October 2, 1938 – September 10, 2018. Esteemed Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia for 44 years.
And my friend – who meant more to me than he’ll ever know.
If you’ve stumbled across this article, you may be looking for some context around Roy Wagner’s career and his academic achievements. That’s not what this is, however, there are some relevant links included below.
This is an ode to my friend. It’s not a sonnet, but hopefully it’s something Roy would have enjoyed.
See the Invisible
Roy Wagner was open to experiences and people in a way I’ve never encountered in another human. He went on spirit journeys, could see auras, and searched for Sasquatch. These were all things I easily accepted about Roy, because by the time I learned all this about him, he had already seen the most invisible thing of all: me.
I met Roy my first semester at UVA, which was also my third year of college (non-UVA folks may call this a “Junior”). I was in his Fantasy and Social Values course and it was heaven. Learn anthropological theory by applying it to classic SciFi literature? Yes, please!
I loved every lecture. When it came time to write my first paper for him, I had an enormous amount of fun.
For my second paper, however, I needed to ask for an extension. So at the end of a lecture, while the ~150 students were slowly shuffling out of the giant auditorium, I approached the stage to make my request. He asked for my name so he could mark the extension in his book.
When I told him my name, he snapped his book closed and stared at me.
Roy: “YOU’RE Meghan Shaw?”
Me, quiet and confused: “Y-yes?”
Roy: “You’re THE Meghan Shaw?” He seemed very excited. “You’re a writer! You’re a REAL writer!”
He shouted to the rest of the auditorium. “Hey everyone! This is Meghan Shaw, and she is a heck of a writer!” Over a hundred other students stopped in their tracks and stared at me.
I was stunned – partially because I hate being the center of attention, but mostly out of amazement. Roy read only one of my papers and he could see me the way I so desperately wanted to be seen.
Roy Wagner thought I was a writer.
When Roy looked at someone, he really saw them. And it’s impossible to be invisible when you’re truly seen.
Accept the Inexplicable
You Have Cat to be Kitten Me
(I hope Roy would have enjoyed the overused cat pun…)
The first time Roy Wagner saved my life was when I was still his student. I developed intestinal issues (a slightly more delicate way of saying, “Stuff went in, but nothing came out”) which landed me in the emergency room several times. Doctors could not determine the cause, which left me in severe pain for months. The pain interfered with school, work – even my ability to walk upright! You get the idea – it was horrible.
One day, despite my excruciating…discomfort, I dragged myself up the infamously treacherous Brooks Hall stairs to Roy’s 3rd floor office.
I tried to make light of it. “Roy, I’m full of shit and it just might kill me!”
Roy, dead serious. “That’s not funny. This may actually kill you.” He leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, squinted his eyes and and stared at me silently for a few moments. “If you don’t get a cat immediately, and imprint with it, you will die.”
Pause there for a second – let’s back up for a little context. A few months earlier, my cat died. She was my childhood pet and, naturally, I was sad. We also had two other cats in the house, one of which had decided I was pretty great.
“But Roy, I still have cats.”
Roy shook his head adamantly. “It’s not the same. You need a kitten. I’m serious, Meghan! If you don’t get a kitten, you will die. Promise me you’ll get a kitten right away.” (Roy was one of the very few people allowed to call me Meghan.)
I can’t say I believed Roy at that moment, but he was so insistent. And nothing else had worked to ease the pain. And I was desperate.
So I promised Roy I would get a kitten in order to save my own life.
Two days later, a friend brought me a kitten. Less than a week after that, my intestinal problems dissipated and I was the picture of health.
The River of Dreams
Anyone who took the Castaneda class with Roy Wagner knew that he was fascinated by lucid dreaming and dream walking. Anyone who spent any time at all with Roy knew that if he was fascinated by something, he was ALL IN.
So, dear reader, you can understand my alarm when a little over two years ago, I woke up one morning having dreamed that Roy was in the hospital.
In the first part of my dream, Roy was unconscious and unlikely to leave the hospital. In the second part of my dream, he had miraculously recovered! For some reason, I was the person supposed to pick him up from the hospital and drive him home. But when I arrived, he was stubbornly reluctant to leave because he really enjoyed the hospital food.
It was an odd dream that seemed to have come out of nowhere.
I did feel a little bit foolish as I picked up my phone to call him, but my previous experiences with Roy taught me to just roll with it.
I was so relieved when he answered his office phone!
But I still had to ask… I told him about my dream and that I was worried he was dream walking from a hospital bed.
He laughed. “I don’t remember dream walking last night, but I’m not sure how else you got the message. The thing is, Meghan, I was in the hospital two weeks ago for heart problems. And the hospital pudding was quite good! I miss it!”
From there, the conversation moved on to entirely unrelated topics, as if the experience of friends communicating through dreams was normal and expected. Who knows? For Roy, maybe it was.
After I left UVA and Charlottesville, I still loosely kept in touch with Roy. I’d call him a couple times a year and we’d catch up. I’d tell him about my very typical life changes: new jobs, different boyfriends, that time I had a dog, moving to new cities, getting married… And Roy would tell me all about whatever fascinating topic he was currently exploring, his trip to find Sasquatch, and trippy sweat lodges. Our conversations always made me so happy.
Sometimes I called Roy because I was facing something difficult, or because I felt lost and overwhelmed. On these occasions, I never told him about my struggles – we would just have one of our usual chats. And when we’d hang up, I’d feel like a new person. I could face anything – because a giant like Roy Wagner believed in me. THE Roy Wagner could still see me.
This world is far less intriguing without Roy’s inquisitive and ebullient soul. I grieve his absence, and I am so grateful that I got to know him at all. I just wish I could tell him what he meant to me and how much I’ll miss him.
Other Roy Wagner Links
- Roy’s obituary in the Charlottesville Daily Progress
- Roy’s profile on the UVA Anthropology site
- A Wikipedia page about some of his accomplishments
- Amazon link to books by Roy Wagner
And just for fun…
- An angry sonnet I sent to Roy a few years ago. It’s barely a sonnet, but it got the job done.
4 Replies to “Roy Wagner Has Died”
Love it! You’ve captured Roy so well. Beautiful tribute.
Professor Wagner and his Castaneda class changed my life. I took the class my last year in my last semester at UVA, a time where I was confused as to what my purpose at the school was. A good friend of mine recommended the class and on the first day, I felt a clarity as I listened to him describe the invisible. As he continued speaking, I noticed a bright white halo surrounding his body. As he moved, the halo slowly lagged behind him, always finding its way to encompass him in his center. I’ve been seeing these halos since I was a child and thought it was always a trick of the light. I never realized how much of my internal dialogue on such phenomena remained locked — even in my stoner convos after class with friends, it was a topic I kept to myself until I took this class. I knew, this was who I wanted to talk to. But it started with a little hiccup…
I wrote my papers in college by hand and then transcribed them to the computer. It took ages, but free writing was difficult for me on a keyboard. For my first paper in this class, I stayed up scribbling away on notebook paper in the McGregor Room. By the time I finished, I was heavy-lidded and assured myself I would wake up early in the morning to type it out. Wrong. I woke up at 7:45 to get to my 8 AM class. Sprinting through the winter air, paper in hand, nose running, I made it just in time to lay it on top of the pile of papers at the front of the class. The crisp, white, stapled stacks filled with evenly spaced black text against my crinkled notebook paper filled with smudged pencil and eraser marks looked like a joke. Plus my nose was really running this time. Professor Wagner raised an eyebrow at the sight before him. I explained to him that I didn’t have time to type out my paper, and if he could please accept this, I’ll make sure it never happens again. He looked at me, perplexed, and replied that yes, he’d prefer I just type it out next time before he began his lecture. Embarrassed about giving a messy first impression, I nodded and took one last look at the sore thumb that was my wrinkled paper before finding a seat.
Later, to my surprise, I saw a note next to the big “A” he circled at the top: “I see why you did this. By writing your thoughts and ideas by hand, you invoked your own power. You have my permission to write like this the rest of the semester.” It was the first time I felt seen and it was the first time I could see glimmers of myself. His class was an oasis for me then and for many years after I graduated, to this day. Similar to what you wrote in your beautiful recounts of your memories with Prof. Wagner and his class, I also felt like the invisible things that made me strange to others (and to myself), were the powers I needed to cultivate.
We stayed in contact for years after I graduated through letters. My last letter to him was the summer of 2018. I told him about a vision I had and was curious to hear his thoughts on the symbols. I hadn’t heard back from him for a while, but assumed he was busy with his many pursuits. It wasn’t until I was visiting my hometown in Virginia while I was going through old mail and flipping through UVA’s alumna magazine when I saw Professor Wagner’s name pop out in the obituaries. My heart still breaks when I think about it. I wish I could tell him how much I miss him and how he changed my life as a student and as a person.
I apologize for writing a novel — when I read your post, I felt an instant connection and compelled to shares these fond memories with someone who I think will appreciate. Thank you for writing your heartfelt post and creating a space for fellow students to share and honor his memory.
My name is Aaron, and Roy Wagner was my friend. I came across this blog post “by accident.” I write that knowing that there probably isn’t any such thing as an accident.
I took the Castaneda course in 2010. I went to Roy’s office hours every week until I graduated. He served as my thesis adviser and even wrote a recommendation letter for me to attend law school. I would talk with Roy (usually for hours) about all sorts of things. Sonnets, Beethoven, Goethe color theory. When I left Roy’s office, the world seemed to be in a little sharper focus. The sun was brighter. The air was crisper. I enjoyed our discussions and I regret not continuing to keep up with him. I expect Roy would chastise me for engaging in self-pity (and then share that he had a penchant for the same).
I regret that after nearly a decade my “memory” of Roy and our conversations is faded. Trying to remember discussions which were once so important is now quite difficult. Still, there is enough warrior in me to share at least one story. Perhaps this story will resonate with you. I have many more. Roy said that once upon a time stories sat around the fire telling people to one another…
THE CAR. I find it amusing that both Carlos (Castaneda) and I had teachings that centered around a car. Don Juan played a memory trick on Carlos by making his care “disappear.” I recall that on football days, students had to move their cars from certain parking lots which were designated for tailgating. One Saturday morning, I realized that I had ignored the prior night’s email reminding students to move their cars. As a matter of course, students’ cars were towed to make room for alumni who had purchased tailgating passes. I woke up, late, one Saturday having realized that I had forgotten to move my car. As I walked up the hill to the parking lot to verify that my car had been towed, I thought to myself that the nagual could bring my car back. As I got to the top of the hill, I saw my car–still parked in its parking spot–surrounded by alumni vehicles with full tailgating gear. I rushed toward my car, ecstatic that it had not been towed, but also because I believed that I had somehow pulled off an amazing feat like Don Juan. As I reached out for the door handle, it snapped off. I had to climb through the passenger side of the car to get in and move it.
I told Roy about this story and he laughed. He told me it was the nagual. He said that it was most certainly the nagual that had brought my car back (or kept it from being towed). He said that the nagual had also taught me a lesson for my self-importance. A lesson I wasn’t likely to soon forget.
Roy Wagner was my friend. I am grateful that our paths crossed, if only for a short time. I am grateful for what he taught me. I am grateful for it all.
Thank you for posting, Meghan Shaw. Roy Wagner may have died, but Roy Wagner isn’t gone. “Now you see me, now you don’t.” A sorcerer’s final magic trick.
My life too crossed paths with Roy Wagner’s. What a great person. Thank you for your words.