It was one of those amusing Freudian slips.
Last week I posted a quote on this blog from Kelly Barnhill’s Newbery acceptance speech and dated the speech as having been delivered in 1987. Kelly would have been fourteen years old in 1987. I don’t know her though she lives in my community, but when the good folks at Winding Oak who manage my website caught my error, I looked her up.
The real year of Kelly’s speech was 2017. How did I come by 1987? That’s the year my novel, On My Honor, won a Newbery Honor.
A couple of times a month two good friends and I gather for conversation. Our topic, aging. We are old ladies, though I’m farther along the old-lady spectrum than either of them. We talk about our fears, our hopes, the deep changes we are experiencing. We own up to what we are losing, celebrate the places where we are still learning, still growing. We’ve decided that it’s perfectly all right to talk about our physical ailments, too, something we don’t usually put on display. And at the end of our conversation we look at one another, take a deep breath, and say, “Thank you. This was really useful!”
The day before my thirty-year slip with the date of Kelly’s speech appeared on my website, we three had been talking about the young who are taking our places. One of these friends is a retired psychology professor. She said she still sees reference to her published articles, but she knows they will grow fewer. “Once research is more than ten years old,” she said, and her words trailed into a shrug. And yet she has moved on to new territory, a master gardener, a fabric artist. Roles she had little time for when she was immersed in her career.
The other is a retired therapist. She with some others founded an institute designed to bring psychology and spirituality under the same roof. She talked about how all of her companions in that groundbreaking work have moved on in one way or another, and yet how satisfying it was to go back and see that what they founded still thrives.
And I am still a working writer, though my work leaves my desk at a much slower rate these days. And I spoke about the way the field that has challenged and sustained me for more than forty years has evolved in my wake. I suspect that many of my early novels would never be published today, not because they were bad novels but because the world wants something different now. Even so I feel validated by these changing standards, not erased by them. I was one of many who helped create a world that made it possible for these new standards, these new writers to grow.
Recently, I read Kelly’s Newbery award novel, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. (I listened to it, actually, a new kind of “reading” I have discovered as I make my way back and forth across the city in a succession of thirty-minute segments. It seems that everyplace I go is thirty minutes away.) And I was delighted by the grace of the writing and the wisdom of the writer. By the world she created out of ancient elements while making her story wholly new. By the skill of the narrator, too, in this audio rendition.
And I thought . . . how lucky I am to belong to a field that contains Kelly Barnhill and Katherine Paterson and Neil Gaiman and Kate DiCamillo and Kevin Henkes and Debby Dahl Edwardson and all the as yet unknown writers who will follow us as we tumble, one after another, into obscurity. What a blessing to have been a part of all that good work.
If, for a brief moment, I conflated Kelly’s award with my own . . . so be it. I’m glad to have flashed across the stage with her, if only in my own mind. (If you go back to check on the mistake, you’ll find it corrected now.)
What matters isn’t that my day in the sun has passed or that even Kelly’s is passing. What matters is that the work, our work, day by day by day, is good. What matters is that we each lived our gifts, brought them singing into the world. (This, not just for my fellow writers, but for my old-lady friends who did other good work as well.)
What matters is that, however minutely, our living and thus our song changed the world forever.