Saturday, March 26, 2005

Remembering Welch

Now that I think about it, Welch may have been the first positive adult male role model I ever had. Not that I'm saying my own father was really a bad influence, but... well... he had a brain aneurism when I was 5 that left him brain damaged. I'm told he was a great man before this. A man of intelligence, honor and integrity. The father I know, however, sat around and watched TV a whole lot, ate too much junk food and dug through trash cans to find returnables like a homeless person. He couldn't carry on conversations or offer guidance or advice or do any of those things I hear dads are supposed to. I guess I didn't have it too bad though. At least he wasn't physically abusive. No wait, yes he was, until I got big enough to hurt back. Guess I really did get the short end of the stick as far as fathers go.

I met Welch when I was a freshman in college (first year student, in case you're unfamiliar with the term "freshman". The PC 90s changed that. IMHO, it should have been changed to Person of Fresh). I knew from that start that I'd be an English major, creative writing concentration. As long as I could remember I wanted to write novels. I never had the ambition to write the Great American Novel, as most English majors do. I wanted to write pure entertainment. Books that might not change you in any way, but that once you started reading, you couldn't put down again. The early Stephen King, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft, they helped me escape for days on end while I was growing up. I was also a b-movie fanatic, watching every sci-fi and horror movie I could find. I found brilliance and inspiration in movies like Attack of the Giant Leeches the way respectable people found in Citizen Kane.

Of course I had to meet Welch. Welch Everman was a professor in the English department at the University of Maine. Academia may have become less hostile toward pop culture since the 80s, but back then Welch was a radical. He'd make analalogies between Hamlet and the latest twists in pro wrestling, and he had no trouble shelving comic books next to the "great classics of literature." Welch was my academic advisor. Advising sessions consisted of sitting in his office as he smoked cheap cigarettes while we discussed obscure horror movies that only the two of us had ever seen. Then he'd sign my blank class sign-up sheet and I'd fill in the rest on my own.

I think I learned more that way than in any of my classes. One of the most important things I learned from Welch was that the same techniques you'd use to analyze a Shakespeare play could also be applied to the worst monster movie, and that you could learn things from both. I think my whole life is a lot more enjoyable because of this. When you can see how Hamlet connects to pro wrestling, you can make the connection between Hamlet and your own life. Both Hamlet and Pro Wrestling become much more fascinating! All life becomes a text that you can learn from.

Welch also believed in me as a writer. He encouraged me to keep writing and try to get published. It was the first time I ever felt believed in, or encouraged.

Unfortunately, when I left college I persued a career in computer graphics. This effectively killed me as a writer. When you spend all day staring at a computer screen, the last thing you want to do is stare at a computer screen in your free time. Years past, and I lost touch with Welch. I still made attempts at novels now and then, but never made the time for it. Writing is one of my favorite things to do, so it is always the first thing to get sacrificed when things get busy.

Then my dad got Alzheimers and I returned home to help my mom deal with it. I became a student again. I didn't really feel a pressing need to get my masters degree. It was just something to do to keep from going crazy.

Meanwhile, Welch got cancer. All those cheap cigarettes caught up with him. He got through it. Well, "went into remission." Cancer isn't something that is ever cured. I'd always planned on publishing a novel and coming back to show Welch and making him proud. I realized that all Welch might ever see from me was a whole lot of false starts. I felt dissapointed in myself. So I took another creative writing class with Welch, and wrote Castles in one semester, last fall, just so I could prove to Welch and to myself that I could actually finish something. I planned on rewriting it and actually trying to publish it this time.

It was the last class Welch taught. The cancer came back, and I didn't even realize he was dying. Rumors spread fast on campus. I'd hear from one person that Welch was sick and from another that he was doing great. I was out of town when he died, and didn't even find out about the funeral until days later.

When I asked my mother, who works at the University with people who were good friends with Welch, why she didn't tell me, she said, "Oh, I didn't know you knew him."

I guess there's a lesson in there somewhere.

It is only recently that I've been able to talk about this. His loss is heartbreaking to me. I still catch myself thinking, "Oh, I should tell Welch about this!" and realizing I can't, and that I know I can't, and haven't been able to for a long time, and how does something like that slip your mind?

But I'll finish the novel. And I'll get it published. And I'll dedicate it to Welch.