In the fall of 1988 I taught a creative writing class at Utah Valley Community College (previously Utah Technical College, soon to be Utah Valley State College, later still Utah Valley University). Years before, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student (at other institutions), I had taken a couple creative writing courses, but this was the first time I would be the instructor. I was excited for the new semester.
The first day of class I looked about the room: the usual first-day-of-class checking out of each other. On the surface, nothing terribly telling; on the surface, the standard mix of clothing, styles, respectability, gender, and hair length.
I did most of the talking that first day, going over the course syllabus: the rules, expectations, the discipline, etc., as well as providing some information about myself, especially my own enthusiasm for teaching this creative writing course, and my desire to generate enthusiasm among the class members: to—hopefully—have the students and me, together, create a community of curious human beings who could feel comfortable sharing their own quirks, passions, outrageousnesses, and yes, their own enthusiasm with each other. I ended the hour by asking that each student, for the next class period, take a few minutes to share a little of their own personal background, their expectations for the semester, desires, influences, and what-not.
Most of the students were either naïve or pretentiously naïve; some, of course, were just along for the ride, wherever it might take them, but curious nonetheless (and not naïve). I remember one student telling of his passion for lofty philosophical concepts; another had deep theological concerns; and yet another expressed his goal to write two novels during the course of the semester—and cautioning anyone even thinking of stealing his work and claiming it as their own that they had better watch out: at the end of each day he copyrighted everything he’d written that day.
I was more than a little overwhelmed!
Dave-O, the author of record here, had been sitting, quietly patient (patiently quiet?), during the introductions, looking about the room, seemingly bored with his classmates’ shenanigans. . . .
[Insertion: I’d met Dave the year before in an Introduction to Literature class. Apparently (I later learned), he’d dropped out of high school and was taking a few alternative classes at the college—photography, ceramics, mountaineering—and somehow landed in an English class. I remember him sitting in the back row and enjoying the class in his own way, from a distance. But aside from his casual attitude, I remember two other things about him: he’d written an excellent, insightful, probing paper on The Grapes of Wrath; and he’d gotten a kick out of Donald Barthelme’s short story, “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby.” One day near the end of the semester I talked with Dave after class, told him about a new creative writing course being offered the next year, thought he might add something to it, and invited him to consider registering. End of insertion.]
. . . When his turn came round to introduce himself, Dave paused before speaking, not necessarily to choose his words carefully (I think he already knew what he wanted to say), but rather to make sure that he had everyone’s attention before stating clearly, with no nonsense, exactly what was on his mind. He uttered just one sentence: “I want to write children stories and corrupt the minds of the youth.” He said it all with a wide, toothy smile that lingered for the remainder of the semester.
And that is precisely what he did.
As the semester moved along, he kept his focus, kept his cool, continued good naturedly with the other concerns of his life; in other words, he did not let a college class interfere with his Living. Before long, he teamed up with a classmate, an illustrator and aspiring film maker, Brandon Kiggins, and together they worked and played, played and looked, and then looked the other way, never taking themselves or their work too seriously—just seriously enough—and kept me and the other students current as their project took shape. The sketches and the narrative text grew into that “organic whole” they weren’t necessarily even searching for, but found anyway. And when they presented their finished work to the class at the end of the term, we were all stunned in joy and celebration over their achievement.
Angry and joyful. Comic and tragic. Animal and plant. Survey stake and cream sickle.
It’s been a long—or perhaps quick (Laurie Anderson might even call it “wide”)—thirty years. But here it is, in its latest rendition, most recent incantation, joyfullest joy: Uncle Weed First!
Larry Harper, Utah, 2018
Preface (by Author, natch)
So there i was, 18 and seeking *something* weird, rebellious and interesting. As it goes, after being transplanted from multi-cultural Vancouver, Canada to rather-different Utah, the southern desert areas quickly became my refuge with so many weekends and weeks, exploring Canyonlands, the (old) Burr Trail, Capitol Reef, San Rafael Swell, and various hidden hot springs… by foot or old-school mountain bike. Besides the seemingly endless trails and canyons, hanging out in (then small) towns at diners (and sneaking into bars with my fake ID) meeting characters – from uranium miners to Hare Krishnas – all with strong opinions and war-stories as it were, all of which shaped in some way my own mental dossier about conundrums of ecology vs development.
During this time I was introduced to two particularly important characters: the noted writer Edward Abbey, with whom I chatted after a talk which blew/expanded my eager mind (afterwhich I dove headlong into his works), and Larry Harper, a professor at the aforementioned college who invited me into his brand-new honours creative writing class and became a life-long friend and mentor. I dedicate this release to these mighty gentlefolk.
I envisioned the project as a mixture of “Adventures of Tintin,” Abbey’s “Monkeywrench Gang”, with a little HD Thoreau and Walt Whitman thrown in. Hand-written at first and created with the illustrative assistance of my frequent collaborator Brandon Kiggins who made the incredible drawings while I wrote a script/screenplay for his film class documentary project about flag burning (back when we could work without sleep). I had hoped to share the piece with Cactus Ed but he died shortly after this piece was finished, so I stashed it in my VW bus waiting for a chance to “finish it”.
30 years with numerous trips followed – to the desert yes (fear and loathing in Arches), but also circumnavigating the world where I realized *everywhere* needs protecting/saving/preserving: oceans, forests, jungles,ice caps, atolls… all of it and quickly too. Seems obvious to say. ‘Everywhere is special to someone’ and indeed everywhere faces similar challenges of thwarting exploitation.
Indeed, the Utah/4 Corners regions which shaped this story have well,… “changed” in ways too numerous to mention. Surely, all manner of “big problems” face the world, and against desperate odds too as environmental activist groups have “gone corporate” or been infiltrated and compromised by law-enforcement charlatans. I’d mention politicians and industrial complexes but there’s plenty of others doing so, so I’ll spare us both.
This story won’t solve any problems per se, my hope in pulling the battered pages from the confinement of various storage lockers and VW busses is to inspire and educate yes, and most importantly remind us of the simple eye-opening joy of going to a place for the first time and wondering how nature can be this “perfect”? and why would anyone want to change this condition of sublime beauty for the sake of profit? This is enough.
Fondly, daveo, 2018 (at a goat farm in Okayama, Japan)
Disclaimer: This is not a guide for parenting or child guardianship, govern yourself accordingly.