First Cup of Coffee – December 4, 2020
When Mentors Go Bad: Writing Advice Red Flags
This clematis I planted late last summer has been early to bloom this spring. Such a lovely new visitor to the garden!
Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is Paying it Forward: How We Serve as Mentors for Tomorrow’s New Writers. There’s lots of ways to do this, and I look forward to hearing what others of the SFF 7 say they do, but I want to come at this a little sideways by giving a warning about what is NOT helpful.
Rage, Impotence and Why Transparency Is Still Better
When I was in grad school, I drove this old Honda Accord that my folks passed on to me. It was a great car and I loved it. Got me everywhere, always started, great zippiness and gas mileage. At one point, I needed to replace the windshield and also some wheel bearings. I can’t recall why I did it this way (this was probably 25 years ago), except that I was poor, but I sourced a new windshield and the wheel bearings at a salvage yard in Greeley, Colorado. I lived in Laramie, Wyoming at the time – about 1.5 hr drive north of Greeley – so I drove down, picked up the parts and drove them down to Denver (another hour) to my mechanic to install. Denver is where I grew up and where my folks were, so I’m sure this made logistical sense at the time, timed with a visit to them. Why I wanted to go to that mechanic has totally escaped me.
Why I remember it at all is because, when the salvage guys loaded the windshield into the back seat, I helped position it. I closed the door on my side, then one of them closed the door on the other and I heard a crunch. I opened the door on that side and, sure enough, he’d closed it on the corner of the windshield and crushed it. I pointed this out and they pulled the windshield out again. The owner met with me in his office and said how I’d broken it. He was full of noise and bluster. I said it was crushed on the corner where his guy shut the door and he said, oh no, it broke down the middle. I said, no way! He looked me in the eye and said, “it’s in the Dumpster out back now, cracked down the middle.”
And I realized he knew he was lying and meant to bully me.
He offered to split the cost of the windshield with me – which meant I paid half for something I never even got – but I needed the wheel bearings, so I finally agreed. I drove off, fuming with rage and impotence, entirely uncertain what else I could have done.
Still makes me mad.
The point of this story is that it happened before smart phones and social media. I could – and did – tell everyone I knew what a crap operation that guy ran. But, if I’d had a camera phone then, I would have snapped a picture before they took the windshield away. I would have posted it to hell and gone on social media if they’d still tried to cheat me. I would have left a nasty review everywhere I could find.
As it was, I had no way to hold them accountable.
I see this as a vast change in the world. So many people are questioning why we see so much terrible stuff happening – cops beating innocents, protesters being bullied, bigots and racists spouting horrifying opinions – but I think that shit has been going on all this time. We just didn’t see it.
Instead we were all stuck with fuming in impotent rage, sucking up the hit, and moving on. We told our small circles, sure, but we had no way to broadcast the injustice to a larger world. In this day and age, that guy would never have gotten away with doing that to me.
All in all, for all its evils, I think the transparency is better.