Small-crowd Mentorship

Monday is our grad program’s “Community Day,” a day of pre-semester conversation to set up the collegial mood that will sustain us throughout the year. I am both happy and sad (not tearfully so): it will be fifth and final such gathering I attend at SU.

I’m slotted in the afternoon for an informal ten-minute spiel concerning “experiences finding and working with mentors and building relationships.” And I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, especially about the options available given such a specious invitation. I’ve had experiences. I can identify several really terrific influences–a long list of folks, academics and non-, who have shepherded me in various ways through this program of study.

Best to list a few? Name names? Cut straight to anecdotes? I have considered this, thought about zeroing in on three off-site mentors who helped me to think differently about what I was setting out to do back in 2004 when coursework got underway. Maybe begin with John Lovas….

But the list is long, and I expect that there will be a lot of this sort of thing on Monday–naming of names, recounting how thus-and-such has been such a beacon, etc. It’s hard to avoid. We’re largely accustomed, it seems to me, to talking about mentoring relationships at the scale of person-to-person.

Fine, so I will probably do some of it, too. Only a little bit. Because I’m also interested in getting at a larger proposition–that my program of study, because of non-directed networked writing practices, has been shaped tacitly by a large number of people (viz., the blogroll and reciprocal Delicious network). Many of these encounters are fleeting, serendipitous, casual, and gift-like. An aggregated subscription to 20 or so Delicious users’ links, a pseudonymous comment posted to Yellow Dog, a syllabus for a course at Purdue, a blogged call for a conference. None of this is especially directed at me, and yet, at the very same time, much of it is and has been. Is this mentorship? Seems so. It’s a sort of opt-in presencing, a manner of dwelling, of doing stuff not because anyone said you should. And I am tempted to say that those passing characterizations of online narcissism, vanity, or self-aggrandizement (wherever they lurk, usually in “that’s not for me” conversations) tend to dodge, downplay, or under-value this point about tacit, small-crowd mentorship I am trying to develop. I can’t definitively put a finger on what sustains it. Desire? A blend of interests (self-interest among them)? Whatever it is–in terms of mentorship–it has left me with a sure sense that my program of study would have been drastically different without it.