When I mention your name in Minnesota, there are always some folks who start to cry. And it's not because you poked fun at their habits or told the truth (often the same thing). It's because they loved you. They loved your writing, yes, but they also loved you. Who you were. As I've held your books this past year, I've turned to your picture on jacket covers and book backs, and it seems there was always a mass of hair, a deep beard, warm sweaters. Just from this, I think, had I known you I would have loved you, too.
But I didn't know you, so I must send these little claps to where they will flitter through the grasses and occasional treetops around both Minneota, Minnesota, and Iceland, two places you loved specifically and with tender detail, two places that felt the force of your intuitive pen.
When I went to my bookshelf of college texts and took from it The Music of Failure, I had memories of my own grumblings, of immature reluctance and bored eyes. So I was surprised to find my twenty-year-old self in the margins, speaking via my own pen, recording thoughts, marking down bits of inspired musings that I intended to—what?—include in a paper, share with my class, with my professor of Ethnic American Lit? I don't remember any of that. But these years later, my intentions then don't matter. Now my scribblings read like conversations I had with you when you were still alive.
Bill: "At fifteen I could define failure fast: to die in Minneota, Minnesota. Substitute any small town in Pennsylvania, or Nebraska, or Bulgaria, and the definition held. To be an American meant to move, rise out of a mean life, make yourself new."
Me: "There is beauty in failing equal to succeeding. Both mean there was an attempt at reaching goals, no matter how fantastic."
Bill: "I left Minneota... In the meantime, I aged from twenty to forty, found myself for all practical purposes a failure, and settled almost contentedly back into the same rural town which I tried so fiercely to escape."
Me: "Roots hold you whether you pay them respect or not."
Bill: "Something succeeds if it is itself: victor and defeated, living and dead, are not separate states but a continuum, success and failure only different faces of the same thing."
Me: "Sacredness occurs if you decide your daily experience merits that holy classification."
Bill: "The heart can be filled up anywhere on earth."
It seems like maybe that's one thing you were after: getting all of us quiet types to open our mouths and let sound come out. Getting me to stop. To think. To consider small places, small essays, small truths that—if handled rightly—I could write about for years.