Sunday, September 29, 2013

In Memory of Timothy Scott McClellan, 8/2/59 - 9/13/13

I first met Timothy fifteen years ago in a 12 step fellowship, but got to know him better more recently when he began taking my Creative Nonfiction classes at the Black Swan Bookstore. More often than not Timothy didn’t follow my prompts but chose to forge ahead on his own path of truly creative writing instead. Early on he wrote a thrilling noir about following someone into Jackson Ward only to reveal that he was in fact the one being followed. We were all on the edge of our seats. “When did this happen, Timothy?” I asked trying to get a sense of the time frame he’d just captured.  “Oh, I just made it all up,” he answered with a big laugh. It became clear to me then I was working with a different kind of animal altogether.

“Timothy’s writing was outrageous but exciting to listen to,” said Hope, another writer in our class. “I remember him writing about getting back in the dating scene and "accidentally" having a tryst with a senior citizen.  He wrote like an artist in big broad strokes which felt abstract but at the end was real or concrete.” 

Said Sara, “I recall him reading with a booming voice and lots of intonation for his characters. Before reading each piece he would seem skeptical at first, then dive into the world he spat out for the last ten minutes and end with a triumphant, "Fuck... what did i just write?!

 “I was struck by the self-conscious narration,” said David. “He knew he had an audience who was eating it up... but it didn't stop him from writing some really vulnerable stuff. I have a pretty good recollection of the tone and the enjoyment we all felt when his writing was cooking and there were no taboos and inhibitions. My guess is that he raised the bar for all of us. I know that I wrote better than usual in those classes. If just for that, I'm grateful to have known him.”   

Of his writing about his own life, Timothy said, and I quote:

“This work is my personal narrative. It is not about discovering the truth or accurately chronicling the events of my life. This is not about getting it right. This is my story about how I have experienced the world tethered to a rather crazy and self-absorbed group of people. They will have opinions and deep disagreements about what these pages contain and how they are portrayed. That's fine. They can write their own fucking book.”

In life, as in my writing class, Timothy constructed his own rules and his own framework for living. He was the sensitive tough guy who could pull off more silver hoop earrings than a whole VW bus full of hippie girls. He was the Zen Buddhist who could turn the word fuck into a prayer, wedding the unholy with the divine in a string of curses that would make a sailor blush. He was the devil-may-care drunk who’d been sober 29 years but still knew how to live wild, to live hard, to love big, to occupy every bit of space in a room. Timothy was a storyteller who could captivate a room one night and throw down his notebook mid-sentence the next. He was the lone wolf who secretly loved to be surrounded by his pack.

Timothy loved to make fun of the way I parked my VW bug, with just the right mixture of disdain and endearment. Forever more when I park badly I’ll think of him. He reminded me of buffaloes and bulls, big burly beasts with soft fur and tender skin. He gave good hugs and big smiles. He had a beard big enough to speak for itself and a motorcycle jacket wider than the road he lived to ride. Timothy had big hands but only part of one thumb. He was accident prone and blundering in some ways, gentle and careful in others. He shared war stories and epic tales of pain and survival like badges, like memories, like jokes, like prayers.  

Timothy was an example of a man who by no means should have been useful or helpful in civilized society that somehow managed to become both useful and helpful in civilized society. He used his rebellious, antiestablishmentarianism- nature for the good—through his art, his writing, his job and his service in 12 step recovery rooms all over the city. He was living proof that you don’t have to become a saint or sacrifice yourself to the life of the glum lot to conquer your additions, to trudge the road of happy destiny. He walked on the wild side, sober. He gave back, sober. He showed up, stood tall, carried a big stick, and forged his own path through a knotted wood, sober, helping others along the way. He’d made peace with much of his path and his dear ex-wife Helen whom he considered a good friend. Timothy loved Boo, his dogs, a good story, a good turn of phrase, a good friend, a good linguica sausage and a good motorcycle. And he loved his beautiful girlfriend Ruth Ann who brought him worlds of happiness and joy in the last year of his life. And I feel sure that he loves that we’re all here together now in his name celebrating his big, glorious fucking life. 


  1. Thank you, Valley, for capturing Timothy so well! Although I hadn't been in touch with him for a few years, I still cry when I think that he is gone.
    Kelly B.

  2. Thank you for this Valley. He was sure special!