Day 24: I am grateful for mentors.
Today I am grateful for teachers and mentors.
In my life, I have been blessed with wonderful mentors who believed in me long before I believed in myself. My first mentor was my sixth grade teacher, who had interests in science, which is one of my favorite subjects. My sixth grade teacher was also my homeroom teacher, and even though we had a separate teacher for Language Arts, my homeroom teacher reinforced language arts with additional class work in reading and writing.
In our 6th grade class, we had a specialized reading program (the one where I first learned the word “vista,” which I wrote about here), as well as a weekly hour dedicated to Creative Writing, where our teacher gave us a prompt on which to write longhand for 30-40 minutes. It was those early creative writing papers, and more specifically my teacher’s feedback on those papers, that cemented my academic leanings toward English and writing. My teacher, Mr. Wharton, who became my first mentor, encouraged my writing both in his written responses and in after school conferences. Not only did he tell me how well I had written, but he also on occasion discussed with me the ideas expressed in my writing. His positive confirmation and enthusiasm helped me to see writing as its own endeavor, and to focus on the necessary learning that all writers need to embrace to become better writers. I have always appreciated my sixth grade teacher’s positive input, as well as his treating me like a person with a brain, and not just another student to be dismissed.
Although my 6th grade teacher became a lifelong friend (today happens to be his birthday: Happy Birthday, if you are reading this, Don!), not all of my mentors are still accessible. My favorite university professor, also coincidentally named Bob Wharton, also encouraged me as a thinker and as a writer. Above all, Dr. Wharton inspired my love of literature, as he was the consummate teacher and scholar. Under his tutelage, I studied the great literary masters and works, and he too always had a kind, if not thought-provoking and inspiring word for my writing. When I applied to graduate school, unbeknown to me until decades later, Dr. Wharton also made laudatory reference to one of my essays in his letter of recommendation, which helped me to win acceptance into the program. Dr. Wharton became the dearest of friends, and I visited him at his bedside when he was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. I feel he is still connected to me to this day, cheering me on, encouraging me even as I work toward my own golden years.
Most of my mentors have been writers, thinkers, scholars, teachers, or poets. I also worked with the renowned Carolyn Forche‘ in poetry workshop, and she was wonderfully encouraging and supportive in every way. I feel to this day that I let her down by not becoming a poet a fraction as prolific as she, but I know she would understand the way my life broke down, tearing me away from the writing we both so loved. As she still contributes regularly, she inspires me never to give up–that poetry, word, thought and the love of language remain ageless and available. I don’t think Carolyn would say that you have to publish your work in order for it to matter, although I do think she meant to inspire more in me the courage to share. Here is a famous work of Carolyn’s that she autographed to me while I was her student:
Other mentors I am grateful to, particularly for inspiring my writing and interest in language, are teachers and poet Miller Williams, rhetoricians Dr. Jenefer Giannasi and Jasper Neel, along with close friends monastic nun Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, my husband Rich Arment, and several former students who are waiting in line for me to finally publish a book. My husband Rich’s contribution is perhaps the greatest of all, as he provides daily for me a safe environment in which to focus and to flourish, where I can write all day every day as often as I choose. He gives me the kind of support and freedom every writer needs to do what they love. I am forever grateful to my dear partner and husband, and to all of these valuable people who have encouraged and appreciated my work over the years.
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