Saturday, April 22, 2006

Wyatt Wyatt

For some reason Wyatt has sprung to life in my memory. Once he was Lawrence Wyatt, who became my closest friend around the fifth grade when he entered Lee Bivens School and was assigned to my class. We instantly bonded as friends walking home from school.

This bond continued throughout school with our admiration for each other deepening and continuing even after we went to different colleges and pursued very different paths. Larry was a literature major at the University of Texas, and when he graduated he headed for New York to pursue an M.A. at Columbia University, arriving there slightly ahead of me.

Even though we were often separated for long intervals, we would resume conversations as though it were the next day. Wyatt became an ardent pursuer and writer of fiction. The catalyst intensifying his passion was Perle, the wife of a psychoanalyst who fancied himself the reincarnation of Freud, and who , of course, understood Perle's obsession with Larry. She had a deep knowledge of literature, was sexy as hell, and gave Larry his real education in writing and sexual intensity. Their affair was stormy and passionate, and was fully condoned by her husband. We often dined out together or went to Perle's place for drinks. It was all very urban and civilized.

Abruptly Larry left for Paris, as all good American writers should. This was an extension of a process that had begun with Perle, which could be best understood as abandoning his Texas past as being irrelevant. If nothing else, he was tracing the pathways of American writers, and he wore a beret (which he actually began wearing while in New York). In addition to a real commitment and passion for writing, he was also caught up in the drama and theatrics of his adventure.

He returned to New York and resumed a turbulent relationship with Perle. He urged her to flee with him to Alaska. He bought a motorcycle so they could experience traveling the countryside through a visceral immersion in the windblown senses. Perle took off with Larry, the epitome of an impetuous impulse to live like true romantics in the passion of the moment. However, after several days of travel, Perle returned to New York, and Larry continued alone to Alaska where he taught creative writing at the University of Alaska.

While in Alaska he fell into a relationship with a student who deeply admired Larry and always addressed him in third person. She was from Seattle, and immediately latched onto Larry who was ready for something different than a tempestuous relationship. There was an element of hero worship which fanned Larry's ego as she continued to call him Wyatt even in intimate moments. Thus Larry dropped his first name and became officially and legally Wyatt Wyatt, hoping somehow that this name would bring him fame as a writer. They went to Spain and to the tiny island of Ibiza, which at the time was relatively undiscovered, and they could live on pennies a day. This was an intense time of reading and writing. When they returned, Wyatt was appointed to run a program in creative writing in Florida. Eventually the student left Wyatt, and he was finally faced with the reality of himself and his writing.

Under that name, which was now his only name, Wyatt Wyatt brought forth Catching Fire and Deep in the Heart. Wyatt and I were in touch during the time he published Catching Fire with Random House in 1977. He spoke of selling rights for a film version, but apparently that never materialized. He gave me a copy of the book when he paid an impromptu visit to New York. There was something about that visit that altered the orbits of our universe. On his arrival, we resumed our intimate connection and conversation as before, but by the time he left New York, we were somehow strangers. I never heard from him again.

I found this lone review of Catching Fire on Amazon.com. It had been posted on my birthday, in 1999.
As southern as grits and beer for breakfast, this entertaining book is filled with odd-ball characters that grab and hold you. Very well written. Wyatt Wyatt uses humor and pathos to explore the human condition and he uses it well. If you can find this book, check it out.
I never had a copy of Deep in the Heart. It came out in 1980, and since our paths had swung in different directions, I never knew anything about the book or that it existed. There is no Amazon.com review. I feel compelled to search it out, because maybe Wyatt decided to write about a past that he had abandoned when he became involved with Perle and felt the need to be more urban, more cosmopolitan. There is no doubt that his New York experience with Perle was so momentous and potent that he must have felt that his real existence virtually began in the ethos of that time.

I am not sure what has brought Wyatt back into my memory after 25 years. Perhaps, somehow, my links with this particular past are active once more. I don't know if Wyatt is still alive as web searches only yield minor references to him as author of these two volumes composed at the zenith of his journey more than 25 years ago. In this same period, Perle published work on the Kabbalah and Malcolm Lowry, but was even more prolific publishing under her maiden name. Perle's husband was also a highly productive author, publishing many books, including a book about healing through visual imagery and establishing a foundation and website devoted to healing yourself through visual imagery. I hadn't thought much about Wyatt until today, when suddenly he seemed to be in the room, an old friend intimately bridging the abyss of time.
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Addendum: After writing the above, I did a rigorous search and finally tracked down the following obituary:
Wyatt Wyatt was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma and has lived in Oklahoma, Texas, New York, Paris, Alaska, Spain, the Yukon Territory, and Florida. Wyatt has held jobs as a bag-worm picker, popcorn popper, tractor driver, window washer, library janitor, traffic counter, street sweeper, cat skinner, goldminer, woodcutter, teacher, and writer. Wyatt previously taught literature at the University of Central Florida before his early retirement in 1998. Including two novels, Wyatt has published short stories, drama, poetry, television scripts, book reviews, criticism, articles, and political speeches. Wyatt passed away August 8th, 2002, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
So Wyatt is gone... irretrievably, sadly, and so final that I feel a great radiance has flickered and failed... This sudden knowledge penetrates to the core of my being ... painfully... permanently...

Yet, today he has been vividly present.

Perhaps he has been looking over my shoulder, nudging me to remember. Now I realize the impediment that his memory has breached was far greater than I knew. From other sources I discovered that he had brain cancer in 1988, but he fought it off and returned to teach a course on death and dying. From the above notice, he continued to teach until 1998 when he took "early retirement." Wyatt confronted his ultimate demons. While in high school, his stepfather underwent a tortuous, fatal siege of cancer that was very painful for Wyatt. Wyatt also harbored deep forboding that he would one day face his own battle. Yet, his best trait was to summon courage to confront his deepest fears and carry on with dignity and resolute resolve.

Writing of his adventures today brought me such pleasure, and I remember his great affection and sense of humor. I know he must have had a hand in his own obituary...as nothing to him was ever trivial.

My deep regret is that we lost touch in those final years. I still have a date with Deep in the Heart, as I realize that Wyatt has returned to a place deep in my heart... in fact, he never left.

8 comments:

VJM said...

Your writing seems familiar...the more I read, the more I think you are published. Again, I'm flattered that you read my writing as often as you do. Your encouragement is deeply appreciated, and I'm honored. Thank you...

VJM said...

I was not fortunate enough to know long-lasting friendships before my 40s--and although I know the ones I have now will last until my last breath, I still wonder if I could have carried a friendship 25 or more years. As it stands I would have to demand that I live another 25 years in order to accomplish that.
To quote the old cliche...
" Lovers come, and Lovers go...but friendship endures a lifetime "

VJM said...

I believe that Death appropriates regeneration. The Death card represents new life; new beginnings; an end to an old way of living. I sense your friend has moved on to another place, another existence --perhaps to make lifelong decisions for the next journey, or to sit at the right hand of a higher power. Either way, his essence while here on earth has succeeded its goal: to leave a lasting impression, if only in one other living being, so as to continue what was Wyatt Wyatt, the man you call friend.

Bohemian Muse said...

at first during reading it, I wonder whether the story is fiction written by you. when fisnishing reading all, then I figureed out it's your real story of the life memory. I feel blessed to read one's life and to be able to experience it at second hand. dear my firend, I wish you don't die although death is the last process of becoming and first of recreation....

Laura said...

I was a student of Wyatt Wyatt's at FTU in the early 1970's. We had a wonderful and rare relationship. I was trying to find him and ran across this article and am very saddened as I had always hoped to see him again. When I looked him up in the late 70's, I remember walking into his office and hesitantly asking if he remembered me - he did indeed. I still have my old copy of Catching Fire. I read it every few years or so just to remember. You are lucky to have known him so long and so well.

Laura said...

Not sure if my previous comments went though, please let me know. I am a previous student of his. I still have one of his wonderful doodles he drew for me. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Josh Barrett said...

Hey-
I've been trying to track down some of Wyatt Wyatt's other work outside of his two novels. Do you have any idea where I might look?
Thanks for any help.

Big said...

i, too, was a student of Wyatt's at FTU in the 70s. he was very generous with his time and spirit. i remember that great old house he bought in Oviedo: 6297 Lake Charm Drive, Oviedo, FL - if you want to look it up on Google Earth, it's still there and looks exactly the same. thank you for sharing your story about "Larry". i never knew how he got the double "Wyatt".