The Writing Club
- onJune 20, 2018
- Vol.40 Summer 2018
- byKang Young-sook
- The Writing Club
Tr. Inrae You & Louis Vinciguerra 2010333pp.
“What the fuck? Look at your hair,” R said. Her loud, clear, and sarcastic voice sounded the same as usual. “You look like you’ve just delivered a baby. What’s wrong with your hair? Aren’t there any hair salons where you live?” R continued pouring out biting remarks, ones, though, that gave me a refreshing lift. “Follow me, quickly,” R said on the street.
We walked all the way to Jongno Street and went into a coffeehouse. There, buried in a flower-patterned sofa, R looked rather different, having a more mature and heavier appearance, long wavy hair, and a shiny complexion. “Well, I’ve shacked up,” R announced. I was startled but managed not to react too soon and asked her a rather silly question. “With a guy?” “Of course,” R answered. “Of course, with a guy. I’m not you.” R giggled, and I followed suit.
“How’s the girl doing? The little one who followed you everywhere,” R asked me, while sucking up juice through a straw. “Oh, K? She’s working at her dad’s clinic as an assistant nurse,” I said. “I see. That fits her. She looks so dumb. Don’t you think?” R said, laughing. This made me laugh, too. “Anyway, does your family know what you’re doing? Living with a guy?” I asked. R suddenly made a strange sound, as if she’d swallowed her juice wrong. It sounded like neither laughter nor ridicule and that was the answer to my question. “My family? It broke up long ago. Don’t bother yourself with whether they know or not. Mind your own hair. Do something with it. Being with you and your shitty hair is really embarrassing,” R said.
Later that day R and I went to an underground shopping area near the Express Bus Terminal. R bought some things for her household, things like coffee cups, a wooden toilet-paper holder, red picture frames, rectangular plates for grilled fish, sets of forks and spoons, and flower-patterned cushion covers. It must’ve been because she was from a well-to-do family that her taste in shopping was different from mine. Watching R, a tough girl with a foul mouth, choose household stuff in the crowded shopping area, I felt that she was evolving and making progress even though she wasn’t in college. And I thought that shacking up with a guy was much better than running away from home by sliding down the building’s gas pipe. By the time we were about to part I asked R, “How do you like it? You’re going to invite me over, right?” “Why? Are you thinking of raping me? You see, I’m not your girl,” she said. “How do you like it?” I asked again. “Huh, do I like it? I love it. We do it every day,” R said, giggling. When a taxi came, R threw her big plastic bag bulging with stuff and then herself into the taxi and left.
May was approaching. And flowers, including the cherry blossoms, were blooming. During those days Novelist Kim had a different group of students. It was a writing class for housewives. Thinking of it now, there were two reasons for her to form such a group. The first was income and the second was her desperate attempt to overcome the sense of betrayal she felt from Jean by establishing solidarity with other women. After their children left for school, the womenfolk gathered in the classroom. Novelist Kim named the group “Sorority of Gye-dong Women Who Love Writing,” but I called it the “Sorority of Gye-dong Women Who Love Chatting.”
They gathered three times a week at 10:30 in the morning. And when the public library was closed, I had no other choice but to stay home and listen to their chatter. I liked the coffee smell that filled the classroom but disliked hearing about fights with their husbands, nasty words about their in-laws, and boastful remarks about their children. After twenty or thirty minutes of such talk, Novelist Kim would dexterously introduce a new topic. At those moments, I daydreamed of her someday becoming a more famous writer than J.
She would say things like, “When I studied overseas several years ago, I researched the lives of simple women, women just like you ladies, housewives with children, and how they gathered and discussed their writing.” The women there riveted their eyes on her while nodding their heads, uttering exclamations like, “Hah! So, women overseas are the same as us!” As far as I knew, though, she had never studied overseas. She then said, “From now on I want you to write stories about yourself. Yes, write about you. You know I offered this kind of class in other places. And those women began writing about themselves but ended up writing about their husbands and children. No, no! You guys shouldn’t stray like that, okay?”
When she finished her talk, one of her ardent students said, in a more heated tone than her teacher, “Novelist Kim is very busy and we shouldn’t waste her precious time. We should attend this class with optimum preparedness. To be frank, I never imagined I would have this opportunity in my life. You see, my childhood dream was to become a writer.”
Other women now began talking about themselves: one woman wanted to become a poet, another a novelist, and others teachers and good mothers. Once everyone said what they had to say, their topic returned to daily events. “You know the best tonic for when things get rough? Cussing out others. That’s it. It blows away all the stress. So, this is what I discovered . . .,” one woman said. This made me chuckle. At those times I couldn’t help but want to read what those women had written.
Back then, I had dreams every night. In one dream my hair was tied to something and soon my body began to swirl. “I did nothing wrong,” I shouted. Right then, someone pulled my body down, hard. My pants fell and my lower half was exposed. Just like a stick stuck to a lollipop, I desperately held on to whatever I could while screaming. As my voice became louder, my grasp became tighter. Managing to collect myself, I looked around but failed to see the source of the dreadful power pulling at me. Eventually, my legs were stretched out, my arms became disjointed, and my neck twisted. Even when my limbs finally tore off and unbearable pain overcame me, I murmured, “I should jot this down! I should record this, get something out of this pain!”
I couldn’t let go of my dreams. I wanted them to inspire my writing. But in the morning, I only found illegible lines in my dream journal, lines that appeared to be written by a toddler just learning how to hold a pencil. In the end I always failed to gain even a splendid word out of such pain! The only thing left after such cruel dreams was the trace of pain in my body.
Around that time, I, without any reason and with no one urging me, suffered from an obsession to write something, anything.