Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Maneuvering Mentor-ship

I have a writer friend who takes her poetic mentors very seriously: their names are tattooed in an elaborate calligraphy-ied band around her arm.

What if we all carried our mentors so publicly? Would we/do we always joyfully claim them? Obviously, sometimes those who affect us the most are so close to us, we don't always acknowledge their powerful influences...and sometimes we look for mentor-ship in the "safest" of places. In 2010, that might mean we let technology feed us more "mentors" than real life.

According to Dictionary.com, a "mentor" is
1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter.

I don't know about you, but I crave guidance from those who have "been there" before me--at certain times in my life, wise women of many ages have quite literally kept me breathing out and breathing in. (Not that men haven't also, but women have been vital to this rocky road of moving away from my religious/cultural community and into a life of marriage and art and chasing the wider-world-muse.)

I've had a lot of time to spend alone at home this winter. I'm writing and reading and trying out soup recipes; I'm penning letters and deep spring cleaning. And I'm also craving some of the old music/media that once "mentored" at least a part of me. This means that Tori Amos has shaken the walls of our house on more than one occasion this past week. Her lyrics remind me of a time when I first questioned feminism, relationships, my voice, and other people--when I first put my version of the "truth" into a song, a story, a conversation--and stood by it.

Other women have encouraged me to express the self in deeper ways, but my mind first jumps to fictional characters, musicians, and authors (most I've never met) before those real-life mentors. Am I more in tune to the "Millennial Generation" than I like to admit? Do I have a more consistent "relationship" with TV characters (say, Meredith from Grey's Anatomy, as a random--though some days sadly true--example) or certain Facebook "friends" than I might with in-the-flesh people? Am I a mindful mentor to someone else? Do my mentors sometimes teach me things/attitudes/habits that are actually harmful or unrealistic?

As winter softens into spring and I become less of a willing recluse, these are questions I will keep chewing on...

Here are some of my past & present "mentors":
* Laura from Little House on the Prairie--I was drawn to her sass, and the TV show was one of the few things we were allowed to watch growing up
*poet Sharon Olds--taught me I could write about anything; she still reminds me to stay rooted in my own body
*writer Gloria Anzaldua--humbled me into seeing a different version of history/heterosexism, changed the way I see immigration laws
*12th century abbess/composer Hildegard von Bingen--I still want to believe in songs and words that come from somewhere "Bigger" than ourselves
*The speaker in the Psalms
*Tori Amos--when I play out, it's just me and my piano ('nough said)
*Dar Williams/The Indigo Girls/Patti Griffin--taught me that songwriters can be serious poets too
*Felicity and Angela from "Felicity"/"My So-Called Life"--walked me through high school and undergrad, fed my "need" for drama in my life (I am a recovering "angst-addict"--well, off of the page, anyway!)
*poet Julia Kasdorf--showed me that American Mennonite women can write from the very core of the self--and thrive doing so
*My Grandma Ruth--told me to write instead of turn on the TV--but has also carried on generations of expected silence, passive/aggressiveness
*My big sister--though we've chosen different paths, she models what it means to be a mindful wife and mother.
*Mi madre--as cliche as it may seem to claim this mentor, my mom continues to teach me to reach for what matters; that it's never too late to tell the world, "No this is who I am."
* Fellow writers via emails, Facebook, etc.--I'm grateful for these "web mentors" (but nothing compares to sitting in the same room with them!)

1 comment:

  1. What a great post! It makes me want to make a list of my own mentors. I especially like the question about what kind of mentors we are or want to be.