Another One Gone

When I was in high school, our student body experienced a string of suicides. Within a matter of months, several students attempted or completed suicide. This was before the age of the internet or cell phones, so word-of-mouth was the only avenue for students to learn about and mourn these deaths. Consequently, rumors sparked and took off. The administration was totally silent. At the end of the school day following each death, there would be a quick, fill-in-the-blank announcement that a student had died and that counseling was available. No information, not even the basics to quell the most absurd stories. I know now that schools are in tricky positions with situations like this, and it’s possible that they didn’t even have the authority to deviate from their one-sentence script. But at the time, it not only seemed counterproductive but cruel, heartless.

So I wrote an editorial for the school newspaper. In it, I criticized the school’s policy of silence and made the argument that by allowing the rumor mill to run wild, they were actually causing the suicides to be romanticized and possibly worsening the problem. It was carefully written, not offensive, not especially inflammatory — I wanted to inspire change, but I’ve never been very good at throwing caution to the wind. I submitted it to the editor of the school paper and heard that it was slated to run…

…and then the administration put on their censor hats, vetoed it, and had it pulled from the paper.

I guess I had a few different options at that point, but this is the one I went with: I submitted it to the state newspaper. Like, the real newspaper. And they didn’t reject it. The next week, my editorial ran in the paper complete with my headshot and byline, and was distributed throughout the entire state.

I don’t recollect there being any real effect at school, beyond a few people congratulating me on getting published. So I went on with the business of being a high school student, graduated, and went to Boise State.

And at Boise State, a communications professor named Peter Wollheim tracked me down after reading my editorial. He was working with the Idaho legislature to try to get funding for a suicide prevention hotline and asked me to come down to the Capitol to listen to the arguments and possibly testify. I didn’t end up testifying, but a local public radio reporter interviewed me afterward. Then Peter asked me if I’d like to work for the college newspaper. It seemed like a great opportunity, so I applied and got hired.

My experience with the college newspaper was mixed. I recognize now that I was being lightly hazed by the more veteran reporters and columnists, but I was ultimately given a great deal of freedom to choose how I wanted to contribute to the paper, and I ended up doing some work I was proud of and some that was merely being thrown together to meet the deadline. After about a year I concluded that journalism wasn’t for me and became an academic advisor instead. But in the meantime, I came to know and like Peter and his sad-eyed smile. Even though it wasn’t the right door for me, I appreciate that he had opened big doors for me in the university. And as time went on and our paths went separate ways, I still paid attention to his crusade to curb suicide, especially teen suicides, in our state.

Peter Wollheim was a nice man with a big, worthy mission.

And yesterday I learned that he had died. The beast he’d fought, ostentatiously on others’ behalf, finally turned the tables and devoured him.

I wasn’t close to Peter in the same way that I was close to Dave, Tom, or Mary Ellen, but he definitely falls into the category of “professors who had a big impact on my undergraduate career,” and now he also falls into the category of “people who died too soon.” It sucks. He was doing good work in the world, and now he’s gone.

Peter Wollheim read the newspaper one day, sixteen years ago, and saw that some idealistic kid was angry about the same thing that angered him. He remembered her name, and did who knows what kind of detective work to track her down so that he could give her a platform, give her opportunities. He didn’t know that kid, didn’t have any reason to help her, but he did, because he saw something in her that made him think that she might make a difference in a world that needed differences made.

I didn’t end up using his tools. I may be a writer but I’m no journalist; I may be passionate, but I’m no lobbyist.

Instead I became a teacher. I’d like to believe that teachers, if they can keep their hearts on their sleeves and their eyes and ears open, can make a difference to young people who are struggling with depression… and certainly to those left behind when the worst happens.

I’m grateful to Peter for hunting me down and giving me a shot. I’m grateful to him for his years of fighting to make Idaho a better place for those fighting suicide and depression. And I’m very, very sorry that he is gone.

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Memorial

Friday was a day for memorials. After school, I went to Tom Trusky’s memorial service. I had to duck out early to get gussied up for the Blue Thunder banquet, and of course, it had a certain memorial feeling to it as well, beings as it was the first banquet we’ve had without Dave. I was happy that the students found a good balance between honoring their departed director and maintaining a celebratory sense to the evening. Two back-to-back, full-blown memorials, for the two men at Boise State I most admired, would have been just a little bit much for me to bear, I think.

My sister Meredith is one of those people who isn’t just artistic, she’s an artist. She has technical chops, good ideas, sense, a natural eye, and ridiculous amounts of innate talent. And she creates with purpose – her work has story, meaning, to it.

In the months since Dave passed away, Meredith has created several works of art to honor his memory. The most recent was an installation of small, multimedia, illustrated panels, unveiled for the first time at banquet. I don’t have a very good picture of the finished product, but she sent me some of the panels before they were completed, and (totally without her permission) I’d like to share a couple of them. I’m loving this style that she’s experimenting with – watercolors, text, simple but evocative line drawings…

  

There were seven panels in all. Meredith resisted, but I threatened to [fill-in-the-blank big sister torment] her, so she let me snap a picture of her next to the installation.

After banquet, someone told Lavaughn (Dave’s wife, because “widow” is a depressing word and I’m sorry but I can’t quite call her that) about the installation, and she went to see for herself. That’s when I took the following picture, which isn’t technically very good but which I like quite a lot.

Lavaughn and Meredith

Three

I have a theory that teachers fall into one of four categories.

There are the teachers whose names you can’t remember, from whom you learned practically nothing, who had no impact on your life. Some are bad, others are just indifferent.

There are the infamous teachers, whose names you will remember all your life because you still curse their names when you get together with old school friends.

There are the teachers who you liked all right, who taught you a thing or two and who were enjoyable to be around – teachers whose names you’d recognize if you saw them in the paper.

And then there’s a list – a very short list – of teachers who change your life. Teachers you know, or want to know, on a first-name basis. Teachers who actually taught you something, who treated you like a person, who made a real and lasting impact on your future.

When I think about my college experience, and about that fourth category of teacher, I realize that my list has at most four names on it. I’m not good at maintaining friendships, but I think of these people as being friends. I’ve eaten breakfast with them, camped out at coffee shops with them, traveled across the country with them, made big huge messes with them. I’ve made fun of them and recommended their classes to countless students. They are people I admire greatly.

On Tuesday, one of them passed away. That makes three out of the four to die within sixteen months. We lost Mary Ellen Ryder on August 25, David A. Wells on May 3, and now Tom Trusky on December 1 November 27.

Tom was one of only two teachers – in public school or college – who ever made me be critical of my own writing. He was the first teacher I ever had who told me that something I wrote sucked. (He was entirely right, of course.) Before making the fateful decision to take his undergraduate Poetry Writing course, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that I wasn’t God’s gift to the written word. And ultimately, I was one of the lucky ones in that class – some of my stuff, by the end of the semester, didn’t entirely suck. Instead of letting his students slide by on charm and raw talent, he forced us to acknowledge our weaknesses, to improve, and to doubt. (He also forced me to admit that “fire” was a one-syllable word. My fingers were crossed then, and I still don’t believe it. But he insisted.)

It took me several years – delayed by my class and band schedule and, once, by Tom’s health – before I managed to sign up for Tom’s infamous Introduction to Book Arts class. If you look up Tom on a professor rating website, you’ll see long lines of people queuing up to complain about that class. The fact is that Tom’s classes were brutal. People signed up, thinking “poetry! bookmaking! easy A!” and inevitably received the shock of their young lives – assuming they didn’t drop out in the first three weeks, as at least half usually did. I still use some of the basic book forms Tom taught us on a fairly regular basis – they’re great class projects….

And I loved being challenged, loved his wickedly dry sense of humor (sometimes you wondered if you were really the only person in the room who got his jokes – surely not, right?), loved being held to a higher standard. I loved, in a sick sort of way, being told that something I did wasn’t very good. Oh, it made me mad as hell, of course. The only teacher who ever made me angrier than Tom was Dave, and that’s surely saying something.

I mean, how can you NOT love and loathe a man who sends the following as his (partial) evaluation of your final project – without a letter grade attached?

I had a hard time “dealing” (ww?) with your chain book, initially because it was on red paper–a particular dislike of mine.  Flocked whore wallpaper came/comes to mind, or terms like gothick melodrama overkill, too.  Then we got your chains on the cover. And chains for illustrations. And the word “chain/s.”

Of course, it’s all so over the top.

Then again, a hand on a throat, what is it?

I think I am the problem.  Although only an M.A. in English, I do have a Ph.D. in Repression.  So every mitochondria in me wiggles with distaste and screams and, in their famed a cappella mitochondria choral style, shriek “Underplay!” and “Less is more!”

I have no idea what a grade would be on your book.  I know what I like about it and what I don’t, but these reactions seem beyond grades, somehow?  Does that seem stoopid?  Again?  I always ask myself, how would I do this book, if I were to do it.  My problem is is that your book seems designed to function as a voice enraged, full-pitch, full-bore, 100% rant.  That’s a stunning concept–whether accurate or not.  I just can’t imagine myself doing such a book.  I always do things that are paced, little Polack narratives with hills & valleys.  Yet hoping to leave you breathless at the end.  Yours just rabbit punches from page 1 on, again and again and again.

Summary:  I think you’ve thought the book out and generally executed it well.  I can’t ask for any more.

I loved wondering which dark green button-down shirt Tom would wear that week. Loved the way he lit up like a little kid on Christmas whenever he encountered paper that glowed, dissolved, resisted water – you name it. Loved the way he eviscerated anything that was precious, self-absorbed, or cute. Tom could say the word “cute” in a way that made the sliminess of the word absolutely tactile.

Hey, look. It's Tom. In a dark green, button-down shirt. Hoodah thunket? (Photo by Kim Sherman-Labrum)

So I signed up for the graduate level book arts class. (My favorite joke, which I wore down to a nub, I’m sure, was that the undergrad class was Introduction to Book Arts and the grad class was Defense Against the Book Arts.) It was that class that taught me that I might actually be an artist, for certain quantities of art.

I don’t know what to say about any of this. I’m just rambling, now. The newspaper article calls him mischeivous, says he didn’t suffer fools, and there’s nothing I could say that would be more accurate.

I wonder if Tom ever figured out who made the Ethiopian scroll to protect against Professor Trusky. I’m sure he got the joke. It would have been even more obvious if he’d known – and maybe he did, probably he did – about evaluation day at the end of the undergrad class, when I went ballistic on some of the students who were too lazy and self-absorbed to understand what Tom was trying to get them to do. I guess I can have a really short fuse when it comes to defending “my” people. He probably liked that scroll better than the one I turned in.

Hey look, another dark green button-down shirt.

He was creative and restless and exhausting and whimsical and brutal and messy, oh so messy. I mourn for those who get stuck trying to clean out his office. His nest atop the Hemingway Western Studies Center is an enormous workshop piled high with paper, thread, needles, old work, old comic books, half-assembled galleys, student work, posters, paintings, t-shirts, buffalo dung, books upon books upon books… It’s like a physical manifestation of his right brain, all jumbled and bouncing like an abstract-random stand-up comedian. I can’t do him justice. Here; read a portion of an email he sent, lambasting a local book repair shop:

Many 19th century Bibles have highly sculptured boards, cheap leather-covered.  They look opulent as hell.  Unfortunately, such surfaces are prone to injury and damage and the leather used is often of a lesser quality or thin as Saran Wrap.  The self-proclaimed Rabbi Word-binder showed us one of these shiny, “restored” Bibles; providentially, he was also at work on a dingy, battered sculptured Bible.  A student, eyes wide as a Shari’s pie pan (Banana Cream), asked “How can you make that look like that!” while he pointed at the Before and then the After. “Simple,” said Rabbi.  He opened a cupboard, pulled out a can of Mop-‘n’-Glo, unscrewed its lid and dribbled what makes your wife’s kitchen floor gleam across the damaged cover. A miracle!  As with your wife’s floor, you may now eat off this Bible.  However, in terms of restoration, the demise of this Bible has been certainly assured.  (I know not the fate of your linoleum.)  My point being:  in checking with two or three other binders–in addition to the aforementioned two–about this restoration technique, all either chortled or fainted.

Yes, that plaid shirt is dark green. Just in case you were wondering. (Photo from the University of Alabama Book Arts Program)

I don’t like losing people. It’s the only thing I know of that makes me want to put my fist – sometimes my foot – through a wall. I don’t like feeling like that, particularly about people who inspired me to create rather than destroy. Now, maybe if I put my fist through a wall, and then turned my cast into a book – that he would have appreciated. As long as it wasn’t cute.

One more, just because I like it, of Tom (in navy and yellow, WHICH MAKE GREEN) with Enver. (Photo from the Manitoba Museum of Find's Art Flickr Page)

A nice tribute here that mentions some of the other facets of Tom’s fulfilling – and, I think, very full – life.

Tom’s website.

A flyer advertising his most recent book edition.

How do I end this post? Just keep publishing and editing it until WordPress explodes?

Gah.

Eight Years

Eight years ago today, I was driving to class and had gotten about a mile down the road when I turned on the stereo, looking for some music to help wake me up. Instead, what I got sounded like someone was putting on a radio show – like War of the Worlds, only not as well-written. The DJs kept talking in hushed, panicked tones about something, about a plane crash, and making references to something that had happened earlier on the broadcast. Good radio-narration had gone out the window; they were forgetting to recap every few minutes for those of us who had just tuned in.

After a moment or two, my boyfriend and I realized that we were listening to something real and not a weird publicity stunt. A plane had crashed in the middle of New York City, and although it was hard to tell in the chaotic live coverage, it seemed that there might have been a second crash as well.

That was about the point in time when the third airplane hit. The DJs gasped. I heard them say that the Pentagon had been hit, and I knew that we were at war.

We pulled over at the first gas station we passed, and I bolted for the pay phone. I woke my parents up and told them to turn on the television. Then I called two other people: my best friend, who was enlisted in the Army National Guard, and my other best friend, who was male and draftable. I don’t remember getting through to either one of them. I don’t remember how many times I tried; Ryan – the second friend I mentioned – remembers getting something like 20 missed calls from me and from his mom that morning. (Proof positive that my husband can sleep through anything, I guess.)

(Thinking about it sends me right back to that pay phone. I can see the car parked two parking spots down from me, and the yellow glow of sunrise through decidedly un-ominous clouds. I can feel the cold clinch of fear and the itching desire to do something. It’s all sitting there on my mental TiVo, Do Not Delete. )

When we got to school, it was a ghost town. Practically every classroom had a sign on the door, cancelling class, directing students to the SUB. There was a television set up in every corner of the SUB, in every common area on campus. Everyone flocked. We got there just in time to watch news coverage break to a field in Pennsylvania, knowing only that a plane had crashed, not yet knowing the drama that had played out in the moments before. We watched the tiny polka-dots moving across the U.S. map: airplanes still aloft, every one a potential harbinger of destruction. You’d think that we wouldn’t be too scared, on a personal level, being in Boise, but we knew better. One of the country’s most important Air Force bases is just down the highway from Boise. Having grown up in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, I’m all too aware of how apparently safe parts of the country can actually be top targets.

The university became a trauma center. My English professors spent the next several classes sharing particularly well-written accounts, or having us write our own. Flags sprouted like clover. ASBSU sent student leaders into the field with collection jars for the Red Cross. I took one to band and ended up with more coins than I could carry – I forget now how many hundreds of dollars Blue Thunder donated.

I don’t remember recruiters descending on campus or anything, but I doubt very much that I was the only person wondering about enlisting. I knew that they wouldn’t take me under normal circumstances – a person with my vision problems is a liability, not an asset – but these circumstances seemed far from normal. If everyone I knew was going to go to war, surely the military could find something I could do.

In retrospect, I wonder where all of us would be today if that hadn’t happened. It’s an utterly inconsequential part of the big equation, but I kind of doubt that the chapter would have made it. We rode a wave of patriotic duty and service that year, bonding over bitter cold flag ceremonies in the corner of the stadium after discovering that the stadium flag was languishing in a wadded up garbage bag except on game days. Most of us couldn’t serve our country in a traditional sense, so we threw ourselves into serving our little community of band people. Heck, our football team won their game on September 22, 2001, starting a 31-game home winning streak. I’m not going to pretend that glory and vengeance and sheer physical catharsis wasn’t on their minds that day.

Where our country, or our world, would be… it’s hard to imagine. I can’t fathom what these eight years must have been like for Americans of Middle Eastern ancestry. Constitutional rights have been altered. Our thoughts about what celebrities should and should not say have changed. The price of gas, and the cost of war, have contributed to one of the worst economic situations our country has seen. Without 9/11, Bush likely would have served only one term – how would our country be different if another person had been at the wheel these past four years? September 11 cut a deep swath through global history. For better and worse, it’s pivotal to today.

It’s hard to believe that my students were seven years old on 9/11/01. That morning, they would have been safely tucked away in a first grade classroom. If their teachers knew, they found out by a phone call to the classroom, or maybe someone poking their head into the room. Maybe an email went out from the office. Maybe school got released early; I’m sure plenty of parents came and brought their babies home. Did their parents try to explain what was going on? Could they have possibly understood? How many of them had to say good-bye to a parent or sibling when their country called them overseas?

These kids are about to be adults in a world that exists, in its current form, because of 9/11 – and they can’t even remember it having happened. Now I know what it feels like to be old, to be a parent. The things that made my world are ancient history to the people who now inhabit it.

I still think this is the best possible memorial they could build.

I still think this is the best possible memorial they could build.

For David A., on his 70th Birthday

dw in jacket Ten and a half years ago, I was nearing the end of my senior season of high school marching band. Competition had played a big role in my band experience, and for a long time I’d held the belief that being in a competitive band was the most important thing to me. I’d planned to seek a university with a prestigious, high-precision marching band – one that would capture that adrenaline rush of competition despite the fact that college bands don’t generally go in for that sort of thing.

As a senior, though, I began to recognize that there was a more important purpose for a marching band. The competitions were something that had been dreamed up as a way to feather schools’ and directors’ caps. A marching band truly existed to entertain people, and the most entertaining band I knew was right there in my own backyard: the “pride of Idaho,” Boise State’s Blue Thunder Marching Band.

I applied for Blue Thunder no less than three times, each carefully handwritten packet disappearing into David A. Well’s bottomless black attache never to be seen again, before dw talk with handswising up and mailing a fourth application directly to the offices. That one made it to Catherine’s desk, and I was a member of Blue Thunder – a nameless, nervous little kid of a member in a thirteen-person saxophone section that all seemed much worldlier than I’d ever be. Band camp was an all-new brand of brutality as the temperature rose past 110 degrees on the stadium asphalt. In high school, they’d been careful not to have any kids get too hot and tired during camp. Here, we were expected to be adults and suck it up. I loved it.

And then it was the first game, the first performance on the weird cerulean plastic-lei turf rolling across the field. What words are there to describe the first time you hurtle out of the tunnel onto the track, praying not to trip on a cord or at the uneven dw in ljplace between lanes 2 and 3? What words to quantify the roar of the crowd, the pounding in your chest that might be your heart or might be a line of twenty percussionists beating out the cadence to “Russian Christmas Music”? What words to capture that weightless feeling in your gut, the fear that you’ll mess up, the exhilaration that you are a part of something this big, this loud?

Blue Thunder was and is an unlikely beast, a dead program resurrected by a beer-philanthropist’s money and a director’s dream. Dave Wells was 48 years old when his new marching band first took the field in Bronco Stadium. When I met him, he was almost sixty; he claimed eight or nine wives, depending on when you asked, and was legendary as a “dirty old man” that scared the freshmen to the point that most wouldn’t ask him a question. I’ve always had problems with naivete, but it didn’t take me too long to realize that he’d really only had the one wife and that he wasn’t quite as scary or as dirty as he seemed. Dave was just a guy who enjoyed what he was doing far too much to worry about what other people thought.

I fell hard for Blue Thunder, and I fell hard for Dave. These often felt like unrequited affairs, to be honest. Blue Thunder could be a cruel mistress – after all, it was made up of young adults at the height of their self-interested years – and dw w kbanyone who depended upon clear signs of affection from Dave was doomed to disappointment. My affection for him gave him enormous power to cut me, and there were times when I couldn’t honestly say whether I liked him at all. This was exacerbated when I joined his staff – if Dave was a challenge as a director, he was a terror as a boss. Still, he inspired the same loyalty that he had when I’d been eighteen and clueless. (And I’m grateful, in a perverse sort of way, for the armadillo-thick skin I grew in his employ. It has come in handy.)

Twice, we all realized what we stood to lose: once, when he had his heart rebuilt, and later, in the chaotic moments after the Fiesta Bowl. We joked that Dave was indestructible, like Twinkies or cockroaches, but deep down we knew that things were changing. Then came the 2008 season, half of which he spent in the hospital with a feeding tube and a tumor clinching his esophagus. He returned, and set the band to playing that gut-wrenching jazz funeral march. The first time I heard it, like really heard it, I was in the stands collapsing the drum stands. I froze, looking down at the band as they paraded toward the band dw w kb and thbuilding, and heard Dave’s voice from years before: “When I die, they’re gonna have to bury me right there on the fifty, playing ‘Americans We'” – the name of the march changed from year to year, depending on which we were playing that season. I knew what the band was playing.

On those rare days after church when I’d catch up with Dave before he hurried out the door, we’d all stand or sit in the walkway and he’d ask about our jobs, offering some classic-Dave sentiment of encouragement. I wish I’d thought to ask him about his spirituality, about what he really believed after all those years as a demigod on the blue turf. He came to the Methodist church only when his preferred pastor was preaching, watched evangelical ministers on television, married band couples with his online ordination, and taught his “children” with a hodgepodge, Lombardi-esque philosophy dw hands on hipspeppered with ideas he pulled from self-help audiobooks. After the fact, someone told me that he’d made his peace with God and had been ready. This, from a man who never seemed to be at peace, who was never content to sit back and relax… what led him to readiness? What helped him realize, mid-dream, that he’d done enough? And why, now that he is at rest, do I feel like a wall has been erected between me and my sense of God?

This is a grief that hasn’t yet settled into its tidy compartment in my brain. I’ve felt broken since the day I learned that Dave was abruptly gone. It’s like getting in a car accident, the kind that ruins your car but doesn’t send you to the hospital. You look okay on the surface, sometimes you even feel okay, but then you realize that your whole body aches in ways you didn’t know were possible. I’ll be blithely moving along, living my life, and then BAM! Out of nowhere, the pain hits. It’s an angry sort of pain, which makes it worse, not the least because I don’t entirely understand why I’m angry. There’s a lot of regret mixed up in it, a  lot of mourning – not only for Dave, but for moments I’d imagined that will never take place. I’d pictured introducing him to my child, inviting him to see me hooded. I’d envisioned a day down the road when I might become an extraordinary dw at banquetteacher, win some award, and have him sit at the awards table with my family because after all, it’s really his fault I’m a teacher.

And I regret, in a small way, not being able to do as others did and speak directly to Dave at the funeral. I knew I’d fall apart, and I’ve never been good at crying in public. I couldn’t say that I loved him. Instead, I did what I thought he would have wanted: I picked up his torch and did my best to pass it down the line. Say what you will about Dave, but he was inspirational – and I meant every word I said, including the streaked underpants reference I edited out at the last minute. It was important to me to say it, and after I’m done rambling here I’ll say it again.

I feel like I have lost a grandfather – an often infuriating, distant grandfather with too many grandkids to pay any one of us much attention, who nevertheless made you feel like the Only Most Specialest One when he tuned in to you. And maybe I was special to him. The last time I spoke to him, although I didn’t know it at the time, he told me good-bye. He was getting up to leave, and must have noticed my reluctance to see him go, because he squeezed my hand and said, “I’ll see you again. We’re too good of family to not see each other again.” dw in golf cart

Today would have been David A. Wells’s 70th birthday, and I’m crying – for him, for my grammy, for Dr. Ryder and Mr. Fout and the other people who meant something and are gone. It hurts. There’s a little kid inside me who doesn’t think this is fair, who doesn’t understand any of this. And on the outside there’s a woman who knows that I can’t give Dave a gift for his birthday, who knows that I can’t have him back so that I can tell him that I inexplicably loved him, so that the next generation of kids could experience the craziness and charisma he brought to the field. That woman figures she became a teacher and a writer for a reason, and that maybe she needs to suck it up and stop crying for a past that she can’t reclaim but may be able to share.

At others’ request, I’ll end this, and begin, with what I said before:

I’ve done graduate work in English, and I can tell you that this is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write. I could go on for an awful long time about the impact this man had on my life, but then again, so could all of you, and then we’d be here ‘til band camp.

This man was a teacher, a coach, a mentor, and a friend. Moreover, David A. Wells was a force of nature. I guess it’s only fitting that he slipped away from us on an afternoon filled with crazy weather. Thunder, tornadoes, cloudbursts, double rainbows – yep, sounds like a Blue Thunder halftime.

Dave made his own way and he made his own rules. I can’t imagine that he ever let anyone in this world tell him what to think – with the exception, fortunately, of the extraordinarily good woman he was lucky enough to marry. He carved canyons through convention and built mountains out of nothing.

Dave taught us that 100% is just the starting point.

He taught us to have a big dream.

He taught us that if you really want something, it won’t be impossible.

He taught us that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

He taught us that there are some things in life worth standing up for – and most of them are people.

No one here will deny that he made his share of mistakes, but I can’t think of one of them that wasn’t made out of a surplus of love.

No; once Hurricane Dave came through our lives, we were never the same.

There’s a saying about great teachers. There are several variations, one of which has to do with ripples in a pond – that you can never see where the impact of a great teacher will end, because it keeps rippling out forever. I started to hunt down the exact quote to use today, but then I realized that it wasn’t really an appropriate metaphor. David was many things, but subtle? He wasn’t a ripples-in-the-pond sort of guy…

Then I was thinking about my earliest days in Blue Thunder, and I remembered the band standing in the bowels of the stadium trying to come up with enough dynamic contrast to satisfy Dave. He wanted us to master something he was calling a Wellzando. Now, if you’re a musician but aren’t familiar with the Wellzando, I can explain. A Wellzando is what happens when a sforzando and a forte-piano fall in love and do many things they’ll later regret. The band slams into the note with everything it’s got, abruptly drops away to nothing at all, and then builds and builds and builds until this massive wall of sound rattles the concrete and probably registers on the seismograph across campus. The Wellzando was designed to deafen the people in the nosebleed seats, so you can imagine how powerful and sometimes gut-wrenching it was from within the band itself. It’s a simple enough concept, but some afternoons I thought we’d never get it just right.

I believe that we’re in the middle of the perfect Wellzando right now.

David A. lived his life at full bore. He gave it absolutely everything he had, and then he gave some more. Just this past month, he was planning a reunion tour of the Idaho All-Star Band, determined not to let a little thing like cancer and retirement stand in the way of giving kids another opportunity. His whole life was played at fortissimo – feet apart, chest out, eyes brimming over with pride.

And then, out of nowhere – silence.

Or not quite silence, because as soon as the roar that was David’s life dropped away, there was a rumbling. One person learned the news. Then another. Phones rang. Email inboxes flooded. Facebook went nuts. Dozens, then hundreds, of people coming together in person or over the wires to share their thoughts and memories of this man, this force of nature. The music built.

And out of the chaos, I think we can all hear a single rich chord swelling and growing. Dave was the spark that lit a thousand fires. We – all of us – are the crescendo. We are the second part of the Wellzando, growing stronger without any cut-off in sight. This is the gift that Dave left each of us, and that we will continue giving. We are stronger and better people because of the hard road he set us on. We are an impassioned people because he made us believe. And because he shared his spark with us, and because that spark is too bright to keep to ourselves, David A. never has to die. We can keep his legacy alive for all eternity.

There are no words to express the gratitude we all feel for having shared the road with David A., but then again, he was always more of a man of action. Our God blessed us with you, Dave, and we’ll give ’em hell for you. We always did, and we always will.

Happy Birthday, David A.

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Barack does Boise

I was not one of the people who got there at 5 AM, but I did get up at 6 on my Saturday. Why?

We weren’t close enough to get to the rope line…

But we were close enough to make it into this shot, running on the Boston Globe‘s website. I’m inside the little red circle, which you won’t be able to see very much unless you zoom in a bit.

This was pretty much an intensely big deal. Before Mitt Romney swung by Boise last June, the area hadn’t seen a visit from a major presidential candidate since the 1970s. Why waste the time and energy coming to Idaho? It’s the reddest of the red states. You kind of understand Romney swinging by; this is, in many ways, Salt Lake North, and he has his fair share of support here. But a Democratic candidate? A rock star candidate like Obama? In Boise?

Then again, Obama has had a very active headquarters and campaign staff in Boise for months now. He’s not giving up on Idaho just because it looks like a foregone conclusion.I’m not going to talk about Obama in this post; I may in a while, though. But there are plenty of people across the country talking about the fact that he took the time out of his busy pre-Super Tuesday schedule to come to Boise State’s campus and talk for a standing-room-only, hundreds-of-people-turned-away-at-the-door crowd.

(Just read this: “The Obama campaign organizers are estimating that the crowd reached 14,161 –- which would be a record crowd in the 25-year-old arena.” Damn.)