The first time I met James Buescher was also the first time I went to a Pennwriters Conference. We somehow gravitated to one another. We attended the same workshops. I'm sure, in typical James fashion, he approached me (since I'm a bit of an introvert) and began conversing. I remember us huddling in a corner, sharing our entries for the Pennwriters contest and the wonder in his eyes as he read mine. I thought he was joking, especially after I had read his entry. Who was he kidding? He had no competition; the man was brilliant.
I remember when he won both the non-fiction and the fiction awards and literally knocked me out of my chair as he ran to the podium to make his acceptance speeches. I remember how we partied afterward.
He came, religiously, to the Pennwriters Springfield Critique Group. He drove every month the hour to an hour and a half just to get feedback on his writing. We would find a restaurant (Indian or Thai or some other unique to the Lancaster area restaurant) and rehash the critique group and what we wanted to do with our writing and our aspirations and our dreams and our hopes. Although, at the time, most of it felt like dreams.
He continued to win awards in journalism. We continued to hang out. At fairs, at shows, at the movies, at restaurants, at home, at conferences. He would call me with the hopes that this one ... this wonderful man was THE ONE ... and I hoped he was right.
I remember when he found out THE ONE was a little dodgy or a lot dodgy. How we talked on the phone, deconstructing the events that lead up to the realization that THE ONE was really not even close to being The Other One.
I remember when he attended the Philadelphia critique group and we lied out on the grass of Rittenhouse Square and read our prose as others tossed frisbees at their dogs or lounged into one another. I remember when he told me he was diagnosed with depression and it made writing really hard and he wanted to know how he could make the writing come to him like it used to.
I remember not having an answer.
James was a vibrant force that allowed me, and others, to be a part of his life. He passed away, yesterday, Sunday, September 19, 2010. For me it feels too short, too limited. He was supposed to be the brilliant one. The one who became the Pulitzer Prize Winner; the New York Times bestseller; the Booker, Orange, Bakeless, National Book Award winner. He was the chosen one. And now the chosen one is gone and I'm not sure what to do with all of this. I tip my glass (a sauvignon blanc, if you please) to James. To his life. To all that he brought to it and those he touched. Thank you, James, for allowing us to be a part of your brilliant life.