On Teachers and Mentors

Hello friends!

I’ve already made clear my opinion on writing being a solitary occupation (it’s not). And while I’ve been influenced by fellow writers and critique partners, I’ve also been lucky enough to have encountered several mentors throughout my life. Today, I wanna talk about two of them in particular.

First up: my tenth grade world lit teacher, Mr. D. I only had him for this one year, but my high school was tiny, so I saw a lot of him over the next two years, too. Not only did I genuinely enjoy his class and his approach to teaching, but Mr. D also knew about my dream of being an author and fully supported me. The next year, when I applied to the California State Summer School for the Arts (check out their mission here), I asked if he’d fill out the teacher recommendation form for me. He didn’t hesitate for a second, and filled out the form right there, in front of me. He helped me believe in myself with that simple act, and I had an incredible summer at CSSSA. 

When senior year rolled around, he helped me find a college that would be a good fit. He wrote a heartfelt letter of rec that brought tears to my eyes. He helped me revise the stories I submitted to the college’s English department, which got me a scholarship that basically guaranteed I’d be able to afford my dream school. Mr. D. spent years giving me unconditional support and encouraging me to push for what I wanted. He celebrated every success with me. On top of all that, he nourished in me a love of plays and theatre, as he included many in his curriculum. When you’re seventeen and feel like the world is against you, it’s invaluable to have someone in your corner cheering you on.

And then I left my tiny high school and went to a tiny college across the country. 

I met my next mentor during orientation. Prof. M. was in the Theatre Arts Department and taught playwriting, which I desperately wanted to take. He expressed his reluctance to take first years into the course, but asked me to send him my latest project. I did, and the sample convinced him I’d be a good fit. I tried to register for the course the next quarter, but it was full. However, over winter break, Prof. M. emailed me to let me know a spot had opened up and I needed to jump on it. His playwriting course was the first of several classes I took with him, and a large part of why I took on Theatre Arts as a second major, in addition to English/Writing.

That play I submitted to Prof. M. during orientation? It was the very first draft of “Family Crimes,” a one-act play about a family of criminals, the matriarch of which is haunted by her murdered husband. Over the next three years, I returned to it several times, trying to find the right way to tell the story, and then at the end of my junior year, it hit me. I churned out a new draft in record time and submitted it to the Theatre Department with two proposals: one to make the revision of this play my senior thesis with the department (a requirement for graduation, and a marriage of my two majors) and a second to direct a production the following winter. Here, Prof. M. hesitated. Was I sure I wanted to tackle these two big projects? Where Mr. D.’s encouragement bolstered me, Prof. M.’s hesitation did the same: I wanted to prove that I could pull it off. Once I made my dedication clear, both projects were approved. Prof. M. helped me revise “Family Crimes” all summer, and when I submitted to him my finished, four-hundred page thesis in the fall (complete with that very first draft and three subsequent revisions), he read it that same weekend and posted my grade in two days. In the winter, he advised me as I directed the production, asking questions I hadn’t thought of and offering decades of experience and knowledge. We ran for four days over Valentine’s Day weekend, and it was honestly my crowning achievement in undergrad.

Both of these mentors had a huge hand in my growth as a writer. Both of them helped me find my voice and the confidence to use it, and they helped shape the things I wanted to say. With Mr. D. in my corner, I wrote a short novel that examined grief and loss, a subject I still return to often. With Prof. M.’s help, I turned “Family Crimes” into a story of love and shame and marginalization. These are subjects I return to frequently, even today. Their influence still shows in my work all these years later.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Kita’s arc.

What I read this week: The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin; Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz.

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