Glawe: Leaving the lectern


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As columnist Glawe prepares to step away from his proverbial podium, he reflects on what writing has taught him and expresses the legacy he hopes to leave behind.

Michael Glawe

It was during the frigid nights of early 2012 that I experienced an awakening of sorts. I vividly remember late nights of indulgence in the skilled orations of Christopher Hitchens and encountering for the first time that dark colossus Nietzsche. On one unusually warm day, I recall listening to the song “Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones, and, for the first time, a fire was instantly lit within me. Like Hitchens, I too had a voice, and I wanted to be heard. So I took to the stage that was the Iowa State Daily, and I began composing columns in lofty pontification. I was a street fighting man.

I suppose, similar to Emerson’s influence on Walt Whitman, I was simmering and simmering until Hitchens brought me to a boil. This was recognition of Whitman’s “powerful play,” and a life-changing decision to, at last, contribute my verse.

At first my writing style was sharp and critical — I was, after all, the bulldog of my party. I underwent various transformations, from bulldog to lecturer, from lecturer to supreme moralist and finally moralist to hoarder of the aesthetic.

I battled fellow columnists, I dueled with the comment section rabblement and I endured the bombardment of angry emails. I’ve been called many names, including but not limited to “Marxist,” “Loony-Lefty” and “Elitist.” I’ve also made a decent amount of enemies, to whom I apologize for my snobbery, but certainly not for my defense of the truth.

For three years I combated writer’s block and discovered limits to the word “deadline.” Most of all, I found my voice, and that is what made the journey worthwhile. But here at the end of my years as a Cyclone, at the “end of all things” as a fellow Tolkien lover might have it, I find myself a stranger.

The process of unearthing my voice was certainly a discovery of the imagination; perhaps through the imaginative construction of myself, as the poet Wallace Stevens wrote of so long ago. But now I am lost in an unendurable anxiety of influence. I so desperately want to grab hold of my writing and aim it toward composing an immortal work of art as Milton sought in “Paradise Lost.” Yet, the shackles of influence are much to bear. Alas, a god dances through me and he goes by the name of “Shelley.”

Christopher Hitchens taught me to reject the poisoned chalice offered, and to think for myself. Because of that, I owe him an eternal debt. This is, after all, the role of the columnist — to think for oneself — and without that central maxim opinions are nonexistent. But I realized that thinking for myself wasn’t so simple. Influence is a lovely poison that gradually destroys you in your attempt to find originality — to ascertain the truth of yourself.

Perhaps if there is to be an opinion in this final goodbye, it is this: we too often let our influences destroy us. Either we completely emulate our precursors, like I did with Hitchens, or we drastically alter tradition to create a thing of lower quality (perhaps time will tell whether my generation’s definition of art will last).

This is the supreme irony of my farewell. Numerous minds have appeared in this column already, in many other columns as well, and in a sense my life is lived through them. Writing was always a solitary affair, and the conversations gripping my head were had, inevitably, with Hitchens, Bloom and all the rest. A composition, a splicing of political culture and the world of literature, a consciousness passes over me and runs through me in an infinite loop of influence.

“What good amid these, O me, O life?” I ask myself in a Whitmanian reflection, and the answer becomes harder and harder to spew forth — “that life exists and identity.” Identity in a world where everyone’s voice seeks to be heard is, simply put, difficult to come by. Yet, always, the Daily was there for me, publishing the drivel I wrote. Oftentimes I composed columns for popularity (for the Facebook “like”) than in defense of my own principles. I wrote for my allegiances and I wrote for ideologies. Looking back, I am most proud of the columns that best expressed my voice — where I showed resilience against the party — even though these columns were likely read by a mere handful of readers.

I suppose Harold Bloom, to whom I owe so much in my understanding of literature, best expresses my discontent with the ordinary and my never-ending fight for immortality. When explaining the gain and loss of influence, a flux I often experience, Bloom says, “The loss comes from the fact that you are haunted. The loss comes from the fear, the deep fear, that there’s no room for you. That the time and space that you ought to occupy has been usurped or appropriated. That you have no ground upon which to stand; no word of your own to speak.”

That quote reverberates within me, the Promethean half of me intends on stealing the fire back from our god Shakespeare, creator of humans, and in so doing recapture the time and space that has been so appropriated — that which belongs to me.

I have full confidence the younger columnists will fight to keep the Daily interesting — they will fight for this originality I speak of. In that sense, I will go on writing for the Daily, only in a different shape and form. If I could issue some advice to my fellow columnists, it would be this: avoid the confluence of blandness and frivolity. Don’t write about how our generation has an obsession with technology because every columnist writes about that. Get angry. You have to get mad. Get mad, just as Howard Beale proclaims in the movie “Network”: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This should be your approach to column writing. As for the aesthetics, well, those come with experience. Most of all, strive for something greater than yourself — explore the utmost bounds of human thought — or prove me a dreamer after all.

I wanted to end this column in a fashion worthy of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which concludes with a final voyage, “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield,” but I chose to end it differently.

I often wonder if I have influenced anyone at all — if my voice has made an impact on the world around me; if I have been heard. Or has this journey been a waste of time? I am encouraged by a final resolution to the novel “Cloud Atlas,” where Adam Ewing makes a life changing decision to fight with the abolitionists — a decision to have a say in this world. As his vile slave owning father-in-law proclaims in disgust, “Only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than a drop in a limitless ocean.” To which Ewing responds, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”