I seriously contemplated reapplying for this mentorship under a different name. Or just reapplying in the hope that she would look down with pity and let me go again, just one more time. When I saw the announcement post on Sayable, I was in the same place, doing the same chore I was doing last year when I first read about the opportunity and my stomach churned with the possibility of going for it. What if I fail? I grew up asking this question. Well somebody’s got to fail, my Mama would say. Oh I love her bottom line. And that’s what I wanted, what I needed in writing. The plain truth. Should I keep trying? Should I set aside unforgiving minutes to the painfully slow stringing together of words? Nobody around was able to tell me, because nobody knew enough to say for sure. They all see me in a hundred ways, but mostly as their familiar friend, which is very different from the caricature of someone who writes books, all sequestered with a laptop in a damp shed while the party is going on.
I don’t know most of you who read this blog, but I think many of you are writers. I encourage you to apply for this mentorship. I loved Lore’s own voice long before I spoke with her on the phone. As a teacher she is clear and precise, certainly intimidating for a newbie, but I can tell you she is kind and faithful. Don’t be afraid. And even if you fail, somebody’s got to fail. But do try to find a mentor. Finding someone better than you won’t be hard, but if you can find someone better who is willing to help you, you’ve struck rich, my friend. Don’t pass it up.
Well I’m not reapplying, Lore. I asked myself what you would say. You gave me parting orders and I haven’t really tried very hard. So when I finished my chore, I took my nervous stomach down to BestBuy and bought a laptop and came home to clear out a run-down shed. So don’t be surprised if you can’t find me at the party, folks. I’m writing.
In the first week of the mentorship we were asked to read one of several recommended books and write a reflection. I chose The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and here is my piece below. After all the training and stretched muscles of the past year, it’s still accurate.
I felt like a scrawny Israelite, trembling in the battle line, as I read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. She shouted over the roar coming from ahead, adding to its terror, a fierce chieftainess, with a pencil stuck behind her ear and a clothespin latched on the finger pointed straight at me.
“Scared? Turn back now! You are free! Go home! We don’t need you!” She mocked me. I was too afraid to move, even to run.
I am not like her, wielding a two-edged sword, handy in palpable images and stories that prove the point without strain. No, the best you could say of me is that I was willing a month ago when the sign up sheet went around. The sound of war has changed that. Am I willing to be made willing again? I think I might be, if someone would bring me Jayber Crow and a big cup of tea.
But for now I sit in the garden, under Dillard’s intense tutelage, reading the sentence (about the Seminole alligator wrestler) for the third time because my mom is humming a hymn while she weeds. It takes my feeble brain significant effort to overcome this friendly disturbance. When she yells “Kale and Eggs!” I give up and seek a new quiet place, as the chieftainess recommended. It’s not her austere shed, but a daffodil field; my desk is a backpack on my lap. The quiet is interrupted by the dogs wrangling beside me, but I am here with the book, and the threat of war continues, unmoved by my efforts to be a good soldier.
I don’t know how to write. What’s more, I don’t have any of the eccentric tendencies of a writer. I was hoping to squeeze it in. Maybe if I carry a sword, a bad guy will just fall on it. She has challenged me and exposed the extremity of the writing life. My half-baked heart will not suffice. I do love sentences. And I do take out two words for every one and pour out half, if not all, of every fermented batch, so that’s a good sign, I guess. Even in this piece, I have taken hold of the alligator head of each sentence and wrestled with the tail only to discover I misjudged the creature: It is an inchworm and the poor thing may not recover. I can see Dillard sizing me up, wondering if there is enough there to beat into shape. I really don’t know.
She reminds me of my great Aunt Maud, whom I never met. There was no road to her house. She lived on a mountain. You had to set out through the woods on foot, following a pig path first, but then it left off and you’d just start to praying. At last you would reach the tidy farm house, bone tired, ready for a hug.
“Hungry?” she’d holler from the porch. “Best fetch a chicken.”