Volunteering as a mentor at Broad Ripple is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I remember the first few weeks of classes made me a tad nervous. I think that any person worth their salt should be nervous whenever they take on such a complicated role. We all come into these situations with personal demons and doubts. I wondered whether I could become a worthwhile mentor, what a worthwhile mentor is, whether it was one of those things someone either has or doesn’t have. I worried over the empty pages I’d been staring at for months. I simply didn’t know whether I could classify myself as I writer anymore, let alone as a writer that could help anybody with their writing.
After working a little over half of this semester, I can say I’ve matured as a person in subtle ways I wouldn’t have without my kids. I realize now mentoring is not what I first predicted. Half of the students I’ve encountered don’t hangout with us to write. Which is okay. It’s even fantastic. The fact of the matter is some of the students who are there need a mentor, not a writing mentor. They need an older person whom they don’t feel obligated to talk to, whom they can just talk with. Most of the time writing isn’t the point.
However, my writing has improved immensely as well. I’ve learned to be less serious when I do get the chance to write. I learned this from a boy named W—. He wrote one of my favorite lines the other day when our group wrote corny love letters for fun. He wrote something like “Your eyes are like pools of pure blue water and I’m afraid that if I lose myself in them I may never come up for air.” This kid has style and substance in his writing that I’ve felt is often lacking in mine. Working with him has made me realize that often times when I have writer’s block or when I feel held back for some reason that it is simply myself. I stop myself when I’m writing because I am over worried about the outcome. W— doesn’t, he just lets himself be himself.
I think that I could sum up the major lesson I learned during these few weeks I’ve had as a mentor as sometimes you need to just let be. If a student doesn’t want to write there is nothing you can do to make them write. Sometimes you need to just let them do what they need to do. If they want to talk, talk to them. If they want to sing, let them sing. If they just need a place to be themselves, let them have a place to be themselves. In other words—stop thinking about what others can learn from you and focus on the you can learn from others. The writing will follow.
Justin Woodcock is a junior English major.