Friday, March 20, 2009

Weekend Assignment #259: Mentors

Hi folks! I should probably use a guest professor this week, but instead I'm going with a new topic idea of my own:

Weekend Assignment #259: The term "mentoring" has become a buzzword in recent yearsm but the concept of a mentor goes back centuries, and the word itself all the way back to Greek mythology, where Mentor was a friend of Odysseus. Have you ever had a mentor? How did you benefit from the relationship? And if you didn't have one, would you have wanted one?

Extra Credit: Have you ever been a mentor to someone else?

Harry's mentor Dumbledore, as played by Richard Harris.

I thought of this last night because I was rereading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's [Philosopher's] Stone. Although Harry's mentor, Dumbledore, is a presence right from the beginning of the first book, the two characters don;t actually converse until hundreds of pages later. Dumbledore, of course, comes from a long line of fantasy mentors, from Merlin to Gandalf to my own character Fayubi. Those particular characters fall under the archetype I like to call the "Tricky Old Man," a combination of Jung's Trickster and Wise Old Man. Mentor characters can also be female, although I don't see them as often. Madeleine L'Engle's Mrs Whatsit is sort of a mentor to Meg and Charles Wallace. Maximiliana Van Horne in L'Engle's A House Like a Lotus is explicitly a mentor to Polly O'Keefe, but a flawed one whose drunken betrayal of Polly drives the plot of the book.

Real life, of course, is a bit different. I've never been on the Hero's Journey, never met a wizard, never been sent overseas by a rich friend many years my senior. But I have latched onto a number of people as mentors over the years, at least to some minor degree. There were high school English teachers that I looked up to and appreciated for more than what they taught in class. There was the young woman across the street who claimed to be a writer and sometimes served me tea when I was in high school. There were the writers-in-residence at Clarion, particularly Harlan Ellison, with whom I had corresponded and whom I had met a few times by then.

But the main mentor I had when I was younger was a young English teacher from an entirely different school district when I first met her in early 1974. She was 23 years old. I was 16 going on 17. I had just published a Star Trek fanzine called 2-5YM, which inspired "d" to contact me. We got together and talked about Star Trek and lots of other things, sometimes sitting in her car for hours, just chatting. She had realized that teaching was not for her, so she went back to school to become a librarian instead. When I was in college the first time she ran a small one-room library at the University, and I hung out there after class.

d didn't teach me about writing or accounting or anything like that. Mostly she taught me how to be an adult while expanding my literary horizons a bit. I first read the 60 original Sherlock Holmes stories because of her. She taught me how to check whether the dish you are washing is clean, and advocated squash for pie instead of pumpkin, although I still disagree with her on the latter. She told me about Japan, where she wanted to live, and advised me about the Star Trek group and its members. She made me an afghan blanket, and was co-Maid of Honor at my wedding. And I think I still have some E. E. Cummings books I should really return to her. She was also an Episcopalian, a denomination I sought out many years later, in part because of her.

I haven't seen d in about 20 years, since she visited Tucson shortly after we moved here. Noe has she sought me out in the years since. I found her online a few years ago, and could write to her care of her current workplace, assuming she's still there. Would she welcome the contact? I don't know. But I hope she is well and happy.

As for being a mentor myself, I have occasionally had pretensions to this, particularly in online relationships with younger writers. But that's more of a mutual support and advice thing than true mentoring, I think. It might be different if my novels were published an in the stores, but they're not, and won't be anytime soon. Eventually - this Karen swears! - but not soon.

How about you? Have you had or been a mentor? Tell us about it in a blog entry, and please remember to link back to this entry so people can read what others have to say on the subject. Then leave a link to your entry in the comments below. I'll post a roundup of your responses a week from now. Meanwhile:

For Weekend Assignment #258: It's A Small Web (After All), I basically asked how sociable you get in your social media. Here are excerpts from the small pool of responses:

Julie said...

For me, it depends on the situation. On places like Twitter and FriendFeed, I'm following (and am followed by) people from all around the world. Just yesterday I exchanged "tweets" with someone in the UK about the Manchester United match that was going on at the time. I'm more careful on Facebook, where I tend to follow and "friend" real-life friends and professional contacts, though I've made a few exceptions.

Florinda said...

I hesitate to say that my offline friends are the only "real" ones, though. My connections with some of the folks I've gotten to know online are just as "real" to me. I've met a few of them in person, but the fact that I'm unlikely to physically cross paths with most of them doesn't diminish those relationships. I enjoy meeting new people online and getting better acquainted with the ones I've already met via blogging and Twitter, which for the moment are meeting my social-media-interaction needs pretty well.

Mike said...

I certainly don't have a wide net of online friends. I don't belong to many online groups. I have this one here, and Carly's photo shoot as my only online groups. That's fine with me. If I had too many, I'd have trouble keeping track of everything I'm supposed to be doing. I have enough trouble getting to every one's posts the way it is now.

That's it for now! I look forward to hearing about your mentors and mentoring. And yes, as always, I'm still soliciting topics for these Weekend Assignments. Please email me your suggestions. Thanks!



Laura said...

Here's my response:

barrettmanor said...

I'm not sure I can answer this one. Sigh.

Mike said...

It's late, but it's still Thursday!

Anyway, here's mine.