I took six semesters with John Hahn: four creative writing classes, Masterpieces of World Lit, The Short Story and an creative writing independent study in which I wrote a novella. It was called Cassidy Dante and his advice was, put it away for five years, and then see what you have. I did and didn't much care what I had by that point.
All his classes followed a basic formula. He had us all arrange the chairs in a circle: we had to face one another. (All facing one way, toward the front, helped isolate ourselves and forget we're around human beings---exactly why going to the movies is an absurd idea for a date).
He would sit on a table at the front of the class. He always wore t-shirts and jeans and always had a mug of tea. My father said he would sit in the yoga position, or have everyone sit on the floor. He would start his lectures, sometimes it would be about the material we were to cover, sometimes he'd just start professing.
I knew people who adored him, worshipped him and hated him. He had devoted students and students who complained about him. I believe that Rio brought in a second instructor to teach Creative Writing for people who wanted an alternative to Hahn. I had that instructor for a class---I gave her rebellious shit like a sixteen year old.
I never knew him outside class. I never talked to him in his office about anything other than classwork. It was partly from fear and partly from a desire to make him into a colossus. I suppose if I had been closer, I would've stayed in contact all this time and had known more of the particulars about his death. I could've told him about all the professors I had and how they didn't know how to teach creativity, but were good at teaching formulas. About how many writers I knew were terrified of themselves and fell into cliches because they couldn't look at themselves.
As Hahn would say, All we can write about is ourselves. If we write about serial killers or child molesters, we are writing about the killers and molesters within ourselves. All we know is ourselves, and since none of us really know anything about ourselves, most of what we know is wrong.
Oddly, I prefer not knowing the personal details. I needed, and still need, the Colossus at Rio Hondo.
My father said that when he took Hahn's class during the 80s, Hahn would always sit in the lotus position on the table at the head of the class. When I took his classes he refused to use a podium and sat on the table. He had all the chairs in the room formed into a circle so we could look at each other.
My father also said that John would bring a ouija board to class for the students to use as an exercise. There were many student complaints so the tradition had to stop.
Another quote: "If you don't like your own writing, why should you expect anyone else to."
A quote, related to the above: "If you can't make your self orgasm, why should you expect anyone else to."
If you have any regrets, you have wasted your life.
Between 1992 and 1996 I took Creative Writing and literature classes from John Hahn at Rio Hondo College in Whittier. My father, who had taken John's classes in the 80s, highly recommended I take the same classes.
John was one of the most effective professor I've ever had. Many things he taught me still remain with me---I quote something he said in our classes at least every day.
I recently discovered that John died in October, 2006 of a heart attack, brought on by lung cancer. I have wanted to communicate with more people who had his class. I've put together this blog which, hopefully, will provide his former students with an opportunity to quote him, provide an anecdote, or offer negative criticism (which is equally important). In many ways, his classes were more like philosophical lectures which, inadvertently, taught me more about creativity than I've ever encountered.
I'll start with a couple of things which come screaming to mind:
"When a woman puts on lipstick, she's telling the world she's ready to fuck."
If a book in a library or bookstore falls from a shelf in front of you, read it.
Pray that you die from a long, painful death.
Statement of Intention
This blog is about all I can remember about John Hahn, who taught creative writing at Rio Hondo. He died in 2006 and this is my way of remembering him. If anyone else remembers him, please comment or contact me.