The Reluctant Mentor

June 23, 2010

On the morning dash to work yesterday, I rolled past the one store in my town’s small historic district that I still plant flowers for, the final holdover of the gardening business I ran several years ago. Typically, shop staff tends the plants, but I’d been asked to care for them during the owners absence.

The flowers looked happy, but with temperatures slated to spike into the 90s, wanted to be sure none were thirsty. As I pulled a U-turn and into a parking spot directly across the street from the shop, a dignified, slightly bent-over gentleman was walking past.  It was a Pulitzer-prize winning author, New York Times columnist and former Masterpiece Theatre host. And former gardening client.  For the past decade, he would ‘appear’ whenever I was silently but deeply questioning my own writing; he would inspire me thoroughly with entirely backwards advice, such as to quit focusing so much on writing and get a job that paid real money–that finding an editor was challenging–and writing wasn’t really all that. Usually, he had a somewhat mischievous smile on his face in the manner of one who is enjoying popping a neophyte’s false assumption bubbles about a craft they know little about. I invited him to speak once at my writer’s group, and he flatly declined, stating he had nothing to say about writing.

There is more I could say about our exchange at approximately ten minutes to eight that morning, but suffice to say, sometimes the best mentors and teachers are not those who have any interest in being one.

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2 Responses to “The Reluctant Mentor”

  1. findingthemotherlode said

    It’s true. I don’t know why it’s true, but maybe it’s because they help keep us feeling off kilter enough to stop us from grasping too much. Good writing isn’t about grasping. It’s more about looking hard at things, like old people do, and then spending days, weeks or months searching for the vein that will yield the most blood.

  2. Yes. You are reminding me of a Red Barber quote: ‘There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.’ Like Jeremiah’s ‘fire in his bones,’ it wants out. On the best days, it’s like solving a puzzle; on the worst, looking for the missing piece of courage to just show up at the page.

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