Saturday, September 25, 2010

Inspiration from Mentors

A few nights ago, a friend offered free tickets to hear Margaret Atwood and Ursula LeGuin speak here at Portland's gorgeous Arlene Schnitzer concert hall as part of the Literary Arts series here in town (which used to be called "Arts and Lectures" back in the day). The concert hall is a huge space, and we were, understandably, way up in the nose-bleed seats. On the stage were two armchairs and a small table with a pitcher of water and two glasses. In other words, it was an intimate arrangement in a cavernous setting.

I was prepared to feel disconnected and distant, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Atwood and LeGuin established a warm and personal rapport that somehow managed to climb up into the rafters and span across the wide, ornate concert hall as if we were all just a bunch of friends sitting in a room together. But beyond that, for the roughly two hours we were there, I had the feeling I was meeting with mentors - smart, creative women who had seen a thing or two, who had opinions, and who knew what it was to struggle in the dark to illuminate a story that hadn't yet been called into existence.

It got me thinking about the power of mentors. Whether they are people you know personally or writers you've never met whose work you admire, it makes a difference when you have someone who feels like an elder of your particular tribe, who knows the journeys, who can serve as a guide, point the way, honor the struggles, share their wisdom.

There are a lot of "mentor programs," but the best mentors I have had are never assigned or named as such. They emerge from the relationships I have. With women, it can be a strange and challenging thing to honor someone as a mentor. I worry that I will offend them by pointing out the fact that they are older than me. But the older I get, the more I love talking with older women who are smart and creative and can help show me the way.

Who are your mentors? How have they changed over time? How did you find them?

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