A note to my mentors.

Last weekend I went to my parent’s house for dinner. They had just finished repainting the room that was once mine in a deep fuchsia (something that I would have NEVER considered as a teen or an adult, but it worked.)  True to her word of never throwing anything out, Mom had left a pile of papers on the bureau asking me what I wanted to do with them.

Sifting through the pile, I discovered the critical writings of my undergraduate career. It seems that I only kept the papers in which the grades were B+ or higher…which makes sense. Who wants to keep around a C paper? The comments were pretty similar across the board. Sound ideas. Good arguments. Just needed a bit more clarity.

Except one.

There was a TA that I had for a Canadian Women’s History course. Lets call her Nellie after the woman who helped bring women the right to vote. Nellie was invested in my writing. She was always discussing with me my interests in women’s history, medieval history and encouraged me to consider graduate school. Not only did she give me an “A” (and who doesn’t love getting an “A?”), but she also wrote about schools that had programs that she thought I would be interested in.

Indeed, it was Nellie to put the idea in my head that I could even be smart enough to go to graduate school. In a year where I was struggling to please professors, and hone my craft,  Nellie demanded good work, but was also not afraid to see the potential and push me to see what I could be.  She wanted me to know that I could vote if I wanted to. I could decide to obtain a higher education. It was my right and I was smart enough to do it.

Looking at the paper topics about the biographical fallacy in 16th century women’s poetry, the kabbalah and the self-hating Jew in James Joyce’s Ulysses and the experience of teacher’s in 19th century Canada (and, yes, I found a way to insert both Montgomery and Wilder), I pronounced to my mother, “Hey, I’m pretty smart.” My mother, always serious in matters of intelligence said, “I’ve been telling you that for years. Now, will you believe me!”

I decided to track down Nellie and thank her for helping me. We don’t always get the opportunity to thank the people who have in some way influenced our lives.Thanks to the wonders of the internet – which is probably something we should think about for other reasons but I won’t at this moment- it took me a few minutes to find her teaching at a university in Western Canada. (Where all Nellies would be living.) I told her who I was and hoped that she remembered me. I thanked her for her encouragement and guidance back then and told her what I was doing now.

She responded immediately, saying that she recognized me and was so pleased to hear about my news. I get teary when I think on this. This re-connection.

I immediately emailed my mentor and good friend from Concordia who I shall call, Rhannion, who is currently taking a sabbatical in Germany. Rhannion was one of the people who has always encouraged my writing and jumped at the chance to write me a letter to get into VCFA. While other professors were accusing me of being too colloquial in my style, Rhannion encouraged me to delve into Joan in different ways. Recently, she found an old children’s biography of Joan of Arc, reminding me that I still have to tell her story in my own way one day…

I’ve spoken of how I ended up at VCFA, so I shall not go there again, but we really cannot know the people who come into our lives and help shape them until it happens.

Today we submit our faculty advisor requests.

It is an interesting process where you get to pick up to a certain amount of people that you want to work with and then cross your fingers that you get the one that you’ve been thinking about that will help make your manuscript brilliant – make you brilliant.

Lots of trepidation. Looking down at the list of names, you wonder if you are picking the ones that will keep you in the comfort zone, or, if you are being honest with yourself and checking off those authors who will push you beyond your limits.
It is hard to say.

Then there is usually a wild card. The person who you’ve heard was good so you close your eyes, mark and “X” in the square and hope that the rumours are true.
That is usually the one you get.

Inasmuch as I’ve put myself through the process above, I realized that it is the teacher that you didn’t expect that will probably have the most profound impact. The one that saw something in you that you never saw in yourself and help give you that courage and foundation to see yourself the way that they see you.

And, maybe, just maybe…one day, you will believe them.

About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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