That Guy: Jimmy Wiencek

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February 8, 2007

10:09 PM

With its punks, poets and skinny-jeaned philosophers, Monday afternoons in Tucker Hall feel about as far as a student can be from Saturday night on Frat Row. Bridging the gap seems effortless when one speaks to That Guy. With an easy laugh and inviting smile, Jimmy Wiencek is the best of both worlds: personable, modest, well-read and well-traveled. This week he talks about creative writing, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and presidential privileges.

p. **You’re an English major — what are you going to do once you graduate?**

p. I’m going to do Teach for America. I’m going to try to teach somewhere in the south — Lousiana delta, Alabama, something like that — for two years, and then go to law school. The south
seems charming. I’m from Cleveland, but William and Mary has converted me.

p. **Tell me about your time in New York City.**

p. This past summer I worked for The New Yorker. I worked for the poetry department, so I was a really lowly intern. But insider trade secret: you know the rejection letters submissions receive that say ‘from the editors’? It was just me writing those. Me and three other interns, and if no more than two of us didn’t like a submission then it didn’t get passed on. Ultimately we had no choice in the matter unless we liked it. Which is pretty scary for the poets, I think. That’s what I did for about a month and a half. It was great. There was a young staff, and New York is a really interesting place to be.

p. **You’re a creative writer, aren’t you?**

p. I mostly write poetry, but I’m in a creative fiction class right now, so I’m opening up, starting to write short stories. I had my pre-teen fantasies of writing a novel, but I’m trying to stick to short stories and such. I’ve been writing since middle school, though.

p. **What did you do over winter break?**

p. I went to Africa, but it wasn’t altruistic or anything. It was me and my mom and my dad. We climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro — five days up, two days down. We were actually climbing on Christmas Eve, spent Christmas Day peaking. We stayed in Tanzania and Kenya before and after the climb, and it was really cool to see both sides. I made it up with my family. It was a neat way to end the four years of college.

p. **Is it snowy on Mount Kilimanjaro?**

p. Well, Al Gore says it’s not, so it’s not. For the last 20 years it has been snowy for 20 miles down the slope, whereas now it’s only snowy for 10. On the night we summitted it was the worst snowstorm since 1997. We all made it, though, we just had severe windburn and frostbite on our cheeks. It’s a story to tell. My beard had icicles in it — I felt much more outdoorsy than I actually am.

p. **You seem like you do outdoorsy stuff.**

p. Okay, I guess I do. I just don’t like to play it up. A few summers ago I went to Alaska with a friend and we climbed glaciers. We’d hike for a couple of hours and then scale vertical faces using picks and stuff. It was nuts. That summer I also went to Costa Rica for a month and a half, so it was a pretty hot-and-cold summer.

p. **What did you do in Costa Rica?**

p. I taught English in a rural school. It was much lighter than it sounds. It was outside of a major city. It was a 200-person school, with classrooms of 40 kids aged six to 16. Some of them knew a lot of English — a lot meaning ‘Hello, how are you?’ — and some of them knew nothing. It was tough to equal that out and teach them all. So I’d wind up teaching for two hours a day and then going outside to play soccer with them. It was really a defining moment for me and part of my impetus to join Teach for America. For a while I got back and was thinking globally, as most students on our campus do, but then I started reading up on Teach for America and realized that there are a lot of things that are wrong in our own backyard. Plus I don’t have to speak another language here — though they’re trying to get me to teach Spanish in the Bronx. I don’t really speak Spanish, though, just very fluent Spanglish.

p. **Anything you’d like to wax lyrical about concerning your time as president of your fraternity?**

p. It’s pretty hard to wax lyrical about the nitty gritty side of things. [Being the president] makes you very good at serparating people from issues — treating an issue and not getting mad at a person for doing something stupid. Or on the other side of things tackling an issue and not getting annoyed with the administration. It’s a good lesson in being the middle man. Hopefully it will prove to be a nice and strange little microcosm of the real world. The real world in a basement. I’m glad I did it.

p. **What was the best part about it?**

p. The best part was the respect that guys give you. It’s nice to see the people under you respect what you say, that by and large they’ll follow you. Plus it’s nice to be called Mr. President. It’s kind of funny because they won’t quit now. They told me “Once Clinton was out of office he didn’t stop being called ‘Mr. President.’ That’s how it is for you now.” I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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