Missing Friends

By , June 13, 2017

As I prepared to travel to Juneau to help our friends move (see A Two-Car Family Once Again) I regretted the timing; I needed to be in Juneau during the North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway.

Brian Doyle at the 2016 North Words Writers Symposium final dinner (Photo: Unknown).

I attended the conference for the first time last year, and it made a lasting impression on me (see Resonance and Courage). Even more than the writing advice, workshops, one-on-one consultations with respected professional authors, the people I encountered left their mark.

Thus, it pained me to leave on the evening ferry mere hours before Alaskan author, Eowyn Ivey, gave a reading of her new book, To the Bright Edge of the World at our library. I doubt she remembers me much, but felt like I’d snubbed a friend who’d come to call!

Likewise, I thought about the friends from Juneau I’d made at the conference. I wanted to look them up, but the hectic scramble of moving, and the likelihood that they went to Skagway for this year’s conference kept me from doing so. I watched for familiar faces as I always do in Juneau (we lived there 14 years before moving here, so I always scan crowds for friends) and left it at that.

On the ferry home, I saw Maureen Longworth, whom I’d met last year. I discovered that she was headed to Skagway for the final banquet of this year’s conference, which her partner, Lynn had attended. The next day, they would begin a road trip to Valdez, where she would attend a reading of her new play, Blue Ticket: Fairies Out of Alaska.

The play is based on trues stories of Juneau residents in 1963, when the police secretly expelled undesirables from town by giving them a “blue ticket,” a one-way ferry ticket out of town (usually out of state). Targets of this program included suspected homosexuals.

There will be two free public stage readings of selected scenes in Juneau June 28th and June 30th.

(If you attend either of these readings, and happen to talk to Maureen, please tell her Mark sent you!)

When I got home and caught up on Facebook, I received a bad shock: Brian Doyle, the keynote speaker of last year’s conference, had passed away exactly a week before!

I have not the talent to properly eulogize this brilliant man. How to encapsulate his warmth, humor, passion, and insight in a few words? For me, meeting Mr. Doyle felt like discovering an older brother I never knew I had, but who knew who I am, and loved me for it. I suspect I’m not the only attendee to feel this way.

And now, he’s gone. The world’s a little less wonderful now than it had been. I miss my friends from last year, but I’ll miss him the most of all.

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