I always know I’ll have an easier time writing if I sit down to the task with a clear head and a quiet screen. But on Monday afternoon as I began to tackle this dispatch, I ignored my own advice and dove right in to my favorite streams of news, inspiration, and (sometimes) chatter. I must have had seven tabs open on my browser in a matter of seconds, and I’m not sure any of them had to do with word processing. What I found in each shocked me to the core.
In the fall of 2005, I arrived in Boston wide-eyed and alone, with two enormous suitcases in tow. I spent all of my cash on a cab ride from Logan airport to Cambridge and pressed my nose to the window the whole way, wondering, Am I there yet? Am I there yet? Am I really here?
Boston became for me a storied landscape, layered with public and personal history. There I learned to bike on city streets and to trudge unfazed through all forms of precipitation. Later on, I met my sister on Sundays in Copley Square, where we worked out the differences between where we’d been and where we were going. I had my heart broken once on a terribly romantic corner on Mass Ave, and it was mended again on a hill near Porter Square. I always made a point to look out over the bridge when the T passed through the Charles/MGH stop. It was always beautiful.
When I moved to Atlanta last summer, I was ready to put down roots somewhere else. I didn’t realize, though, that Boston would remain my point of reference. I compare the weather here to Boston, along with the food and the traffic and the style and the culture. Everything, it seems, is the same or different or better or worse here than it was in Boston.
When you see a place in sudden and painful disarray and wish you could immediately return to it, you realize that it must have been—or always will be—home. — Lisa
Last week's dispatch asked, Have you had or been a mentor?
At my last job (mainframe programming at The University of Texas), there was an official mentoring program. They take a new hire, and put them through a 6-month training program. For that 6 months, they pair you with an experienced developer to be your mentor. The mentor's job isn't to teach you how to do your job in a technical sense, but to help you navigate the social and bureaucratic landscape; to fill you in on good lunch spots; to advise you on how to get the most out of your training. They attempted to match you with someone who who they think can best... get you. My mentor was a man named Stewart McMaken.
Those who know me will know I'm a little... weird. And the folks in charge of hiring could tell right off. They figured, Stewart filled me in much later on, that I was either a great hire who would do really well, or a terrible hire who would flame out spectacularly. But I was weird enough that they weren't sure how to find out. "This kid is weird," they thought to themselves, "but he's Stewart McMaken weird." And they were so right. Pretty immediately, we were communicating on the same wavelength. Often, I would start to vaguely articulate some feeling or worry and he would finish the thought with the precise language of someone who's already been there. He taught me a lot of things, mostly having more to do with life in general than the job at UT, and we have since become very close friends, despite now living across the country from each other.
The single most useful thing he taught me was that perception is reality. I probably had some miscommunication with someone in the training program and was lamenting, "But that's not what I meant by it!" or something. And he explained to me, in a way I could understand, that my intentions weren't really relevant. It wasn't the other party's fault that they didn't understand my intentions... it was on me to communicate clearly to my audience, whether it was one person in a conversation, or a whole department of people in an email or whatever. At that moment, I realized that people had been attempting to teach me this lesson for years, but they weren't weird in the same was as me, so I didn't grok it. I feel like Stewart was some kind of translation layer, half-way between society's general assumptions and wherever I am on the map of how-you-understand-the-world. So, even though I was bad at it (and still improving), Stewart said, "Other people's perceptions is reality," and I was enlightened.
Just a few months ago a close friend of mine introduced me to Diana Kimball and /mentoring. I had also just received an email from a designer looking for some type of mentor. Between the two independent events I felt compelled to incorporate the philosophy and practice into my every day work. I've never been a mentor in any formal sense, nor have I had a formal mentor. I feel a bit lost and a little nervous, but I know it's something I need to do and something I want to be a part of.
I love mentoring and have found myself in mentoring relationships often. Apart from helping someone tackle something new or challenging I find mentoring invigorating because I learn so much too. The power of other's questions has been a great catalyst for my own inquiry and I find I get just as much, if not more, out of the exchange.
I had the great luck to find a mentor when I was fourteen. A neighbor moved in who was twenty-seven and very involved in custom-building, configuring and using computers. My mom had just bought me my first computer, so it was perfect timing for me to start upgrading and customizing it.
I spent many weekend afternoons and late nights at my mentor's house, learning the details of the Windows registry, upgrading and testing individual components inside a tower and playing online games. It was from my experience there that I was able to get my first and second jobs working with computers. I would likely be in a very different place today if not for the selflessness and dedication of my mentor.
I was literally an Honors College Mentor for three years running in college at Texas Tech University. The most valuable thing I learned in this process was simply being open to any question, and answering as thoughtfully as possible. As the semester drew to a close "my students" became my friends in many cases. I learned from them as much as they did from me, and we continued on through life, side-by-side.
A New Approach to the Table by Shauna Niequist:
I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter. I want you to light a burner on the stove, to chop and stir and season with love and abandon. Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity. Feed them with your hands and the flavors and smells that remind you of home and beauty and the best stories you’ve ever heard, the best stories you’ve ever lived.
Where is home for you?