In college I took an advanced writing course. Normally you had to have been in the program and have a few semesters of writing courses under your belt before taking this one. But because I was in honors college I was able to register for any class regardless of prereqs.
I didn't sign up for this class as a joke, though my friends thought I had. Most of them had no idea I was into writing. To them I was just 'me'. And looking back now at how I acted I can't blame them. What else could they have seen me for?
Although the registrar allowed me to register for the class the prof still had veto rights. Over email she requested two pieces from me. I sent her two. Few days later she wrote back that I was welcome to join.
The first day of class we went around introducing ourselves. Everyone shared their major, favorite writers, and what they wanted to write. Almost everybody was an English major. The few people besides myself who weren't majoring in English were minoring in it. I was the only one in a completely unrelated program. I thought the others might see me differently for it, but it turned out they didn't care. They gave me no weird looks. Instead I was invisible.
I made one friend out of that class. A girl named Jillian who hung out at the same cafe on the other side of Baker Ave as me. We clicked from the moment we talked outside of class at the cafe.
"So what made you join our class?"
"I like writing. I'm actually kind of jealous of you all. I would major in English if I could."
"What's stopping you?"
"I guess my parents wouldn't be happy. If I magically had a bunch of money then I would major in whatever I wanted and they couldn't say anything or make me feel ways about it."
"Mm. Okay. Well I don't remember seeing you in any of the one hundred or two hundred writing classes. Never seen you around Berkey Hall either."
"Oh. Yeah this is actually my first writing class here at Shook."
- "Yeah. I'm in honors college. So I just signed up for this one because I knew about the prof."
- "She just let you in?"
- "Yeah. She had to read some of my work though."
- Jillian asked if she could read what I'd sent. I told her that would be fine. Then I told her how the professor never said anything about my pieces.
- "They were probably bad." I said.
- "Couldn't be that bad. She wouldn't have let you in otherwise."
- Later instead of emailing Jillian my two pieces I printed them out gave it to her during our next class. After class that afternoon I went to the cafe and kept refreshing my email to see if she'd responded. I probably did that for 40 minutes before telling myself that she was probably busy doing something else. But I knew that if an email from her were to arrive in my inbox I would read it right away. I'd do it before any of the homework or studying that I needed to do.
- In the writing class I tried to write like the others. I liked their style. Their tone. I couldn't describe it but in generic terms. Nonchalant. Deadpan. Cool. Yes I thought it was cool. In high school and the beginning of college I had been romantically hooked to the energy of musicians. During this time I was hooked to writers. For some reason I saw the students in that class as the future of writing. I saw them as future Zadie Smiths, Dave Eggers, To me they were as good as them. Just had to give them some time.
- There was a short story that the class read that inspired me. What was most inspiring about this story was that the writer had still been an undergrad when he wrote it. I saw a lot of similarities between the others' in my class and this savant.
- A prevalent theme in the class' stories was this juxtaposition between detached parent and emotionally attached one. I tried putting that into my stories but it never came out right. At the time I assumed it was because I couldn't write well enough.
- Years later I realized it was because that wasn't who I actually was. Didn't have such a relationship with my parents. So I couldn't write like that. Also I wasn't a deadpan guy.
- By this time I was hundreds of miles away and I no longer kept up with any of the kids from the class. I was older, less hopeful but also not disappointed at how things turned out. I guess I'd just become more realistic. I no longer thought the kids in that writing class were so great. Sometimes I would go and read what they submitted, and the same pieces that floored me years ago seemed like something I'd read a dozen times by a dozen other people. I still wrote here and there. But it was now something I did for fun instead of something I secretly hoped to turn into something I did for a living. I had my life here now. Had a routine that involved writing, but didn't revolve around it.
- A thing I did every Saturday was go to the Farmer's Market and buy the freshest produce available. When I first moved here I had barely done any shopping here and instead people watched the entire time. I didn't know how to select produce back then. I would end up buying it all at the grocery store throughout the week instead. But over time I got over my intimidation by the Farmer's Market, and started buying everything fresh there. With this change I guess I stopped pretty much any people watching altogether.
- After not seeing anyone from that class in years, Jillian came up to me to say hi at the market. She had been with her friends. I could feel my mouth wanting to run at a mile a second, but the people she was with didn't seem like the type of people who'd get along with me. So instead I made a gesture to my basket full of vegetables and excused myself saying I had busy day. She was polite about it and let me go.
- Back in college I ran into Jillian by chance at the cafe all the time without ever having to try. The two of us had schedules that brought us there at similar times, like moth to light in the night. Quite convenient for me.
- But the Farmer's Market was another ordeal. Who knew when we'd run into each other again. Chances were good that I'd go the entire summer not seeing her there ever again.
- Later on that day when Jillian appeared out of the blue, I found myself looking her up on Facebook. It was hard without having an account myself because Facebook only showed me her basic profile. I couldn't see anything more. I considered making an account so that I could see more of her profile but I decided against it. Convinced myself I was reading too much into it. I spent the weekend cooking dishes that were heavy in tomato and zucchini. I did a few loads of laundry and made headway on a book written by a Norwegian author. By Sunday evening I caught myself looking for Jillian again online. I decided that I should go do something other than sit in my apartment so I went out for a walk. I went into a cafe and ordered a beet juice. They were playing Mac Demarco through the speakers and the decor reminded me of the Co-ops that my friend used to live in during college. I decided to text him that. He and I exchanged a few texts about what was going on in our lives. He wanted to call.