Yow!!! Yesterday (on day #7 of my 8 day ‘stay-cation’) I had arranged to meet well-known and respected writer. I’ve never really gotten to talk to anyone on that level before, and by contacting them, I had brought myself into this whole new range of experience.
I had been quite nervous before our meeting for coffee. Luckily I didn’t need anything from them, I was just happy for the time together. And that went surprisingly well. Except for violently knocking the table when I sat down (and spilling their drink everywhere), I’d didn’t embarrass myself. I listened politely, answered questions about myself, my family, and the Athens Writers Association that I’d founded, and after an hour we parted on friendly terms.
‘That was easy’, I thought.
It was after that the trouble started. I was driving to a nearby Publix to pick up ice cream for my sister. And I found myself starting to cry. I pulled it together for the ice cream but then bawled just about all the way back to Athens.
Why? you ask? Well, I’ve thought about it. Obviously some of it could have just been released after having been nervous, but I did feel strange, Hero’s Journey, strange. I felt like my blood had been drained away and replaced by some mystical liquid. I felt altered. I was not at all comforted by this Mentor. They’d talked about hardship and long odds, and the struggle even after ‘breaking through’. I felt like I’ve been climbing mountains for years, trying to become a better writer, and this Mentor showed me a near-sheer cliff and said ‘That’s the only way’. It was a deep challenge and it nearly broke my heart to look at it.
I remembered a very different Meeting with a Mentor more than ten years back: at a writing conference, I paid to have Patrick LoBrutto look at my first few pages and talk with me for about fifteen minutes. It was one of the highlights of my young writing life. Pat was friendly, excited about storytelling, and gentle with a new writer, both telling me it needed work and mentioning a scene he thought was quite good. ‘Quite good!’ — this from the man who worked with sci-fi gods as an editor for Tor. I think I love him to this day.
But . . . That was the Mentor I needed then and this was the Mentor I needed now. I’ve decided part of what upset me about seeing the sheer cliff, that high bar, was that I thought I’d already come a long way. And I have. I haven’t had too many chances to be around more experienced writers than I, and especially not world-renowned ones. I’ve been writing for 16 years and in the groups I frequent, I get a lot of people who look up to me. I had to realise that instead of being Master of the Baby Lengues, I was now Baby of the Big Leagues. By reaching out, by starting the Athens Writers Association, by working hard, I had climbed so far and had now passed through the mist, and met this man, and seen the next mountain. And it’s a doozy.
But it leads exactly where I want to go, and (after all the tears of vexation have dried) I’m grateful for the help and advice, the warnings, and the chance to meet someone truly great. Some Mentors are cuddly and their advice tastes more like lembras bread than medicine, and then others are a sear-the-flesh-from-your-bones force of nature that arrive to warn you that you’ve passed over the threshold into the dangerous land of elite heroes.
But they know if they can’t dissuade you, if you still choose to pick your shield and move forward, you will become stronger than you’ve ever been before.
Quote from renowned author — “I didn’t get great by being patted on the back; I became great by getting my butt kicked every day.”
Spoken like a true Mentor.
Update: Since this was written the author I met, Terry Kay, has sadly passed on. But I’m still grateful for that day and his continuing wisdom and beautiful writing.