In Memoriam: LB Long

by Nicole Plyler Fisk

I remember the summer of 2011, when, as Associate Director of First-Year English at USC, I got the list of our new graduate teaching assistants. I saw the name “Lacey Long” and thought: “What a lovely name.” Each August, when we have our teacher training before the start of the semester, there is always one, in the haze of new names and faces, I remember. The year before, it was a red-haired girl with a fun and quirky personality, whose interesting fact in the icebreaker exercise was that she juggled. For the 2011 year, it was the smallest person in the room, with slicked-back short brown hair and glasses. Her introduction and interesting fact? “I’m Lacey Long, but I go by ‘LB.’ I look like a twelve-year old boy.” She laughed so freely when she said this. I thought: “What a lovely person.”

Of my many memories of LB in the two years I knew her, I’ll share two of my favorites:

I was in 701A, our Teaching Critical Reading and Composition class, and I was demonstrating how I would lead freshmen through a close-reading of a poem. I don’t even remember the title of the poem, but LB loved it. The comments she made in class were brilliant, of course, but at the time, that’s not what struck me. I’m used to hearing smart graduate students say smart things. What struck me was her excitement, her glee, her joy. She was like a child opening a Christmas present, as she unpacked the meaning of the poem. Perhaps that was the image that led me to respond the way I did, which in hindsight, was completely unprofessional.

I laughed, my glee, I think, nearly mimicking hers and said, “You’re so CUTE.” That got a laugh out of everyone, LB included – but she was. That was the only way to describe her at the time, and, in my five years of co-teaching 701, it remains one of my favorite memories.

The second memory is one I like to call: LB and The Mouse. LB shared an office with a number of new graduate teaching assistants, one of whom found evidence suggesting that a mouse was sharing their office space as well. She reported to us, we told the appropriate University office, and employees of that office promptly brought and arranged mouse traps.

LB, unaware that the University employees were setting up the traps at her officemates’ requests, just as promptly threw every single trap into the trashcan. When she realized what had happened, she told me, “I know they’re terrified of seeing a mouse, Nicole, but, really – I’m just as terrified of seeing a mouse that’s dead, having been killed in a trap.”

That night, I ordered some humane mousetraps – the catch and release kind – and I have to admit that I was in love with the idea of catching and releasing a mouse. We never caught him, and, seeing no more evidence, finally concluded that he had, as LB said, “moved on.”

I emailed her Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s “The Mouse’s Petition” (published 1773). Barbauld was with her friend, Doctor Priestley, when she saw a caged mouse that he planned on using in one of his experiments. She left a poem, from the mouse’s perspective, tied to the cage; and, according to legend, Priestley was so touched that he released the mouse. The poem will forever remind me of LB, especially my favorite stanza:

“The well taught philosophic mind/ To all compassion gives;/ Casts round the world an equal eye,/ And feels for all that lives.”

LB felt for all that lives.

Two quotes play in my mind when I think of her now. The first is an adaptation of Emily Brontë’s line in Wuthering Heights about her young heroine, Catherine Earnshaw, who also dies too young: “She burned too bright for this world.” When I think of LB, I wonder if she felt too deeply for this world. Sometimes, I think it was painful for LB to feel; and I’m glad that she’s no longer in pain.

The other is a quote by Victor Hugo, and it’s one that helped me after my grandfather’s death. The quote seemed applicable to him, because like my grandfather, Hugo wrote this as an old man, toward the end, looking back on his life. But, in a way, it’s just as applicable if not more so to our LB. Like LB, Hugo was a writer; like LB, he was a “Free Thinker.” He advocated for the least of these; his burial reflected his morals (he asked to be buried in a poor man’s hearse), as LB’s green burial reflects hers.

So, to close:

“I feel within me the future life. I am like a forest that has once been razed; the new shoots are stronger and brisker. I shall most certainly rise toward the heavens. The sun’s rays bathe my head. The earth gives me its generous sap, but the heavens illuminate me with the reflections of – of worlds unknown. Some say the soul results merely from bodily powers. Why, then, does my soul become brighter when my bodily powers begin to waste away? . . .

The nearer my approach to the end, the plainer is the soul of immortal symphonies of worlds which invite me. It is wonderful yet simple. It is a fairy tale; it is history . . .

I have been translating my thoughts into prose and verse; history, philosophy, drama, romance, tradition, satire, ode, and song; all of these I have tried. But I feel that I haven’t given utterance to the thousandth part of what lies within me. When I go to the grave I can say as others have said, ‘My day’s work is done.’ But I cannot say, ‘My life is done.’ My day’s work will recommence the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon twilight, but opens upon the dawn.”

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