Mentors and Mentees

(Athena disguised as Mentor, helping the prince.)

“Telemachus, no more shyness, this is not the time! We sailed the seas for this, for news of your father — where does he lie buried? what fate did he meet? So go right up to Nestor, breaker of horses. We’ll make him yield the secrets of his heart. Press him yourself to tell the whole truth: he’ll never lie — the man is far too wise.”


The prince replied, wise in his own way too, “How can I greet him, Mentor, even approaching the king? I’m hardly adept at subtle conversation. Someone my age might feel shy, what’s more, interrogating an older man.”


“Telemachus,” the bright-eyed goddess Athena reassured him, “some of the words you’ll find within yourself, the rest some power will inspire you to say. You least of all — I know — were born and reared without the gods’ good will.”


Mentors and Mentees


What a show! What a poem! As most people with access to the internet know, the word mentor comes from this timeless epic — THE ODYSSEY — wherein the character Mentor accompanies the young son of Odysseus, as he quests for his long lost father. Could you image growing up for twenty years without a father? Telemachus is introduced as a quiet, quite dorky boy with little beard and no self-respect. Encouraged by Athena, disguised as this old man Mentor, Telemachus begins to turn the gears of destiny. He loudly sets the record straight with the hundred and eight suitors ravaging him home, and sets sail for clues. But, as the excerpt above shows, the prince still doubts himself. This is early on. But Athena, again, embodying Mentor, fills the boy with power and determination. Thus Telemachus, as well as the reader, feels like, hell yeah, this is totally possible.


As almost anyone with access to this poem knows, drawing a parallel between this prince’s daring quest and one’s own professional career is not only natural but essential. That’s why we read. To get inspired.


So the word mentor came to be, to represent that special somebody who, with a little more wisdom, with a little bit of godly swagger, says the right things at the right time, and gets you moving forward.


Try googling “developing a mentor/mentee relationship” for advice on how to.


For this post, I would like to ramble on a bit about what it means to me, that’s all.


Like, for me, these things happen “organically,” which is to say unforced, which is to say not premeditated, which isn’t to say undetermined or unnecessary. These relationships happen because they need to, because they can, because it’s fun.


Right now there are many mentor-individuals in my life, of all ages and various levels of divinity, who fill me with joy or encouragement or wisdom. Many Athenas and Mentors.


Shout out to Lilly Wei, who I met through a New School writing award, who, because of my writing, connected with me. Now we meet for tea and share articles and short stories. I am continuously impressed by her wisdom and great taste in words. It was she who said one must pay attention to each word: not confuse a compliment for a complement.


Honor to my friend Rich Levy, in Houston, who represents for me the literary beacon of that city, as well as a jazz enthusiast and poet, who proves that one can still be creative, bogged down by administrative duties, yet provide for an entire community of artists and activists. I go to his office with a six-pack once or twice a year and we discuss, chat, enjoy good conversation.


Where would my confidence and style be without Sigrid Nunez, my thesis advisor and friend. Her life itself, well written, or fictionalized, each book I read, was not only fun and entertaining, but educational and informative, like the way she leads writing workshops, or even holds a tea time conversation. I burn incense for you, Sigrid, and for your many years to come.


Give it up for Val Vinokur, who reads these blog posts, I know! You are funny and most wise. A professor with a love story, a taste for good literature, and a sharp translator’s sensibility to language. You are a ghost. You are a guru, a light. Not just anyone can run a press, teach, and have a family in NYC. You do.


Of course there had been mentors before writing replaced the organ that pumps blood in me.


Dan Knight of the University of Texas. He told me once, Ivan, if you bring an audience to the TV studio (which we were running at the time, which had no audience), then I will shake your hand. The chance to shake his hand was motivational enough. He was always there, for any student, for advice, to listen, to share. Forth floor blues.


Alicia Zertuche, why wouldn’t you be here? You are as those spirits drawn around the halo of subjects in Buddhist iconography. You were always so down to earth. Funny, engaged, stimulating. Cool and hard working bisected at your desk. Thank you for your lessons, for driving me home late nights after writing those blog posts. The bells ring not toll for you.


May Larry Speck be at peace, may he be happy, may he create and be creative. His class on Creative Problem Solving is a badge my career brandishes. Thank you. Always there, it feels, for me.


And to conclude, another dear person to me, the man who instructed, who guided, who certified me to become a teacher of English to speakers of other languages: Ron Bradley. He called me a hot shot once, and I’ve been humble since. He told me I was a natural teacher, and I’ve been teaching since. Thank you. Truly.


All gods and goddesses these godlike men and women. And I but a young Telemachus as any reader becomes on a wine-watered weary path from shore to shore, king to king, to find my goal, to be, to sing . . .


— a praise.

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