On Writing

Mitch Albom and I

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I have a story about Mitch Albom. When I was in OAC Writer’s Craft, I had an amazing English teacher, Mr. W. One of his assignments was for us to choose a writer whose work we loved, admired and aspired to learn from – and write in the style of this writer for our assignment. Mr. W knew I loved to read, but he always was aware that I loved to be challenged (special teachers pay attention to this stuff!). While some students chose folks like Shakespeare or Seuss, I wanted to emulate a writer who was alive and contemporary. Without hesitation, Mr. W offered me one of Mitch Albom’s collection of sports columns that he’d had published based on his writing job for the Detroit Free Press.

I had never heard of Mitch Albom. I’d never read the Detroit Free Press. And, Id’ never read a sports column. This was years before ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’ would tidal-wave into our lives, but if you read Albom’s sports columns, you’ll see that the heart of Tuesdays (and all of Albom’s books) is very much alive. Born in the ink of the paper, I’d say. Well, I devoured the collections of sports columns and handed in my class assignment of a collection of columns written in the heart-felt style of Mitch Albom.

What’s amazing is that I’ve kept this paper I made so many years ago. Here is what it looks like…

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You can see a cut-out of Mitch’s head pasted beside a photo of me. This particular column is about when I actually met him!

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Here’s the cover or front page. I photo copied my hand! And, ah, my grade is there as well. Well done!

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I got a kick out of this one! Look at the title of the column!

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This has to be my favourite part – the introduction to me! I can’t believe (or no, I can believe) that I was so in tune to my ‘soul’ and my passion for writing. I mean, I named the paper ‘The Soul’. Doesn’t get much more poetically artistic than that!

Oh, but there’s more. Because Albom was (is!) alive and well, and but a mere skip across the river away, I did what any fearless young writer would do – I called him up and asked  him if he’d look over my writing. Didn’t I keel over when I heard the sound of Mitch Albom’s voice on the other end of my landline the night he called to say yes, and by the way, let’s meet in person! I wrote a story about this meeting (see above photo #1). We met at the radio station (WJR). He was kind and humorous. And he meant it when he said he’d get back to me about my writing. I don’t have any evidence of what he said though! I believe he called me again and we talked on the phone.

That was 19 years ago.

I was a budding young writer who knew where she wrote from and why. He was an almost-famous writer from Detroit. Look at us now!

For years I’d write and send Mitch a letter a Christmas. The letters were long and filled with my writerly dreams, my struggles, my successes. I posed questions and sent him my books as they were published. For many years, this was a quiet endeavour. Just me and the words. And the hope that he received them. But then I shared this tradition in a blog I wrote for the Windsor Star. And he responded! So I wrote a blog about that too!  I tell you, it’s really something having a tradition like this – where you put it all out there to a mentor you have…and they respond on some level. It really keeps you motivated, you know?

Well…after that. After I stood in line at another book reading for another of his incredible books…and I mailed and emailed more letters, and sent him my first book of poetry…something happened. I felt in my heart that I didn’t (need?) want to write the letters anymore.

Last year was the first year in close to 15 years that I didn’t write him a letter. I asked my self what my motivation for writing was…what did I want out of these letters? And the fact that there was a glint of wanting a response – that my hope had shifted into something more – I knew it was time to stop.

Perhaps my own writing career was motivation enough? Perhaps I felt more like a peer than a fan? Perhaps I wanted him to remember me as that ballsy 19-year-old, as the girl who wrote him letters for years, as the fan who bared a bit more soul to him than the rest? I don’t know. Maybe it was all of those things.

Of course, I purchased his new book The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto as soon as it came out. I even checked out his book tour schedule to see if Windsor was on it. Luckily my sister was at Chapters yesterday to tell me that he was going to be there. I honestly hadn’t known. Double-luckily, I was able to get there and stand in line.

I had flies in my belly – not full on butter, but I was feeling that stirring of hope again. Hope that he would remember me. That he would tra-la-la into my fantasy of us being fast friends and literary pals – sharing stages and doing workshops – upon seeing my smiling face.

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Here we are. We’re both smiling. (Thank you kind woman from Wheatley who took this photo!) But he didn’t remember. Or at least he didn’t say anything that made me believe that he did. And that’s soooo totally fine.

The thing is, having mentors is extremely important. Even if they’re ‘silent’ – meaning,  they don’t know you exist. They don’t know how important they are to your creative life. Their gift to you is their words, their work, their life choices – all the things that motivate and inspire you. That’s where the power lives. And say you even get to meet or converse with one of these mentors at some point in your life, the reality is that the fantasy of your inspired relationship with them is really what matters.

Meeting a mentor like Mitch Albom, though, it teaches you something important. At least, this is what it teaches me: mentors are people too. They are people living and breathing their creative work – just like you. And I’d like to say that I remember each person I meet at a literary event or each student I talk to in a classroom…but I don’t. I wish I could! The flip-side to having a mentor is that it helps when you become one yourself. It helps you do your best to pay attention, speak from your heart and trust that your passion will someone rub off. Maybe you’ll get a letter or an email. It matters to keep the cycle going. It matters to keep the cycle going even if it’s silent.

And so, dear Mitch, although I may not still be writing you long letters, know that I meant every word I sent. Know that I’ll do my best to get to your book signings and re-post, re-tweet, re-whatever when you publish a new book. Perhaps one day we will share a stage or do a writing workshop together. Maybe I’ll make it Haiti one of your trips. The hope is still alive. The fantasy still exists. It’s just got permanent residence in my heart, in my creative process now. And I’m continuing the cycle with the work I’m doing.

To all the mentors (aka: teachers, advisors, guidance people) out there, thank you. To all the people, like me, who have mentors (silent or otherwise), thank you. Let’s keep our hope alive. Let’s keep learning from each other. Let’s keep writing from our souls, shall we?

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