Category Archives: open letters

Today Is Tomorrow

Hi. I don’t know who you are or why you are reading this but I want to tell you two things. First, I love you. Second, thank you. And actually I want to tell you a third thing, and I want to embarrass myself doing it. Completely and shamelessly embarrass myself. Here goes.

The past 16 months have been both the most painful and blessed in my life. It’s hard to describe how such deep despair and such high hope can coexist, and at some point I’ll be ready to try doing that; so much has happened since Oct 2010 that I know I’ll need to write a lot of it down in order to be able to fully understand it, and if you’re reading this and are in any way nodding your head, I want to repeat real quick here the first two things I told you: I love you, and thank you.

Over the past few weeks I’ve felt myself finally lifting away from much of the hurt, disappointment and fear that has been a pretty regular constant for me for about as long as I can remember. If you were just nodding your head a moment ago, there’s a really good chance you know enough of The Story because I shared pieces of it with you. You don’t know how much your listening and support has meant to me.

I’m typing this from my campus office on a Saturday night, by the way. Everything is cool-air quiet here. This morning I went to my youngest son’s basketball game and immediately after he was finished he ran straight over to me and gave me a big hug. I want to thank him here. On Thursday, my middle son jumped off the school bus to fetch his hamster from my little apartment because he’d let the little furry dude spend the night with me the evening before so I wouldn’t feel lonely. I want to thank him here as well. And last night my oldest son gently informed me that he was way ahead of me on the Epic Rap Battles meme but he appreciated my interest nonetheless. He needs thanked here, too. These three boys have been amazing throughout everything, and I am in awe of their fortitude. They are my heroes, all of them.

But so are you. I want you to know you are so very much appreciated, whomever you are. I am in the process of not only reclaiming my life because of you, but beginning a whole new chapter in a whole new book of it that I didn’t even know I would write. I had been emotionally bankrupt for the longest time, just barely floating through my professional life, and my creative production had totally bottomed out. All of that is different today; where I am now has a lot to do with you, whomever you are. So I’m very pleased to meet you. And I love you. And I thank you.

At the beginning of this new year, I finally made good on a promise I’d made to myself several years ago, when my middle son uttered a phrase out of confusion as to where he was on a school activity calendar. He repeated it two and three times and with more than a little indignance. I didn’t know why but I had to write it down because I knew at some point I would understand why he was so insistent that what he was saying was exactly what he meant. The promise I made back then was at some point in the future I would tattoo that phrase into my skin once I understood its profundity and began applying it to my worldview and daily routine. This is that promise:

The past 16 months have largely been about confronting and exorcising my yesterdays. But today is tomorrow. And today is full of love and promise and dreams coming true.  Thank you, whomever you are, for waiting for me to arrive here today. And for all future todays.


Dear That Other Trevor Dodge

It’s beyond time we clear the air, sir.

But first some history. And not history in the sense of some story. I’m talking about the real deal truth here, things that have really happened and the whole whatnottery to go along with that.

Back in 1999 I was living in an apartment complex in Boise, ID. I had just figured out how to rip CDs to my computer’s hard drive, and I thought Yahoo Messenger was the shizznit. Apparently your mother did, too, because she IMed one afternoon. She didn’t believe me when I told her I was really living in Boise, ripping CDs. She believed that I was living in an apartment complex, though. At least I think she bought that part of it. At any rate, we had a short but pleasant conversation, and I was ultimately able to convince her that Boise was in fact a very nice city to live.

The following year, you attended Clackamas Community College and set a bunch of track and field records. I Yahoo-searched you and everything on this. There’s that guy whose mom I talked to a few months back, I was thinking at the time. How about that, I was also thinking.

The following year, I moved to the Portland area. By the following year, I was teaching at four different colleges in the area. Clackamas CC was not one of them.

By the following year, I was still teaching at four different colleges in the area. Clackamas CC was still not one of them.

By the end of the following year, I had taught at five different colleges in the area. Clackamas CC not only was one of them, but had given me a full-time teaching position. How about that, I was thinking.

When the college issued me my ID card, my name was already in the system. That makes sense, I was thinking, because I had been hired a few months before actually getting my ID card. The first time I used said ID card at the library was when I tried pulling a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes off a reserve shelf and claimed faculty privileges to do so. The librarian at the checkout desk swiped my ID card and told me I could do no such thing because I was a student. I turned the ID card around and showed the librarian my picture on the front and the word FACULTY in all caps printed above my picture on the front. How about that, she said, and she swiped my ID card again, and again she said I was a student. You should get a new ID card, she said, because there’s already someone in the system with your name and you’re not that person and that person was a student and you’re clearly not a student. Right, I said. I’m too short and too fat and too old and not nearly photogenic enough to be a student. True, she said. No offense, she said. None taken, I said.

About a week after that, I met Jim Jackson for the first time. He is now retired from the college but at the time he was its long-time Athletic Director. I shook his big hand and told him my name. How about that, he said. We have a bunch of track trophies with your name on them over in that building over there, he said. But I’m too short and too fat and too old not nearly photogenic enough to have track trophies with my name on them, I said. True, he said. No offense, he said. None taken, I said.

It’s now nearly five years later, Mr. Trevor Dodge, sir, and I live in the west suburbs of Portland, OR. One of the biggest daily pains in my life is having to drive US Highway 26 to/from just about anywhere I need or want to go. One of those anywheres includes Clackamas CC. I spend a lot of time on this stretch of road and I have been very lucky so far not to be maimed or killed while driving it. I am always thankful for that last fact, by the way.

Lately, however, one of us hasn’t been very lucky as far as that last thing goes. Just a couple weeks back you were in an accident on US Highway 26. I Yahoo-searched this and everything. “After swerving to avoid collision with an errant driver, Trevor ran into the median, totaling his vehicle. Trevor ended up receiving only a few minor bruises and lacerations, with no risk to life or limb,” The Internet said.

I am tempted, of course, to say How about that right now, but that would be crass and insensitive and I really really really want you to like me. I am also tempted to be all clever and solipsistic, of course, and to falsely claim that I was that errant driver who forced you into the median and made you total your vehicle, but that would also be crass and insensitive; not only do I really really really want you to like me, I am *dying* to know (figuratively speaking of course) what make of car you drive. Because if you were to say a Dodge, well, frankly, that would leave me totally speechless.

Let me know? Yeah?



Dear David Foster Wallace

Please disregard the last letter I sent you in February of 2004. Let’s pretend it got lost in our respective campus mail systems. Let’s pretend it’s 2004 again and I’m not trying to use your generous response to my previous letter from the previous fall as some sort of springboard into a myopic groveling for a letter of recommendation.

Please do this with me now. Pretend, I mean.

8 Feb 2004

Dear David,

I’m delighted to hear from you and thank you for taking the time to respond. The fact that you remember the abysmal paper I wrote in your class in enough detail to feel bad about saying all the things you were totally justified in saying is incredibly endearing to me. I’ve been teaching just long enough myself now to understand a little bit of what you expressed, and there are few things more disheartening than witnessing someone self-implode right there on the page in front of you, especially since the deed has already been done and there isn’t a single thing you can do about it. Pomona must have dizzying highs in this regard, I’d imagine, chock-full of incredibly bright and overachieving people. I hope you don’t take that the wrong way. I really, truly don’t.

See, a lot of things are still on a knife’s edge for me both personally and professionally. I am applying for full-time teaching jobs here in the Portland area and think I am getting close enough now to securing one that I need to worry about what having a tenure-track gig will want from me. I might have even jinxed myself by passing on a very tempting and generous offer to teach at the community college back in Normal. They flew me out and bought me drinks. I reconnected with good friends still living there. I stood at the base of Watterson Towers and took the time to really look up. I even took a jaunt through that brick and mortar tampon box of Stevenson Hall, where they had moved permanent faculty into the offices where they had us graduate TAs tin-canned, three to an office (guess who moved into my old haunt? Ricardo Cruz!). And I’m pretty sure I saw Doug Hesse on the staircase (but I wasn’t sure it was him because it was a Saturday and he was at least a full floor below me; besides, I didn’t have anything thoughtful prepared to say to him even though I definitely should have because he played a crucial role in helping me finish my degree). It was all so very nice, and that’s why it was incredibly difficult to turn down the job when they offered it not once but twice. I’m probably going to feel bad about that for a long, long time.

I’m sharing this with you because I’m fascinated with how you might perceive capital-P Possibility when it presents itself, and how this might differ (that is, if it differs at all) from capital-O Opportunity. I have drippy, 18th century style ideas about these kinds of things, where I want to believe an open path will lead me to happiness and enlightenment. Something I’ve only recently began to seriously consider is how Possibility b/w/and/or Opportunity could lead to misery and ignorance, and I’m deathly afraid of being either miserable or ignorant.

I’m sorry for being mealy-mouthed (old habits die hard), but what I’m trying to get at is this: do you think those things we might call “opportunities” are somehow similar to the Greeks’ notions of capital-F Fate? In other words, are opportunities optional?

I worry about these things a lot right now because I seem to have a number of opportunities on my plate and it’s impossible to ingest them all. And I’m paralyzed by this because our culture tells me I can—and must—gorge myself. Granted, my opportunities are very very average (this job over that one, minty-fresh over tartar control, filtered over unfiltered) and they can’t honestly be considered to be the same sorts of opportunities you have, but I’d like to have the baseline conversation about the nature of Opportunity and Reward and what those things mean in our culture.

Because I’m coming to think more and more that Opportunity leads far more frequently to Ruin than Reward. And I’m also thinking this is something terribly hard for people to think about, because Reward is what seems to keep us open to Possibility and Opportunity in the first place.

Let me try to say this (—ahem—now a third time, sorry) more succinctly: is Opportunity a curse?

I’m not trying to be abstractly philosophical here. I really want to know the answer to this. And I am asking you because I think you have important things to say about this, even if you choose not to say them.

Rephrase/add: especially if you choose not to say them.

Because there are two moments I recall from a very brief conversation in your office back in spring 1997 that I’d like to officially take back right now.  The first was what I’d consider a Possibility, in that I deliberately brought a 1st printing ed. of Infinite Jest into the conference, knowing that there wouldn’t be an appropriate time to foist it upon you, and yet I did it anyway.  I even used the word “fanboy” when I did it.  What a total fuck I must have looked like that afternoon.  And so I take that back.

The second is what was very clearly a missed Opportunity, in that after you graciously signed and doodled the title page, you pulled a copy of someone else’s book from your sparse shelves there in Stevenson and offered to lend it to me.  That book was Stacey Levine’s first collection of fiction, My Horse and Other Stories, and instead of humbly accepting the copy like I should have, I refused it by saying that I would be moving soon and almost certainly wouldn’t be able to return it.  I was way too wrapped up in my own headspace to realize then that you weren’t offering me a book; rather, you were inviting me to a conversation, and I pretty quickly declined.  I couldn’t see that back then, so I hope you’ll let me take that moment back.

Stacey’s book is right here, on my own thin little office shelf in my own box-shaped classroom building.  I think I’m ready now.  What do you say?