notes on mentors or muses

by Amy Turn Sharp


When Amanda and I met the PhD candidate teaching our writing workshop, we knew that she was amazing. She was a Virginia Woolf scholar and southern and sexy and smart. We loved her first for her wide deep mind. And then later for everything else that we were yet not. She was older than us and sophisticated and intellectual. 

She was a feminist. She was this amazing woman we got to sit with for hours each week and like baby sponges, we studied her vernacular, her cadence. We bought all the books she told us about and used new yellow highlighters to make the text pop out at us. We used new words. Subtext. Patriarchy. Misogyny. We wanted the words to leap off the page and start a fight with all the drunken frat boys at Ohio University who only wanted us for our tits.

We told her in secret that we were going to be famous writers and she agreed and tiny little tears fell into her every present drink. She drank brown bourbon in crystal glasses. Or deep red wine in stem ware that we did not yet own. She had an apartment that was made of books.

We asked her to advise us on a project that we were working on and she said yes, without flinching. And then later she let us down. Like we all do. She showed us her innately human side and we looked away, horrified that she was not perfect.  

And there were more like her, women who allowed me in, saw things in me that must have reminded them of what they used to think or be. And we all chip away at each other and take whatever we can before it’s too late. I think mentoring in the writing world is giving it away or being a muse. This is not the fucking Jr. League- this is being a writer and you gotta get what you can. I am fine with someone taking from me. Take it baby. Make it your own. I've been giving it away for years. I am fine with it taking a long time to become what you are to me. I fine with free trade inspiration highways.

Ghosts. Later, years later, sentences or phrases or full on conversations will rattle around in your mind. Or you will remember the way she looked on her sofa, in big sweaters, with short wild hair and you will write a poem about her. Because you loved her. You love all the mentors or muses you have had. You even love into the future. You know they always come.

You could have swallowed them whole. You could have stayed in their arms forever. But only you couldn't because the way a writer works is to keep moving on and finding the next greatest thing. 

But you don’t you take it and really run away.

You have to give it back, pay it forward to someone else.

And here and now it is online where the share happens

I go back to the time when I was needy.

Yesterday.

Five minutes ago.

This heady second.