From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You know he's your mentor when...

Once upon a time there was a man named Mr. K. He was an English teacher at a small private school in a small college town in a very out-of-the-way state. He taught English to the eighth graders, ninth graders, tenth graders, eleventh graders, and twelfth graders, and he also sometimes taught stuff like improv and helped with drama. It was a very, very small school.

One young girl started at this small school in first grade, and after a brief stint in the comparatively very exotic Bay Area during fifth and sixth grade, came back to this small school in this small town in this out-of-the-way state and became one of Mr. K's students.

This young girl took English from Mr. K in eigth grade, and ninth grade, and tenth grade, and eleventh grade, and twelfth grade. She participated in such activities as reciting out-loud chimney sweeper poems from Victorian England and playing faux poker while the class studied The Virginian and borrowing his Kenneth Branagh...er, Shakespeare movies for nerd-fests...er, parties with her friends. He made her read Moby Dick. Not the whole class, just her.

Soon after this young girl graduated, three things happened:

1. This young girl became an English major at the university in that small college town.
2. Mr. K got a job as a headmaster at a cool new school.
3. The very small school closed down.

This young girl then graduated from the university with a BS...er, BA in English and aspirations of being a novelist, but soon realized she needed to eat too, and that diplomas in English did not pay very much, or taste very good either. After a chaotic, confusing and occasionally traumatic time, this not-so-young-as-she-once-was girl came to her senses and contacted her former high school English teacher at his cool new school and was relieved to hear that yes, indeed, he could use help in his creative writing class and sometimes Shakespeare too, as juggling teaching and administrative duties was rather...time-consuming.

(Note: The very small school also started back up about this time, with some administrative and financial changes that make for a bright and hopeful future, and they too were willing to hire this young girl. Now she teaches creative writing at cool new school on some afternoons, helps with preschool at very small school on the others, and does social media contracting in the mornings. With these powers combined, she can pay rent, and has after-school, evenings and nights to write the day away. She is happy.)

While she never expected to end up teaching (Her answer to "English major, huh? So are you gonna teach?" was always "No"), and really never expected to be teaching with Mr. K; despite a few disenchanted teens and snot-nosed tots; despite not knowing quite how to feel about going back to high school; she is having an absolute blast. The interesting thing, however, and the point of this long, rambling, self-indulgent story, is that in working with Mr. K, she is seeing just how much of an influence he has had on her life.

And its not only the obvious stuff. She loves Taming of the Shrew because he loves Taming of the Shrew and she learned the play from him. But now she is discovering that they share opinions she didn't even know they shared. Like in movies; they are both freakishly obsessed with Up [moment of silence for Steve Jobs. I cringe to conceive of a Pixar-less world. Thanks Steve.] and The Kings Speech, which both came out after this young girl had left Mr. K's tutelage. But he'll use Up as an example of ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT character in the creative writing class, and then use Kings Speech in correlation with Henry IV, which makes this young girl want to stand up and shout "And I love that movie too!" By similar means, she has found out that they both share an affinity for random things like Alaska and Abraham Lincoln.

This young girl has ideas and opinions separate from Mr. K's, of course, and recognizes that nobody is perfect. Still, she is grateful for everything she has learned from him, and would be a very different person in a very different place without his mentorship. A person and place she would most definitely not want to be.

These are the people and experiences that shape us as writers. That shape our tone and voice and opinions about what constitutes good writing. Recognizing the influences helps us see the strengths and weaknesses we've accumulated from these influences, and therefore grow as writers. As people too.

Who are the Mr. K's in your life?

Sarah Allen

4 comments:

  1. Man, I did not like that cartoon. It was like animated depression for your eyeballs.

    It's hard to say, I can't think of anyone that jumps out as being that influential.

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  2. I loved Up. It was such a great show. I shall miss Steve Jobs. This tribute to Mr. K in your life is so thoughtful. Yes, us English diploma wielding maniacs out here must be very creative in order to find gainful employment. I think that being a teacher is a wonderful way for you to find a way to support yourself and influence the minds of tomorrow.

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  3. Mine would be my husband. When I told him I had stories aching to come out, he told me to start writing. Not only that but he pushes me along even when I want to give up. And since he is an excellent writer he is a great mentor as well. It's nice to have my best friend be my mentor AND husband.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't have anyone like that, but I very much wish I did. That was a wonderful tribute.

    ReplyDelete

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