Writing will infect your life until it is your life

Posted: October 6, 2013 by AStrauss in pleskoisms
By Kanani Fong

I’d been traveling in India, where all good ideas either die or flourish. I decided I wanted to be a writer. When I got back to L.A. a huge catalog from UCLA Extension landed in my mailbox. I signed up for Novel 1 because I figured you have to start at “one.” Besides, it was the only class that fit into my schedule, since I had to come from 40 miles away. I wish I could claim to have known who he was, but I didn’t. It was sheer luck.

While waiting for class to begin, the students started hauling out chapters of their works in progress. One lady had 475 pages, another had 500. They talked about the other workshops they’d taken. I was nervous because this was my first writing class. The talk stopped when he came into the room wearing a lime green linen suit. The wild hair, the loud lime green, his eye that seemed to be looking at 2nd base were showstoppers. I remember thinking “This must be how West L.A. people dress.” Over the course of the summer, the lime green suit come back in pieces. Sometimes he’d wear the the pants and a t-shirt with holes, or the jacket would appear with a pair of shorts. Everything about Les was eccentric, even his old rootbeer-colored car that shuddered when he drove it. But his eccentricities would fade when he shared his enthusiasm about writing, along with samples by Larry Levis, David Francis, Anne Carson, Hemingway and more. He was an artist. Few had his unerring sensibilities for beauty, simplicity, and how to declutter a page.

Les once wrote to his students: “Writing will infect your life until it is your life, and there will be no turning back. You will learn what bravery is. You will be utterly and irrevocably transformed. You will wonder, “How did I get here?” But you’ll know how. Then you’ll get back to work.”

My first class with Les was in 2001. The last class was in 2007. My last sighting of the lime green jacket was sometime in 2003. I saw him the last time in 2012, and told him that I’ve stuck with it and told him about my work with projects that have to do with war. He was excited, and later, sent me his book. I didn’t get to catch up with him, but it’s less important than knowing this: His job with me was complete. I have transformed. And as Les would say, “Swell.”

  1. janetclare says:

    So lovely, thank you for this.

  2. Kanani Fong says:

    Sorry about all the typos!

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