HOW TO BECOME FRIENDS WITH A FAMOUS WRITER
When you meet him in your first creative writing class in college, pretend you don’t notice him even though he’s wearing one of those cream-colored honeycomb stitch wool fisherman’s sweaters with sleeves pushed up to his elbows and his legs are stretched out in jeans, crossed at the ankles, feet in boat shoes, and you think he looks like Percy Bysshe Shelley himself if he’d been the son of Ernest Hemingway and grew up on a boat in the Keys in the ’70s. Besides his bluish-gray eyes that meet your own for a second before you look away, he has an unusual dent in his chin that he’s resting one hand on, and his sandy brown hair is carelessly longer than any of the boys in class, as if he’s been too busy writing heart-wrenching poems to bother to go to a barber of all things that other ordinary boys might do. Notice he’s sitting very still that very moment you choose a chair that’s as far away from him as possible at that table you’re all supposed to sit around. When he smiles at something the professor says, notice it’s only the lower teeth you can see and how quickly they hide again behind his hand. File that potentially goofy smile as a sign that he’s almost like the rest of you, like maybe his father was Hemingway but his mother was mortal.
Notice that the boy next to him has raised his hand and the professor answers that such signaling isn’t necessary in a seminar with ten people. “Just talk. We’re having a conversation, that’s all,” he says. Notice the boy who will be famous turns his chin slightly in his hand to show he’s paying attention to the boy asking the question. And you know at that moment that he has no idea he’ll be famous someday.
Actually at that time you have no idea how famous he’ll be either because you haven’t heard him read his poems aloud yet. You’re too busy trying to understand what you’re supposed to be doing, asking questions or listening. You try to think of a question. Come on, question…You try to coax one into being in your foggy head. How many red plastic cups of terrible tasting beer did you have last night at that dorm party? Not the road you want to go down right now. Don’t even try to figure it out. Concentrate on the question. It must be a good writing question, for when it’s your turn to speak.
Only that time never comes. Of course, it doesn’t. What were you thinking? You’re not going to go around and each ask a question. This isn’t like the dreaded introductions you made in high school when you went to a new school. This is college and you jump right in without raising your hand or taking turns. Right away the professor is talking about writing. What’s he saying? He’s saying that you’ll write every week. That’s it. You’ll write poems and stories and talk, and he’ll notate your work with a simple check sign or a check plus. Pluses if he finds the writing particularly memorable. “Be memorable,” he emphasizes. Is that a literary term you don’t know? Memorable?
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ABOUT JIMIN HAN
Jimin Han (BA, Cornell University; MFA, Sarah Lawrence College) teaches a novel writing workshop and an introduction to writing fiction course in the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work can be found in The NuyorAsian Anthology, Global City Review, The Asian American Pacific Journal, “Weekend America” on NPR, KoreanAmericanStory.org, and EssentialMom.com, among others. She lives in South Salem, New York, with her two children, her husband, a dog, and a tortoise.