So I have been thinking about mentors, and then today my friend Carolynne gave me a piece of writing about courage. I think what the ideal mentor does is to give us courage. In Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor is a friend of Odysseus, an older, trusted adviser. The goddess Athena later takes the form of Mentor in order to encourage Penelope.

I have had a lot of good mentors, but some of the best of them came to me because I had the courage to ask for them. When I was embarking on graduate school, and (at the same time — what folly!) trying to adopt a baby, I went in search of women professors who had children. I wanted my journey to be comprehensible to them. I also wanted to have, clearly in view, a model of what I hoped to achieve.

It’s good to have people who will read manuscripts and push you to become a better and better writer. It’s great if you have someone who enables your work. Maybe. But mentors don’t necessarily do the down-and-dirty work, and, in the classic sense, they don’t  do that sort of work. All a mentor has to do is give you something to believe in. Well, and believe in you.  When I look back over my life, I’ve had scores of people who did that for me. Suddenly, I think of my Aunt Evelyn who always thought I was brilliant, even when everyone else thought I was a skinny little fifth grader who didn’t practice the piano enough. As an assignment, maybe we should all stop what we’re doing and write a thank you note to a mentor.

Thinking about Aunt Evelyn, makes me think about food, and — interestingly enough — here’s my desk calendar: “Rich, fatty foods are like destiny: they, too, shape our ends.” And so do beliefs. Have the courage to believe in yourself. I’ll believe in you, too.

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