Meeting You Face to Face
- onApril 21, 2015
- Vol.27 Spring 2015
- byKim Ae-ran
I was in the computer lab at my school when I got the news that I had won the new writer’s competition. I asked the caller, “Fiction or poetry?” and the answer was fiction. My poetry submission hadn’t even made it to the first round. I had a simple reason for asking this embarrassing question when I would have gotten the answer soon enough. I wanted to know if I was a novelist or a poet.
I hung up and had to stop myself from turning somersaults, mindful of the “Silence” sign hanging in the lab. After all these years that suppressed joy is still caught in my throat, pressing against it uncomfortably. Another writer, hearing my problem, advised me to dig a hole in the ground and laugh into it three times every night until I was cured. I hid the fact that I had won all day long. It felt sacrilegious, somehow, to share my news, yet I also wanted to shout it from the top of my lungs. The shame and pride, the nerves and anxiety of carrying around a secret began to take its toll on me, however, and I decided I had to tell someone.
My mother answered the phone in a karaoke. My hardworking, tone-deaf, country woman Mother had closed up shop and made a beeline for the karaoke, although it was still early in the evening. I did not find this strange. At the time the only news that crossed the threshold of my parents’ house in a rural village near the West Sea was of the “bad,” “very bad,” and “even worse” variety. Mother sounded a bit tipsy. But she was very happy to hear what I had to tell her. I could hear the sound of the other women singing at the top of their lungs as Mother struggled to speak over the din.
I felt quite emotional about my win, not just because it was good news, but because it was the first good news to come after the bad, very bad, and worse news that had preceded it. Mother must have felt the same way. The fortunes of our family were not reversed overnight, however, and Mother had many more nights of karaoke ahead of her. Perhaps that is why even now, whenever I hear the word “new writer’s contest” I think of all those karaoke establishments tucked into every possible nook and cranny across the country. I think of the lyrics to the songs that my tone-deaf mother must have belted out, her nod to the inherent corniness of life. What we call literature must have also started out as songs.
I celebrated quietly with some friends that night. A longhaired friend of mine from the same year bought an ice cream cake for me. Imun-dong hardly being the neighborhood for glittering franchise bakeries, the only ice cream cake he had been able to find was a luridly colored affair that tasted like a rancid dishcloth. The teddy bear-shaped cake was nonetheless placed in the middle of the table and we all dug in. We tried our best, but there was still some left over. As people chatted idly over their drinks, the friend who brought the cake kept muttering dejectedly, “I should have gone to Baskin-Robbins.” I may have been cocky enough to ask, “Fiction or poetry?” on the phone that day, but I still did not believe that I would be able to make a living writing.