I’ve been thinking a lot about friends this week, probably because one of my closest working friendships has just undergone a huge change. Monday was my friend Pat’s last day as a high school teacher. I’ve written about my relationship with Pat before ~ I was 36 years old when we started working together, and in many ways, she educated me right along with those high school students. She was my musical mentor, the first one I’d had since my high school days. She encouraged me to shed my fears, use my talents, and believe in myself, and in the process we became close friends as well as colleagues.
I was also thinking about friendships in the context of writing. I’ve been re-reading a biography of the poet Anne Sexton which talks about her friendship with Maxine Kumin, whom she met in a poetry workshop in 1957. The “extraordinary bond” which developed between these two women, was to become “the most important relationship in Sexton’s life as a poet.” Sexton, riddled with emotional problems and depression, was writing poetry as a therapeutic exercise, not a vocation. Kumin, a published poet, read Sexton’s poetry and saw something “whole and quivering on the page – it was just wonderful.” This validation from a “real poet,” gave Sexton the impetus to consider herself a poet as well. In later years, after Sexton began to write (and publish) prolifically, she and Kumin had “special phones installed on their desks,” which they used to stay connected with each other as they worked throughout the day, trying out lines and drafts across the wires. “We sometimes connected with a phone call and kept the line linked for hours at a stretch,” Kumin recalled. “We whistled into the receiver for each other when we were ready to resume.” This extraordinary friendship was to remain one of the few constants in Sexton’s life until her death by suicide in 1974.
One of the most valuable keys to success is having someone who believes in you and your ability ~someone you admire and respect ~ to encourage you to keep working, try harder, believe in yourself. Participating in this “brave new world” of online writing gives us an opportunity to find mentors all over the world. I am fortunate to have a special blogger friend who takes the time to encourage me with emails and words of praise, sharing her thoughts about things I have written that have touched or inspired her in some way, nudging me toward future writing goals. In much the same way that my friend Pat encouraged me to overcome my stage fright and approach that big nine foot grand piano with excited anticipation rather than anxious insecurity, she has inspired me to keep writing, to try poetry and haiku, and even to dabble in other creative projects as well.
So, what about you? Do you have some creative buddies who have made a difference in your life?
BTW, I’ve been thinking about friendships for another reason~ later today, I’m flying to Florida with my friend Millie, another “musical mentor” who has become a close and trusted friend. For the past several years, we’ve taken a few days each January and gone on a “girls retreat” -lots of reading, walking by the water, movies, a spa day, good food and wine … you get the idea. So, if you don’t see too much of me here at the Byline, don’t worry ~ I’m just too busy sunning myself to write!