(I tried posting this on facebook regarding a friend who passed away recently. It's too long a post for facebook, so I placed it here so that some friends and family of Todd might be able to see it.)
Greetings... I have been in a mental fog since I heard that Todd died.
While we were very close for a few years, as were all of us here, the
past fifteen-plus years, I was not in regular contact with Todd, nor
with any of you. I realize that's life, and so it goes. Todd's death
is terrible news. And while I do not know what was going on in Todd's
life at the end, I have always wished we had stayed in closer touch.
But it was hard to do so! Part of Todd is gregarious and outgoing and
extremely generous, but he was also very private. I was initially hurt
when he wouldn't respond to letters or emails or a couple phone calls,
but then I decided he's got a life, I've got a life, what can you do?
I respected whatever way he chose to respond or not respond. Over the
years, I've been in touch with Lezle, and would get bits of news
passed back and forth from and to Todd. But this was quite a change
from when we lived in Dayton or after grad school in the mid-90s when
we lived close and saw Todd and Lezle and Emily regularly, and Todd
and I would occasionally talk on the phone during work. He had a job
with social services in Dayton, which had its challenges; I was in a
soul-sucking job which I finally got out of. We had many talks about
what to do and Wendell Berry's concept of "right livelihood" came up a
lot, as did baseball, Bruce Springsteen, books, and whatever else.
I told Lezle a few days ago that she and Todd were the first adult
friends I had; they were married, expecting Emily, had been in the
Army and were all grown up. I, by way of contrast, was an idiot! I
always thought they were a good example of how to be grown up and
adult. The way they raised Emily was really good to see, as well,
though I didn't understand how much work it took to raise a child
until Nancy and I had our own daughters. Once in the years after grad
school, I was hanging out with Todd and Emily, and Todd decided we
should pay a visit to Lezle at an art show she was taking part in in
Oakwood. We got there and were walking along with Emily, who insisted
that we both hold her hands. Todd said "Mike, we must look like one of
those alternative couples!"
I admired Todd and Lezle for getting out of town when they did, but I
missed them deeply. That's about the time everyone began moving on.
While it could be frustrating to correspond with Todd, every few years
I'd get a package from Amazon containing a book I hadn't ordered. It
might be Chinese nature poetry or a selection of Philip Whalen' poetry
or a book on Christianity and Zen or a Gurney Norman book. That's how
Todd chose to communicate, and I still have those books. I tried to
reciprocate, but I can't imagine I had anywhere near the influence on
Todd that he did on me. I regret we ran out of time to find out what
Todd might think of Jack Spicer or Lucinda Williams's records or the
avant writing scene, which is such a breath of fresh air--I
think--when compared to many alternatives.
Todd had a mischievous streak, which I admired. His practical jokes
could sometimes be on the harsh side, but no harm, no foul, as they
say. He could have done or said almost anything to me, and I don't
know that I'd be hurt. There are a couple other people I can say that
of--one I married, and another I also met at UD. I can't remember if
Todd put me up to this, or if Bryan did; regardless, I needed little
help when it came to sabotaging my academic "career," but sometime at
the beginning of our second year, Dr. F__ told me that he had to
see me teach before I could leave UD. It was some sort of unwritten or
perhaps written rule. I really had no reason to not want him to see me
teach other than my own hard-headedness. I don't know if I can claim
this for myself--it seems like a Todd idea or at least one he would
have approved of--but for all of that final year of grad school, I
dodged F__'s classroom visit by scheduling on his days off or by
telling him a day in advance we'd be at the library doing research . .
. whatever BS excuse I could come up with. By April, the gambit had
paid off. I avoided him. Todd found that amusing. I also might have
consulted with Todd on the slight-of-hand trick that led to the
English department misplacing, somehow, the copies of my master's
thesis that were supposed to be left in their collection. I hated that
thing and was only too happy to have the copies end up who knows
where. If one remains in Roesch library it's only because I haven't
gotten to it yet. I trust it's buried under the dust of the ages in
any case. (the other person I consulted with is still with us,
thankfully! and I won't implicate him/her!).
Another time, Todd invited me to sit in on one of his classes because
he was using an Edward Abbey essay for an in-class writing assignment.
He wanted me to be there to see the students' reactions and hear their
responses. The Abbey piece was about illegal immigration, the solution
to which Abbey recommended arming illegal Mexican immigrants with
rifles, giving them boxes of ammunition, and sending them home to take
over their government. I wonder if anyone uses that essay today?
A few months ago I found an old telephone message that Todd left me
when I was working at the UD Alumni House, a job which Bryan helped me
get and for which I've always been grateful. It was a nice place to
work in the summer and they were great people to be around. The
message, written in the beautiful handwriting of fellow student worker
Cara Swisher, read "Rick Manning called. He asked that you call him
back." Rick Manning was a weak hitting, good fielding center fielder
for the Cleveland Indians in the 70's. Another time the message read
"Duane Kuiper asked if you're free for dinner." Kuiper was the 70's
Indian's shortstop and current SF Giants radio analyst. Those are
little gags that I've always missed and always will.
Todd could also tell you things you didn't necessarily want to hear,
but that you might need to hear. Not long after we graduated, Todd
shared with me an unflattering comment a former prof I once admired
made about me in front of a few people we knew. That hurt, and I
wondered why he relayed the news to me; honestly, I was pissed at Todd
for a bit, but that passed quickly and I've been grateful he did tell
me. It's good to know where you stand, and it confirmed my belief that
getting away from UD, academia, and that period of life was a good
move, and as Steve said to me once, while laughing at some story I'd
told him, "Mike, you weren't cut out for academic life!" Which is
true. One of the vacuous comments I remember a professor saying to us
"in them days" is that we shouldn't worry about employment after grad
school, but rather, she argued, we must cultivate "a life of the
mind." Ah well. Some of the books Todd sent me explained Mindlessness,
and that has served me better over the years. Philip Whalen's work in
particular. I'm probably wrong, but at least I don't mind. I've got
that going for me!
Joe and Mark's and Laura's memories--everyone's memories--are good to
read. I think Mark caught very accurately Todd's ways of speaking and
a sense of the passion he would bring to things that interested him.
And as Joe noted, Todd was generous to all of us, as was Lezle. I have
many good memories of just hanging out with them or having dinner with
them. I hope that the distraction and entertainment we provided Emily
helped a little and that we weren't a burden!
I feel bad that we won't be able to share our accumulated life's
adventure stories with Todd or, most especially, hear his. After
twenty-plus years of wondering what to do, it occurred to me that the
"right livelihood" that Todd believed in and always encouraged people
to aim for, and which helped him quit a job in Dayton that had become
a sort of prison, and which I imagine led him to all sorts of other
places, though I don't know the stories, has probably been here along.
I only held a "real" job for about six-and-a-half years after grad
school. I spent fourteen years at home with our daughters, and got
into all sorts of kid-related adventures. Currently, I work on a
bookmobile, driving around Butler County, visiting schools and in
summer putting on story times for 3- to 5-year olds. I have thought a
number of times that Todd would get a big laugh out of the bookmobile.
In a way, it's a parody of the academic life that I thought we had all
begun together twenty-four years ago at UD. It's an enjoyable parody
to live, though. When the kids hug you after a story time and say they
love you, you don't have to worry about having a sexual harassment
claim made against you! And who wouldn't like to perform a puppet show
based on Maurice Sendak stories? I find Amish romance novels (they are
every bit as bad as you'd think) and other odd books for a handful of
retired patrons who will sometimes bring cookies to the bus. It beats
dealing with the heroin addicts and homeless mentally ill that the
librarians at the branches deal with. So driving a bookmobile is not a
bad livelihood, though livelihood should be in quotes, since I am
willing to bet that the graduate stipends at UD are possibly more than
my salary! (Possibly. I hope the English grad students are a little
better paid than we were).
Nothing is easy, which is trite to say, but another thing I liked
about and think I learned from Todd is that he welcomed, or seemed to
welcome, life's absurdity along with its delights. For instance, when
I tell people about some annoying defeat I've experienced in life,
such as seeing a natural area I'd long been an advocate for, ran bird
surveys at, wrote articles about, and lobbied for, literally destroyed
by bulldozers at the direction of the local park system, and I laugh,
people think it's sad and that there's nothing to laugh about. Yet
there is. Todd would have gotten the joke. He understood how that kind
of thing works, how the "universe" operates. But maybe that wore him
out a bit and that's partly why we lost touch with him? I don't know.
Without knowing otherwise, I have to respect whatever decisions he
made, and since we didn't stay in touch better, I have no right to
know anything more (though I would like to) and nothing can be changed
now, anyway. I've missed Todd for years and I'll miss him for many
Take care, my friends! It's good to know you're all out there.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
All but the first two pwoermds are from a collection called "universe," which I'm compiling.
Many more here:
International Pwoermd Writing Month