The Loft Mentor Series: Navigating the River Together

Mark Anthony Rolo

Mark Anthony Rolo

I had competed to be a Loft Mentor Series participant for many years, but now that I had been selected as a 2013-2014 Mentor Series Winner, a ‘so what’ attitude misted over me. I hate to even admit it because it sounds as if I didn’t care that I’d won. I did care. That’s why I paddled like heck against the wind and upstream to reach my destination. Now, that I had won, I pulled my paddles into the canoe, and drifted into the eddy.

Winning hadn’t changed me. My circumstances hadn’t changed. And, I had no idea if I would change during the Mentor Series. Nothing was promised.

All I knew is that I didn’t have to paddle anymore. That was unbelievable to me.

A potluck would be my introduction into the Mentor Series. I didn’t know any of the winners personally and I knew only one of the mentors, Mary Rockcastle.

Mary greeted the others and me as if she were an ambassador to the program. She has a knack for making a person feel good. If her gig as Hamline’s MFA writing program director doesn’t work out, she could be an emissary. She’s comfortable discussing a wide range of topics from colonoscopies to colloquiums. How can you not feel at home? Whatever nervousness I had in joining this potluck dissipated quickly.

Mark Anthony Rolo, nonfiction mentor, and Vanessa Ramos, Loft program manager, were the last to arrive.

Vanessa’s smile and effervescent personality is visceral. I was drawn toward her.

Waiting for Mark was nerve wracking. He was the person I would be working with for a year. I had read his book, felt as if I knew his past, which wasn’t that different from mine. But what if I didn’t like him? Do you like every writer you meet?

Mark isn’t hard to miss. He looks like his book jacket cover. He’s big. And, his dog is big.

What is it that some people possess that as soon as they walk into a room you feel at ease? It is almost as if their energy is forging the way and their physical self comes after. Mark has that characteristic.

Right away, I could tell Mark was accessible.

Mark Anthony Rolo and Rock

Mark Anthony Rolo and Rock

He didn’t put on airs that he was different from anyone in the room, and he had done his homework. He knew what piece of writing belonged to each of us. I made a quick note to myself to get my paddles in the water because I was about to be left in the eddy while he and others traveled on. I hadn’t read anyone’s work.

All of a sudden, I knew what the Mentor Series was about. It was about learning, supporting, and paddling to the next marker. People who could help me get there surrounded me. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t going against the wind. I wasn’t going upstream. Instead, I was embraced by other canoeists and we could navigate the river together.

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