Until this week, the only thing Rodney Dangerfield and I had in common was a penchant for one-liners and general anxiety about our respectability. Then we both went “back to school.” His experience was fictional—apart from the cameo by a real-life Kurt Vonnegut—and arrived in the local cineplex as the movie Back to School. My back-to-school experience was a protracted year-long Zoom odyssey as I finished a couple of semester’s worth of units at virtualized San Francisco State University.
What does this say about the relative merits of having a college degree in my industry? I’m not sure, though I think it speaks volumes about how we learn to write, which is and always has been by doing. Which SF State was fairly rigorous about—my last semester, which ended a couple of weeks ago, required me to write a children’s book, a research paper on a public relations campaign and a feature-length screenplay, all within the span of six weeks. This occurred, of course, while producing the newspapers and magazines required by my day job—not to mention a handful of writing-related side hustles. Tens of thousands of words poured out of my fingers into this laptop, and from my thumbs into my phone, where I do a fair amount of composition these days. So, if my columns sometimes read as prolonged texts, now you know why.
To say the output nearly killed me would be overly dramatic. Anyone who thinks writing is a hardship in any way is doing it wrong. It’s one of the most privileged gigs a dropout can have. The work did, however, temporarily turn me into a word-addled crank, from which I’m still recovering, glass by glass.
I never graduated from anything, unless we pretend that eighth grade promotion is meaningful to anyone but eighth graders. Sometime in the late ’80s, I left high school via the California Proficiency Exam, which I passed twice—once for myself and once for a dyslexic friend, for whom the testers would not allot extra time. This was during the Golden Age of fake IDs. That said, I think I did “technically” graduate from high school—it’s a cesspool of semantics into which I won’t wade. I was quite proud of being a “dropout,” which I boldly stated on my bios until a publicist for a project I was on asked if I could supply a version that was less, ahem, “punk rock.”
Now my bio reads, “Daedalus Howell has a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing that only took 27 years to finish.”