Miss Gibson, my seventh-grade English teacher, was a young New England woman with a ruddy, but beautiful, face. She looked like a downhill skier and was from New Hampshire. She always reminded me of snow and the dark of winter. She was shy, recalcitrant, and dressed in simple skirts and tailored button-down shirts. After one class she called me to her desk. I had written a story about exactly how the wind outside my bedroom window brushed against my cheek—I had really been wondering how people commit suicide. My bedroom was up a few stories. I called my story “A Day in the Life of a Fink.”
“What an understanding you have of metaphor,” she said. After that, she met me in the mornings and we went together to sit in the school library, where she went over more of my stories, encouraging what was becoming a fever and passion to write. Then one day we went to a place called Leonard Park which had a huge lake. She introduced to me to a family of white, waddling ducks. How awkward and funny they walked but how uniquely proud they were of their own oddness, she explained.
I called her thirty years later to tell her I had become a writer. I think I frightened her. “Do you know what it feels like to have someone call you out of the blue like this?” she said; and after that, she never answered my letters.
Still, I am very sure she was the first person to tell me writing would be important. Wind and ducks figure abundantly in a lot of my novels.