12B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 23, 2004
THE DANDELION WRITER
BY ALEX WOLSKY
rowing up with ease and comfort, but fast,
ut as fast as you could imagine short of
some primitive tribe's brutal confirmation,
using LSD as a rite of passage like you're supposed to
use the army, things sometimes get a bit complicated.
His brain defogged in those halls of wisdom, "Sex
and Death in Protozoa" hammered home on chains
of bleary-eyed mornings by mechanical-minded pro-
fessors with a mania for grammar and gentle Grade
Eleven romanticists who believe in youth and poetry
and tearing out some proof of basic competence from
each and every pupil for one furious, feverish month
before disembarking with them for isles of Hawthorne
4 and Longfellow.
This, for me, was a snap but I was still eternally
hung up. I desperately wanted my writing not to ring
true, because if it did, it was adolescent and that was
seven leagues below hack. Rare flashes of insight all
but lost in python coils of muscular, crepuscular ver-
biage, but how these clumsy, often misguided, clusters
of images would zing like crystal arrows straight and
true from his heroic pinnacles to stand all smooth and
apple-cheeked and rustless on the page.
So I sought help.
Beaten by my own pen, I asked an old professor of
mine what he thought of the current literary movement.
He had never heard of it: "Right now, I'm engaged in a
reinvestigation of Greek drama. I never read anything
less than 30 years old, because you can't tell what's of
value that's being written today and anyway, there are
too many other things."
"Where do you find time to pursue your own
studies as heavily as you seem to and still grade
papers, keep up with the news, read magazines and
all that?" he asked.
"Oh, papers don't bother me - haven't you noticed
how few written assignments I've given in the class?
It's not necessary if you read the words in the textbook
and take notes on my lectures and our class discus-
sions. I find plenty of time to study literature - in fact,
it's all I do. I keep up with the news in a marginal way
- I just don't care about it enough to do more than
that. And magazines and all that sort of thing - do
you read magazines?"
"Yes," I said, "all the time."
That seemed to put him out a little bit. He said that
magazines were a waste of my time if I wanted to be
a writer, that I should be studying literature. "Even if
you just read through the Great Books of the Western
World as you'd read any trivial book ... because you
know that no matter how many classes in literature
you take, it won't mean a damn thing. You've got to
educate yourself or you'll end up just like all of these
know-nothings with degrees."
I longed for my weekly comic book, my "Rolling
Stone," of my always irresistible "Life" and "People"
which I hated and read with some mad compulsion
almost weekly, of my "Magnet" and my monthly
"Alternative Press," both rock'n'roll rags and both
absolutely essential. I recall the first issue of "Mad" I
bought, stoned on Romilar and wine and Benzedrine,
that ugly yellow cover exploding like a blinding flash-
bulb before my mind's eye.
The professor was right, you can't fuck around with
a lot of madness and expect to get a first rate educa-
tion. I asked him if his social contacts suffered from
his marriage to literature. "Of course they do," he
responded, "in fact they've become practically non-
existent. But, I don't know, I don't really miss them."
I'd see him in his office occasionally, on days I hap-
pened by. He'd be bent over his desk, furiously twist-
ing back and forth, pen in hand, paperback on his right,
gilt-flecked tome his left, notebook in the center, the
atmosphere vibrating like an orgone box. I never saw
him in the halls except when he was rushing between
his classroom and office, pulled forward by the gravi-
tational propulsion of his current thought, and should
we meet he never failed to cause a twinge of guilt.
It had not yet occurred to me on a conscious level
that in reading slick journalism, hippie pulp and
obscenely amusing articles like "Insane Virgin Mur-
ders to Have Sex with God" I was preparing for a liter-
ary life quite different from that of the days when a
young writer first practiced writing short stories in the
style of Hemingway, then Faulkner, then Fitzgerald
and so on, all the while reading the classics for back-
I realized that I was coming up in a new era when
literature would turn to toilet paper, daily news would
become surrealistic and artists of all stripes would
feel blissfully free to cut themselves loose from their
heritage, or even not learn that heritage because there
was more relevance to be found in the splashy trash
of the popular press, in the open-throated yawps and
mechanical twangs of rock'n'roll, in the chaotic inner
jungles which all of us hurled ourselves with every
type of drug imaginable - all the while, engaging
in this apparently self-destructive abuse to the sensi-
bilities for the purpose of finding each other outside
of schools, methods, social mechanisms and popu-
lar self-help devices. In other words, we had to fuck
up before we could stand up, and nothing was more
relevant than the apparently irrelevant, and nothing
less relevant than the "Eternal Verities" enclosing this
2,000 year old consciousness like a box.
I followed my as-yet-masked muse even so, by
reading trashy tabloids instead of enduring literature
and spending much of my time under a pair of head-
phones, filling my shimmying soul with rock music.
By smoking grass and attending acid as a guidance
counselor, by writing eight to 12 hours in a row on
innumerable all-night binges like Lester Bangs, pil-
ing up reams of raving bullshit but honing his talents
all the time, publishing his straight-forward impro-
visatory style month after month, until he began to
speak in a voice almost his own, to gain effortlessly a
progressive mastery of words, tossing off adolescent
woodshed epiphanies in white-hot eruptions of inspi-
ration, even though the influence of William Bur-
roughs still showed. He never was a truly dedicated
artist, whatever that was, he never cared. He never
produced a masterpiece, but so what? He felt he had a
sound which was his own and that sound if erratic, is
still his greatest pride. Because, he would rather write
like a dancer shaking his ass to In the Jungle inside
his head, and perhaps reach only readers who like
to use books or magazines to shake their asses, than
to write for the man who man cloistered in a closet
somewhere reading Aeschylus while this stupefying
world careens past his window.
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