My mentee and I can usually be found at a communal table at Starbucks. We sit side by side with a view of 96th Street or Park Avenue that we seldom indulge. We concentrate on our pages or screens, each other’s faces.
We begin with a free write, her suggestion. And whenever we finish, she offers a disclaimer about quality and I about content. I always seem to depart from the task, take a free write on public speaking and make it into a meditation on the seam of my hose. She says I don’t follow instructions and she’s right. I bend rules. No one’s ever told me this. She’s amused and intrigued by where this freedom takes me. She follows rules and creates the most cogent and composed imaginings. I am always left eager for more. We admire each other’s processes and paths out loud, encourage each other to develop these beginnings, and return to our pages, screens, each other’s faces.
It was this scene that replayed in my mind during Girls Write Now’s Mentor Training, Part II, a mid year check in and skill share for the women writing mentors of Girls Write Now. The listenings, conversations, and break out sessions allowed for an opportunity to think through the relationship we mentors are building with our brilliant mentees. The sheer diversity of roles mentors play was inspiring and instructive. But speaking what role my mentee has played for me was heartening.
There is a resonant scene from an old episode of the Cosby Show. Denise and Theo, in a family car, are hit by Stevie Wonder’s limousine. They report this news to their parents in a fit of elation. It’s Stevie Wonder. We understand. In remorse, Stevie invites the Huxtable clan to his recording studio, and each member sounds something into the mic for the genius to collage. Denise memorably whined “I don’t know what to say.” Stevie looped it, and that same loop has been playing in my mind for the past two years. I asked fellow writers, “What happens when you run of out of words?” Befuddled mostly, none of them could provide a remedy. But at that communal table at Starbucks, sitting with my mentee, I accessed a few words, ragged poems, for the first time in a long time. They spilled into dated documents when I got home. They replaced crappy doodles on receipts and church programs.
I think of my mentee and myself as writing partners. We do the work together and bring our skill sets to the communal table. I am privileged to have access to a wealth of resources gleaned from study here, there, and everywhere, and low paying, high rewarding jobs. We have different world wisdoms and skill sets—but we respect that about each other—and we know that neither one of our tool bags are more valuable than the other’s. They are gifts to exchange.
I am grateful for her catalyzing my evolution as a writer, and for the opportunity to offer an ear, an eye, some insight into her passion. And I can’t wait to see where her pen will take her.