When I first began writing, I shared some of my pieces with a mentor whom I admired greatly. He was a published author and enjoyed a kind of celebrity status in our small community in Alaska.
I approached him tenuously at a Halloween party. He was standing just outside the door to of our friend’s garage, the lights, music, and warmth from the party wafting their way out to us.
It was cold and dark, standard fare for December in Southeast Alaska.
“What did you think,” I asked timidly?
“It was really good,” he responded. “I think you could be a great travel writer.”
Travel writer, I thought, horrified? The response made it sound like my writing was fluff for someone to read while passing the time at an airport.
But I just thanked him and feigned excitement by his pronouncement.
He continued musing over my fate.
“I mean really,” he continued. I was reading something by a young woman in Homer (the title escapes me now). Why should I read her book? What could she possibly have to teach someone like me?
The last word stung.
It was spoken with such complacence, as if he had already learned life’s most important lessons and had more to teach the world can he could possibly need to learn, especially from a young woman. The way he described her, it was as if she was completely insignificant in the world, a simpleton who had no business writing at all and was particularly brazen to dare to publish her thoughts in a book that she expected a white, middle-aged man to read.
It was as if he had read her book merely to mock at her naiveté.
As with most situations where a witty comeback was required, I wished my sibling was by my side. Whenever they recounted a heated interaction to me, I would exclaim in response, “but did you really say that?”
“Of course I did!”
Oh, how I wished they were here to help with my defense.
Instead, I just nodded and waited for another person to work their way into the dialogue so I could slip out into the darkness, unnoticed.
I had no response. I did not know what I could teach him or any other man his age.
Hours later (or was it days?), an answer began formulating in my mind.
Perhaps, I had nothing to teach them because they were not open to hearing what I had to say? I did not write with them in mind. They were not my audience.
Women my age and younger, perhaps older, too, were the individuals I was writing to. I had no problem writing to men, but they had to be willing to give me a chance.
What I wanted to say was that while I may be considered young to many, I had experienced a great storm in my life. I had moved through the storm and was just wending my way to the other side.
I wanted to tell those who would listen that the storm, while painful, was not as difficult to enter or navigate as they might think.
I wanted to give them the courage and permission they might need to do what I had done.
I wanted to say all this and more. And I will. This is just my beginning.
It could be yours as well.