When I was in graduate school, I met someone who would become a close friend, John Bullock.
We were both completing our Master of Arts degrees in the English department under Bob Pope at the University of Akron. We had similar tastes in literature so, ended up in many of the same classes together, becoming quite close over those years of reading James Joyce, Willa Cather, and Chaucer. Our friendship evolved to many an afternoon spent between classes in the student center, he, rolling his own cigarettes (smoking was allowed indoors everywhere back then) and I nursing a beer over good conversation. His thick English accent was home to me, as my grandfather was English.
"Perhaps I am your grandfather," he quipped one day sarcastically. Even his subtle sense of humor and use of sarcasm was familiar.
Then, in 1998, I strayed from my graduate program, taking a summer job with the National Audubon Society in Dubois, Wyoming that ended up leading to a two-year long detour to handle for Frank Teasley in Jackson Hole. I fell in love with the landscape and the easy pace of life in the west, and of course, the dogs. John and I fell out of touch. He moved to the University of Virginia to complete a Master of Fine Arts degree. We rarely spoke, except for an occasional phone call. Yet, he was still familiar.
Eventually I came back to Ohio, and recently, have started to reconnect with good friends of days past - especially Bob Pope, my former thesis advisor. And I learned last spring that John had published his first novel, Making Faces. He and I spoke on the phone for the first time in years last June.
I was slightly nervous talking to him again that first time. But after one or two minutes listening to his quick English accent, I fell at ease and smiled silently on the phone. Though we've both had our trials and hardships in life, he was still the same John, the cadence of his voice still light and soft spoken, with his subtle humor and quick laugh.
John paid the University of Akron a visit this week - the first time in 10 years - to promote his novel.
Entertaining questions after the reading
He is still the same, still familiar. Seeing him behind the podium reading from his novel, I felt proud of him, and so happy for his successes. He is now part-time faculty in the English department at Ohio University and managing editor for the New Ohio Review.
Our paths digressed and took totally different routes, but the people and the places of those years formed a solid foundation to help me become who I am. And I am so grateful for those people.
Here are more photos from the reading and visit with John:
Our thesis advisor, Bob Pope, listens intently as John reads from his novel, Making Faces
After the reading, some current (and former, myself) English department folks headed out for some drinks and catching up
John talks shop, English department style: pensively, over a pint of Bass