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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

For Dave

It took me a while to accept Dave was actually a genius writer. I met him through my old college roommate and when I finally met him in person I don't entirely recall being stricken with the notion of unbridled talent from the man. He dressed more like I did than my professors, he wore a bandana as if there was never a time not to wear one, at times he seemed awkward and shy and others he seemed glaringly intense. I think one of the earliest memories I have of Dave was watching Braveheart at our place, which he was rather excited about being a Wallace and all.

This is in part because Dave wasn't simply modest - he lived in a near delusional state of denial about his status in the world. At least, he tried to maintain such a state. If there was ever a time his abilities were undeniable, it was when he was reading his own material. This was an invitation back into the world you thought you knew - translated as he was uniquely capable of seeing it and when you hear his words in his own voice you also get a feel for this connection he had with his work. Dave saw incredibly complicated concepts in even the simplest of things and while you could bring this out in conversation depending on his mood - when he did a reading everything was laid out for you to witness.

Dave let me attend one of his writing classes at ISU despite not officially being a student there. Or even unofficially a student there. It was easily the high water mark of my academic career. Sure, he chewed tobacco all through class - quite possibly one of the worst habits for someone trying to talk to a group of people could have ... but nothing could detract from the relationship Dave had with the written word whether it be his or yours. Without Dave I would never have been able to measure the gap of what my writing was versus what it could be with enough work and discipline. Engaging Dave into a conversation about writing was about as good as conversations are capable of being.

He once told me two key things to writing for a living. One was to live with rejection because it will become an unwavering section of your life. Second was to write every day, no matter what. That second statement is one of the reasons I started blogging. It's the reason I do NaNo every year. Writing may not be my profession - but I don't want to find myself without that muscle, as Dave would put it.

Ironically, he was one of the influences which lead me away from trying to write for a living. I didn't go to grad school, I didn't seek out a professorship and I didn't try to write the Great American Novel. This was because he gave the most sobering and realistic account of such a path and taking the risks required for it wasn't where I wanted to be. I was leaving the protective sphere of college and one of my main concerns was being able to have a paycheck.

I never told Dave this fact because I knew that wasn't his intention. This wasn't some tough love speech. This wasn't some "I had to track in the snow to get to where I am" speech. The night we had this conversation, which for some reason I recall taking place outside of a Steak and Shake which doesn't even exist anymore, he was offering to help. If I was willing to write it, he was willing to read it.

And I wasn't in some exclusive club here. I may have known a more personal side to Dave - but that was not why he extended the offer. Always the teacher. Only real requirement was a shared love for writing. This is where this tragedy becomes a black hole for me. Something dreadful and incomprehensible. The loss of talent I can't speak towards. Not as well as others. I didn't analyze Dave's work. I never even finished Infinite Jest. The loss of such a great teacher is immeasurable, however. Dave wasn't just a genius writer - he was trying to help make new ones.

Every time I read that his death was an apparent suicide, I jerk a little. I know what they mean, but to me there is nothing apparent about it. There is nothing apparent about why someone would do that. This is enough by itself to creep into the dark corners and reside. I'll remember Dave's massive dog, Obedient Drone. I'll remember that he once painted his study black, as part experiment and part joke. I'll remember his theory about talking to children like adults - also part experiment and part joke. Now, though, I'll remember that I lost contact with him years ago and then somehow, somewhere, the turns in his life took him to this point.

I'll regret not trying to contact after he moved to California, knowing that I probably wouldn't get the chance to see him again. But what's really haunting is the loss this means for future students.

Dave, you are missed. You are mourned.

And for the record:

This was not my first draft.

But yes, it still needs work.

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