughts occupied Toby for most of the morning after she’d first read Marsh’s story. She’d been doing this work for most of her life and knew well enough that a talent like his comes along perhaps once in a teacher’s lifetime.
As she cleaned the house, and later prepared her gardens for the coming winter, she recalled his story. Should she say nothing, and let the boy unfold in his own way until he asked for her assistance? She’d never before considered such a strategy. She had treasured the timeless works of great writers from an early age. Each possessed a style that would be associated with them and emulated by many new writers. She observed that each broke with convention where it worked. Each story provided a window for readers — a time, a place, people who would live on in readers’ minds sometimes for centuries. Hugo, Dickens, Austen came to mind. Could Marsh be of such talent?
She wished to know more about Marsh. His writing showed that he was wise for his age, probably from hardship, perhaps loss. These were the elements of deep writing. It was also clear he possessed drive and that people gathered around him.
“Shirley, hi. It’s Toby.”
“Hey girl, what’s up?”
“Have you got time to read an essay for me? I’ve, I’ve received something that is . . . well, totally unexpected.”
Shirley was quiet, listening. “Sure. Are you home?”
Toby walked Shirley to the chairs on the bluff. It had been a singing blue day, and the bay and Gulf beyond it shimmered to the horizon. While Shirley read, Toby went inside to mix gin and tonics, Shirley’s preferred libation.
When Toby returned, Shirley had put down the essay and was leaning back in her chair, staring into the blue.
“This boy, Marsh, I believe he is the young man that Vern has been talking about for almost a year.”
Shirley filled Toby in on how Vern and Marsh had developed a durable friendship around Sunday Pier fishing, and how Vern had grown to love the boy but had not extended the relationship beyond their weekly sports activities.
“He apparently is living with an Uncle who is an alcoholic. The boy feeds himself and does pick up work around town to cobble together a survival strategy. Vern says he’s a quick learner, too.”
“What did you think of the essay?”
“He’s an old soul. I’ve read nothing like it from someone his age.”
“I’m struggling to know how to help him keep developing the talent. I’ve decided to do nothing, to just give him opportunities to publish and continue to write. What do you think?”
“Yes. With the Gulf conservation a purpose for the writing, he will likely be able to navigate his personal circumstances, finding ways to understand it.”
Toby thought about Shirley’s astute observation. She was right. Writing is that, all art is that: a way to understand, to celebrate the experience, to “come out ahead of ourselves” as Steinbeck reminded us.
That evening she reread the essay. Across the bottom, she wrote, Continue!