Welcome to the historic Episode 20 of Navigating the Fustercluck—a podcast full of snackable insights to help you navigate the topsy/turvy world of creativity.
My name is Wegs, like eggs with a W, joining you from Deaf Mule Studios in Dallas, we’re here to pick up on our last episode that focused on the benefits and some of the ground rules of mentorship. This time I’d like to honor some of the amazing mentors that I’ve had the good fortune to know over the years.
Back in junior high, I was a bright, but moody kid who wasn’t quite sure how to express himself. That’s when I met Carl Young. Mr. Young was my 9th grade English teacher. A true teacher. Someone whose journey fortunately overlapped with mine.
Before teaching from a grammar book, Mr. Young had been teaching from the Good Book. He was a minister. Answering not only to his God, but to General George S. Patton. Yep, Mr. Young was a minister in WWII who would come to to know as much profanity as parables and prophecies.
Sometime later, he gave up his collar and the army for kids and the blackboard jungle. Eventually, he became a principal. But he loved teaching so much that after retiring, he went back into the classroom. I’m guessing that at the time he was somewhere in his late ‘60’s or 70’s. And I was in one of his last classes. It had about 30 students and 300 books strewn about. Like me, he was a voracious reader. Sometimes, he’d give me a title or two he thought I’d enjoy. I told him that I give them back. He told me, I don’t have enough time to reread them all. You take them.
The reason Mr. Young gave me books from his personal collection was he thought that I could write. I discovered this as other teachers started to compliment me on my weekly creative writing assignments as I was walking down the hallway. This confused me. Even pissed me off a little, because I was so private, read insecure, about my writing. Looking back, it should have been a compliment. Regardless, it gave me the idea that I could become a writer. And eventually I did. Starting out my advertising career as a copywriter.
Besides books, Mr. Young gave me confidence. Encouragement. A vision and direction for the future. Turned out, he was a pretty major figure in my life. Yet, it took me years to appreciate him enough to attempt to reach out. I called Lance Junior High to try to track him down. For security reasons they declined. But they connected me with a teacher who had been mentored by him when she first started out.
My fear was that she would tell me that my old mentor was dead. He was not! I was thrilled! Until she continued. Turned out that while Mr. Young was still alive, he was in the throes of dementia and wouldn’t remember me, since he couldn’t remember who he was.
I was devasted. But the young teacher was kind enough to give me the address of his wife and son. I understand that they appreciated the letter very much. Still, if only I had come to appreciate this dedicated educator who got through to me at critical point in my life. From time-to-time, it still gnaws at me.
Hear ye! Hear ye!
Let me tell thou about the next mentor I want to share with you, Linda McFeters. A Renaissance woman, literally. She co-owns 3 Renaissance fairs. I met “Fetes” as Linda is fondly called, back when I was in high school, and worked for her each summer during my high school and college years. I helped run 40 food & beverage booths. Back then, Renaissance Fairs were like the last bastion of a tribe often described as the last of the American Gypsies. A ragtag group of talented misfits, many living off the grid.
It was hard to attract good workers to man our kiosks when local mothers thought their kids might be kidnapped or brainwashed by these folks. That wasn’t really the case, but nonetheless, parents were protective. While we had a lot of great kids, some were without a lot of direction. They were the “burners”, the “potheads”, in general, the outsiders looking in.
While it may have been a Renaissance Fair, sometimes it was more like a 3-ring circus. It took a great leader to keep it all together. Fetes was that leader.
I learned by watching her treat everyone with respect. Many of whom hadn’t received it in a long time.
I learned by watching her give supposed misfits a place to fit in. To get a chance to succeed. To show their best.
And no matter what I never, ever saw her panic. Even when we ran out of pizza sauce in the middle of our rush hour.
Fetes came into our main kitchen, assessed the situation and created a new menu item: “Sweet Pizza”. A dish not seen in the Renaissance or any other time. No, the main ingredient of Sweet Pizza was Ketchup. Yup, Ketchup. And while some people demanded a refund upon their first bite, a surprising number actually liked it. We even had a few people come at later dates and request Sweet Pizza! Amazing!
Talk about keeping your head and finding the best solution possible.
Beyond all that, Linda was the first lesbian I knew. Or at least to come out to me. And this was long before it was socially acceptable. People talked, but Fetes wasn’t ready to open up to everyone. I’m proud that I had earned her trust. Again, I learned about respect. And I learned about inclusion. Not to mention loyalty.
When I finally hung up my puffy shirt and ended my Renaissance career, Fetes presented me with a beautiful gold watch I wore for years. And 30 some years after I left, she sent two-dozen roses to my father’s funeral. She continues to teach me to this day.
Let’s Take a Short Breather… (EXHALE.)
…We’re here at Deaf Mule Studios to remind everyone that this is Navigating the Fustercluck. And I’m Wegs, your world-weary host hoping that you can avoid many of the mistakes I’ve made during my otherwise adventurous career. Now back to the show with one final thought on mentorship: Thank them. Early and often. Most importantly, while they’re here. Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t.
Well, that about wraps up our 20th episode of Navigating the Fustercluck.
Here from Deaf Mule Studios, I’m your host, Wegs, like eggs with a W, thank you so very much for listening in. Until then, please feel free to reach out to us on Twitter at NavigatingF. Remember, we’re all in this together, so thanks for doing your best to buck the cluck. Here’s to you. Here’s to the future.