Accidental Mentors: Epilogue
The circuitous journey from idea to online
If you’re new to Accidental Mentors, you can dive in anywhere you’d like, but I’d suggest you start here:
Sixty-five years, sixty-five women. That was my original goal. As it turned out, three years have passed since I originally conceived this project. It’s been quite a journey!
I published my first post about the concept of Accidental Mentors on May 24th, 2023. And here we are 106 days and 90 posts later. Ultimately, I wrote about sixty-seven women (I miscounted yesterday when I told you it was sixty-six! Whoops!), one bear, seven decades, and a few miscellaneous subjects.
I’m quite proud of this body of work, but most of all, I’m grateful for having been blessed with so many incredible role models.
In my original post, I wrote:
My goal in sharing these stories and reflections is to remind us that we are but a collection of interactions, influences, and inspirations. My hope is that in reading these short pieces, you will be reminded of how important each interaction we have is—that just like a monarch butterfly laying eggs on a milkweed plant, what you leave behind is just as important as what you take with you.
So many women gifted me their wisdom, creativity, and experience so I could grow into who I am today. I’m thankful for each one of them.
Reflections on the journey
This project ended up being much harder than I thought it would be. Creating the list was the easy part. When I describe this project, a common response is, “I’m not even sure I know sixty-five women.” My guess is that they do—and you do—know enough women to represent each year of your life, whatever your age is. I believe we’re all who we are because of those who have influenced us, inspired us, guided us, held us, loved us. And I believe we often don’t take the time to acknowledge those lessons and those people, especially the women.
I believe we’re all who we are because of those who have influenced us, inspired us, guided us, held us, loved us.
I hope this project let the women in my life know that I see them and appreciate them, before that is, someone might say something similar at their memorial service. It’s sad to me that three of the women, Carolyn, Hope, and Jeanne died before I could share their pieces with them. That provided me with extra motivation to finish the project.
So, yes, creating the list was no problem. Figuring out what to say about each woman? That was hard. Each piece required me to reflect more deeply than I had imagined on that relationship. Who were/are they in my life? What made them special to me? What did I remember about them? Was there a singular lesson/experience that stood out? What could I share publicly without betraying confidences?
When I started, I wrote general feelings, impressions, and thoughts about each person. A year and a half ago, I had written something about all sixty-five on my original list and thought I was done. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the project—how I might share it—but I felt it was complete. Little did I know what letting it marinate would do.
Enough procrastinating, despite the circumstances
Although losing three women motivated me to stop procrastinating and publish, I was still nervous about sharing the project. I had all kinds of concerns. How would the women feel about the project and their piece in it? What was the best way to get these stories out there? Would anyone else care about reading them? Were they good enough to share?
In early May of this year, I got another nudge from the universe to get my butt back in the writing chair. I recently published a piece about two fabulous doctors who guided me through a case of endometrial cancer five years ago. What I didn’t share is that a year after that diagnosis, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, it was also caught very early, so after a single mastectomy, I was cancer-free again.
My mother always said, if there’s two, there’ll be three, and she was right. In January of this year (2023), my oncologist found a tumor in my remaining breast, which required had a second mastectomy.
Even though all three tumors were determined to be unrelated—except I guess for the fact that they were all in my body—my doctor recommended a short course of preventative chemo. After considerable contemplation, research, and discussion, I decided to accept her recommendation. My first infusion was scheduled for May 26.
When I looked at the calendar, I realized that my treatment was going to run about sixty-five days. Hmmm, what else had the number sixty-five in it, I asked myself? It was at that moment I accepted that this was not a coincidence but a sign. I took a deep breath and designed my Substack website.
I decided I would start publishing Accidental Mentors on the day of my first infusion and publish concurrently with my course of chemo. I reasoned it would give me something positive to focus on—something other than the toxins coursing through my body. I was mostly right about that.
From a well-laid plan to perseverance
For the first couple weeks, I scheduled a week’s worth of posts and sat back until the next set was due. That’s how I imagined the whole summer going. I soon realized, however, that I couldn’t sustain that schedule.
Other than the first few posts that had already undergone substantial revision before this summer (and still needed more), the rest of what I’d written more than a year ago was, in the words of author Anne Lamott, “a shitty first draft.” The pieces contained lots of words but no scenes, sensory descriptions, or lively examples of the lessons I learned. They weren’t good enough to share.
That meant it wasn’t just a matter of a little polishing before scheduling each piece. Instead, I needed to deconstruct and reconstruct each one. I had to rethink the lesson I wanted to illustrate. Then I had to rummage through my memory, put myself back into the time I was writing about, and conjure up something the woman said or did that help convey what they’d taught me. Finally, I had to translate that into a picture my readers could see.
This process is a deeply spiritual journey as well as a writer’s process. Revisiting the times, places, and people can be emotional, as well as gratifying. My memory is not always as good as I wished it was, so coming up with examples sometimes taxed it beyond its capacity. Sometimes I couldn’t pull up an actual conversation, so I had to rely on what my memoir mentor, Anne-Marie calls “likely details.” I worked hard, however, to stay loyal to the truth as I remembered it.
This process is a deeply spiritual journey as well as a writer’s process. Revisiting the times, places, and people can be emotional, as well as gratifying.
I succeeded in some pieces and not as much in others, but overall, I’m pleased I took the time to revise and revise again.
Having an inhouse editor!
Thank the universe for my incredible editor wife. Wendy read and commented on each post (sometimes multiple times) with everything from where a comma goes (or doesn’t) to her gentle critique that I hadn’t yet demonstrated the lesson I’d named in what I’d written. Sometimes I argued but that rarely got me very far. She was right more often than not. I couldn’t have made it through without her.
When I felt most beleaguered by the chemo treatments and everything required more revision than I’d anticipated, I changed my publishing schedule to take weekends off. And then, when I couldn’t get a piece finished in time, I added in a few more random days off. I’m glad I gave myself this permission and happy Wendy supported each change.
When I almost stopped
Although I had my last infusion in July, that’s when this project began to feel like a slog. In fact, on July 31, I realized I still had twenty more women to write about. I wasn’t sure I could finish. I might have read into Wendy’s expression of surprise when I told her how much of the project remained as she got ready to return to school, but I’m not convinced she thought I could finish it either.
Maybe I needed to come back to it when I felt better, I thought, when I had more brain power to give to it, when I wasn’t pressuring myself to publish pieces that required so much work.
But then one of you who’d read a piece that inspired you, would make a comment, send me an email, or share a post on Facebook about how something I wrote touched you, and, magically, I felt a renewed surge of motivation. You made it all worthwhile. Thank you!
And one by one, day-by-day, we—Wendy, you, and I—did it! I couldn’t be more pleased!
But then one of you who’d read a piece that inspired you, would make a comment, send me an email, or share a post on Facebook about how something I wrote touched you, and, magically, I felt a renewed surge of motivation.
How you can catch posts you missed
If you missed any posts along the way, or if like my dear friend Sharon, you’d like to reread them for whatever reason, here they all are in chronological order. I encourage you to share any of them that move you.
I would love to hear from you!
Next week, I’ll share my plans for what’s next with Accidental Mentors and with my writing in general.
Between now and then, I want to hear from you. I would love to hear about how this project has inspired you. What have you enjoyed about? What, if anything, has bothered you about it? Who and what has it caused you to think about, remember, smile about? I’d love to hear anything and everything you’d like to share!
Thank you again for all your support! It means the world to me.
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