Yesterday’s post took me down the proverbial memory lane regarding Professor Joseph K*. I’ve written several posts about him in the past, starting with when I first met him. Like the relationship itself, looking back upon the whole experience has been an emotional roller coaster. Several years ago, when my friendship with him disintegrated, I was hurt and angry. I’ve had some time to process those feelings over the past several years and I can now look at it a little more calmly and objectively, but I don’t think I’ll ever have anything close to “warm fuzzy feelings.”
At any level in college, students find mentors in their professors. That was the nature of my relationship with Professor Joseph K, or Joe, as I’ll refer to him from time to time. At the time, I thought he was different from all the other English professors at my university. He had a post-modern cool about him. He wore black clothing and sunglasses indoors. His course materials were outside of the canon, which I found intriguing. As I got to know him, he became very paternal towards me. Like my father, he had a very dry sense of humor. I would later learn that he could be just as mercurial.
There were some positive things, especially early on. When I took his upper division course in my last year of college, he gave me some confidence in my abilities as a student and a thinker. One of the things he did was to invite me to take a graduate course the following semester. I was, at the time, trying to find direction as a writer experimenting with various forms. Joe was the editor in chief of an avant-garde literary journal with the university press and he invited me to be part of the editorial team. He soon promoted me to assistant editor when my predecessor found himself too busy to do the job. He saw some of my work, gave me some encouragement, and helped me put together an application packet for the MFA program. He also wrote a letter of recommendation for me.
During the time I waited to get into the program, I had a place to hang my coat and a room of my own to read and write. Joe gave me a key to his office, and it was mine during the daytime. Joe often only came to the office at night before his classes.
As far as publishing goes, he gave me the lead to a journal that took one of his works and I got published alongside him. It was the Gold Lady’s debut. In Joe’s journal, some of Richard Kostelanetz‘s “one word stories” were accepted and I did the artistic formatting. I got to be a published writer and artist within a few month period.
Joe did not make extravagant demands upon me. All I did was check the mailroom for his mail and submissions, logged the submissions, and did a few other errands. He was a pain in the ass during the manuscript editing process, but even that wasn’t bad. I wasn’t expected to bring Starbuck’s coffee to him piping hot, nor was I expected to got unpublished Harry Potter books for his children.** None of the deadlines he gave were unreasonable, even when it came to dealing with the galleys.
I house-sat for Joe a few times. Like the office, the borrowed home during his times away served as a place where I could benefit creatively. He owned thousands of books and it was nice to have access to his personal library. It was a quiet place, away from family, so I occasionally had a place where I could do some work. Of course, there was an episode that wound up becoming part of the university’s MFA lore. It involves some cookies, but I’m not saying anything more.
to be continued…
*Pseudonym from the protagonist of the The Trial by Franz Kafka. The name change is designed to protect the guilty and even the innocent.
**The Devil Wears Prada.