In celebration of Girls Write Now’s upcoming 20th anniversary, we will be featuring conversations between mentees and their mentors, highlighting the unique bond shared between them. Today’s spotlight is on mentee/mentor pair Jiselle Abraham and Heather Strickland, who first started together in our Digital Media Mentoring Program before continuing together in our Writing Mentoring Program.
Q: What was your first meeting like?
Jiselle: I remember how I was feeling when I was on my way there. I was curious to see who was my mentor and things like that…but it wasn’t a huge surprise. It was a surprise, but Girls Write Now has to take our qualities and match us together. I was feeling nervous and curious, but it was a good experience because then we talked and I found out that we both liked Doctor Who.
Heather: Yeah I remember talking about Doctor Who, too!
J: Yeah! But it was cool. I was nervous the whole time, though.
H: Yeah, I was really nervous, too. I was really worried that you wouldn’t like me.
J: Me too.
H: I was worried I wouldn’t be cool enough.
J: I felt that way, too.
Q: Were there any performances that were memorable, and why?
J: The most memorable for me was my first Chapters, because I came in so late. I didn’t know that we had to be there ahead of time, and when I got there everyone was ready, and I heard everyone upstairs, and then they were all coming down, and I found out I had to go first and I had so much anxiety about it because I’ve always gone first for everything because of my last name…so I had all this anxiety and I felt really frustrated, and I started crying. I was really being hard on myself in my mind, and I was thinking, ‘I always do this.’ Then I was sitting next to this girl [another mentee], and I was shaking my leg so much because I was nervous, and the girl next to me kept putting her hand on my knee to calm me down. It really calmed me down. And then the performance happened and I wasn’t nervous anymore.
H: I feel like I contributed to your nerves there. When you came in I wasn’t like, ‘Hey, nice to see!’ I was like, ‘Jiselle, where have you been, did you know you’re going first?’ I definitely immediately learned from that experience how to be better at communicating with you, because I felt so bad…as soon as you walked outside I felt like, ‘I really messed that up. I should have been more supportive.’
J: It’s fine. It was just all hitting me at one time. I had never performed my piece or anything at all in front of people, ever, so it was a lot of nerves to come in and be like, ‘Oh you’re first…’ It was just a lot. And then later on, when I found out she put me first because she felt like my piece set the tone for the evening, I felt like trash. Like ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ Because you know when you get that type of feedback for your work it’s like…it gives you faith in yourself. It made me wish everything went different so I could have gone first.
H: I also remember our very first one, your QWERTY exhibition.
H: I felt like that was a really good experience for me to watch you. I felt like we got really close, you know, in my apartment, preparing ahead of time, but I didn’t know what the exhibition experience would be like at all, but watching you kind of from a distance interacting with people and talking about your piece…I was really proud of you in that moment. You seemed really happy to be talking to people about what you were doing and talking about your life and it was really, really cool to see that happen.
Q: Was there a piece of writing that was especially cathartic for you to write and why?
H: We’ve done a lot of collage poetry, you and I on our own and also with the program. I really like that. For me…destroying something in order to create something feels really good. Just that concept feels good, like destruction breeding creation out of that.
J: Yeah, that was one of our first pair sessions. For me, I think the one I just did, what I read at Chapters, the one about My Name. There were two versions of it. There was the one that was “My name is, My name is…” and my mom really didn’t like that one. But taking that, and changing it into something that people actually liked, and writing about other things and qualities that people see in me, instead of just writing about my name…when I write about myself, I write a lot more than I think about during the day, so it helps me to actually sit down and think and put thoughts into words.
Q: Talk about your pair meetings. Where do you usually meet? What do you normally talk about? Do you drink coffee?
J: Normally we meet at Starbucks, or sometimes another café—it’s split. I never get anything, you usually get a coffee and you ask me if I want something but I always say no. And we usually will do whatever Girls Write Now stuff we have and just talk about what’s going on with us.
H: Yeah. We used to always do a writing prompt, but eventually we just switched to chatting about how our week’s been.
J: The writing prompts are cool even though we never followed the time limit, because it started the session off and helped us get to know each other. But when we eventually switched to just talking about what’s going on…I think that’s important because if we don’t see each other often, or if we don’t talk about it often, we can come back together and see what we’ve been up to.
H: The writing prompts were good because they set the tone for the meeting, but as we got to know each other better, it got to be that I’d rather just hear about how you’ve been…we just didn’t need them as much.
H: And sometimes we do fun stuff. We’d like to do more.
J: Yeah, like go to the movies again.
H: Yeah we went to the movies, and to that poetry slam, and your art show.
Q: What do you like about each other?
J: What I like about you is that you’re always…I don’t want to say perky, or happy…I guess positive. You’re a very positive person. We’ve never had a negative moment. That’s important for me because negativity has always followed me in my life, so to have certain people in your life who are always positive, and to have someone who is telling you, you know, ‘You can do it,” I think that’s really important. And it’s a good quality about you, for us.
H: Thanks! I like that you always try really hard. And that sounds meaningless, like, ‘Oh, you try so hard,’ but you give everything your hardest effort, and you’re always willing to recognize and admit when you don’t give your best, and say that you’re willing to do everything you can to do better. You’re really honest in that way, which I think almost no one is, and it’s really refreshing. You have a really good attitude about that, which I don’t think everyone has, especially at your age. To see that at your age is really kind of beautiful. I also just think you’re a really naturally talented writer.
Q: What have you learned from each other?
J: In terms of writing, I know I can be repetitive. You’ve told me before that when you say something you don’t have to say it again. Every time I write I think about that. Every time I write. I’m not exaggerating. It’s like a Heather tape playing in my head. Even when I was writing my college essay that tape was playing…like I’ve already said this a hundred times, I don’t need to say it again. It’s there already.
H: It’s so funny that you said that I was really positive, because I think that you’ve taught me to be more positive. I think that you’ve really pushed me to try harder to view people in a really positive light. So maybe I’m just putting a really good foot forward and I’ve tried harder to be more positive over the last four years, but I think that’s a quality I’ve developed in part from you, and from meeting with you, and trying to be the best person I can be for you and for our meetings. So I think it’s really nice that you say that because you’ve definitely made me a better person. I really have wanted to be that positive person in our relationship.
J: It’s the same for me as well. A lot of times I could be negative or negativity is around me, so it’s good to have someone who is positive all the time. I didn’t know it was me, I just thought it was you and your personality.
H: Well people tend to pull the negativity from around them, and then project it out of them. So if we’re leaning on each other, and thinking like, ‘Oh, Heather is so positive, I want to be positive,’ And ‘Jiselle is so positive, I want to be positive,’ and then we’re walking away from our meetings positive, and putting that back out into the world, I think that’s really good.
Q: What is your birthday wish for GWN?
J: I guess for it to go on for more years.
H: Yeah! At least 20 more years, and to grow 20 times bigger.
J: Yeah, it’s a great program, it’s a great program for people. I’ve told all my friends about it.
Q: What do you envision for women 20 years from now?
J: When I was younger, learning history in class, we were talking about how women aren’t even equal to men, and how they had to dress up as men to get any rights. And it just felt crazy that they were so far from equal. You didn’t get to have an opinion, because you were a woman. And now we’re so strong. And I just hope that 20 years from now, people are the same way they are right now. I want things to get better, of course, but women need to remain strong. We’ve been strong forever, for centuries, and it’s important that we stay the same way because we don’t know what it will be like in 20 years.
H: Yeah. I want to envision a future in which women continue on the same path that they have for the last 20 years and the last century, where they keep pushing towards equality and then surpass it. So not only are they on their path to equality, but they’ve actually achieved it. It’s hard to think that will actually happen when it’s taken so long. You’re right about needing strength, though. That kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. You want to hope that it comes true, and I want to envision and help create that future.