It has now been over a decade since I graduated from Temple University. Looking back, the thing I remember most is not the endless fraternity keg parties I indulged in (I was more of a party vegetable than a party animal back in college), nor is it the stimulating classes I took. What I remember most is writing a weekly column for Temple’s student newspaper, the imaginatively titled Temple News.
I wrote two different columns. One was called Road to Nowhere and it was a general interest/humor column, though I sometimes got serious and wrote about politics or some other Important Issue. The other was called Wild Wild Life and was part of the Entertainment page. Both columns were named after Talking Heads songs, which demonstrates both my near-worshipful devotion to that band’s lead singer/guitarist/lyricist David Byrne during my college years, and my casual laziness when it came to coming up with original titles for newspaper columns.
Actually, there are other things I remember well from college (heck, it was ONLY 12 years ago, after all) and maybe someday I’ll write about them, but writing the newspaper columns clearly stands out in my memory. It was while trying to meet my weekly deadlines that I realized how much I love the process of writing. I know, I know, writers are often supposed to just hate the process and find it utterly torturous and get driven to all sorts of horrible addictions and extremes by it, but I don’t remember feeling that way, at least not very often. Maybe this had to do with the fact that I generally wrote about things like cows, Wheel of Fortune, psychics who advertise in supermarket tabloids and the Miss America Pageant. Not exactly the subject matter of Great Art, but fun stuff nonetheless.
I don’t like all the columns I wrote while at Temple. In fact, for various reasons, I think some of them are just plain Awful with a capital “A”. Interestingly, it’s the more “serious” columns that make me cringe, but maybe that’s just my 34-year-old self looking back at my 21/22-year-old self and thinking, “Boy, was I naïve…” My point is that what sticks with me the most is not writing immortal prose, but being challenged by the weekly need to fill up newspaper space, as well as the fun I had attempting to do it.
“And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,” the Beatles sing in “Help!” and that is very much true for me. Since the last of my Temple News columns went to press back in the spring of 1988, I’ve graduated, gotten a “real” job that I’ve held for ten years this October, met Donna, fallen in love with and gotten married to her and had a beautiful baby boy, Jimmy (now a two-year-old), with her. Most recently, I’ve become a homeowner. I am, in ways large and small, a much different person than I was in college, though paradoxically, I’m still pretty much the same guy.
Throughout all of these changes, I’ve continued to write and try to challenge myself creatively. I’ve kept a journal since 1980 and have continued to do so, though lately my entries have been sporadic at best. Donna and I published four issues of a homemade “zine” called Volcano back in the mid-90s. I’ve been writing for a magazine called Cool and Strange Music since its premiere issue in 1996, and I had a short article on Victrolas published in Main Line Today magazine in 1999. I briefly ran journal/creative writing adult education classes and I’ve even taken stand-up and improvisational comedy workshops, both of which involve some of the same creative processes needed for writing.
Despite all this writing activity, I still feel like I miss the process. These days, I’ll get an idea and think “That might work for Magazine X,” then I promptly file the idea in my brain for the day when I’ll “have time” to pull it out and write it. My cranial file cabinets are currently stuffed with these ideas. My responsibilities to my family naturally come first and that “real” job I mentioned earlier takes a bit of energy also. This is as it should be. However, I find that I still need to write and, to be honest, I’d like to know that someone out there was reading what I write.
Which brings us to this little article you are currently reading. I’ve decided to try to start writing a weekly “column” again, something I do for myself, but then send out to others as well. Of course, it’s not going to be published in a newspaper or magazine, but the point of the exercise is to try to get back to the feeling I felt in college trying to merge the discipline of a weekly deadline with the meanderings of a somewhat undisciplined and silly mind. We’ll see how it works. Maybe it won’t work at all and you’ll never hear from me in this format again, but at least I did something constructive (that is, write this column) today.
If I do in fact get a nice weekly rhythm started, please don’t feel like you need to respond every week. While I’d always love to hear from you, I know everyone is very busy these days and, in a way, this is just something I’m doing for myself anyway—a way to get the creative juices flowing and keep them that way for awhile.
Also, if you’d rather I not include you in this weekly exercise, please let me know. I will certainly not be offended. Or if you don’t mind, but would prefer I sent it to another email address, let me know that also.
By the way, the name of this column is going to be The Dichotomy of the Dog, which is not the title of a Talking Heads song. I’ll explain the origin of the title in an upcoming column. For now, I’ll just dangle that little mystery before you to keep you interested. See you next week. Hopefully.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)