In the competitive and, at times, daunting industry of media and communications we Emerson students are lucky to have such people as mentors. Mentors are defined as experienced and trusted advisors who are there to simply help you out. (Some famous mentor/mentee relationships include Dumbledore and Harry Potter, Gandalf and Frodo, and Yoda and Luke Skywalker.)
The benefits of having a mentor are pretty everlasting. Some are strictly work related. They see your potential and they go over your manuscript with you, give you advice on job interviews or point you the right way. Other mentors can be more spiritual or emotional and concentrate more on you as an individual, your relationships and your health.
In either case, a mentor is a person who knows what is going on when you are wandering aimlessly. They’re the hand pointing you in the right direction, someone to listen, a name to put down as a reference on an application.
As students hanging out in Boston and attending such focused classes we’ve all got people in our lives who we admire the hell out of. I think the trick to forming a stronger relationship with them is to very simply keep in touch. The person (be him or her a professor, a relative or a yoga instructor) is obviously really cool and experienced if they’ve impressed you so much. Ask them out to coffee to talk about their work or get their email. Just keep in contact!
Whether or not you’ve found a someone to ask advice from I have decided to let you borrow my mentor, Suzy Chamandy, for some quick advice. I met Suzy at the University of Virginia’s Young Writer Workshop two summers ago where she was teaching fiction. When I moved to Boston (where she lived) we continued to email and meet up.
Since then, Suzy has again encouraged not just my writing but my position as a writer. She’s extremely supportive and kind. I think perhaps one of the most important things a mentor can do for you is to respect and help harvest your work. As a writer and psychotherapist, Suzy has always been there for me to bounce ideas off of or simply receive priceless advice from. I admire her greatly as well as the amazing work she has done.
In this short interview, Suzy talks about finding time to write, strength and the personal choices each artist has to make in his or her life.
Chloe: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in your professional/work life? How did you overcome it?
Suzy Chamandy: My greatest challenge is an ongoing one – how to fit in time to write with my regular 9-5 professional job. My job as a psychotherapist (in a college counseling center) can be demanding, and I find writing at the end of the work day very difficult to do. Early mornings are the only time I’m fresh enough to write. Early mornings are the only time I find I’m fresh enough to write.
As a professor and psychotherapist what do you think is the most important thing for young people to know/learn?
I always tell young people — whether I counsel them or not — to seek help when they need it, whether they need help because they’re feeling anxious or depressed or overwhelmed, or because they need help thinking through a job search, for instance, or exactly what degree to pursue to do the work they want to do. My advice: Talk to someone who might know more than you do and can help you problem solve. There’s no need to go it alone.
Writing and other artistic occupations are very competitive. What would you have to say to students struggling to find work in their field?
Writers handle the issue of how to pay the bills while also pursing their art in different ways. I decided that I needed a steady job, a profession that paid me enough to feel fulfilled. I went back to school to get a Masters in Social Work degree so that I could be a counselor. And I fit my fiction writing around that work. It happens that counseling seems to require some of the same skills I use in fiction writing – which makes it a neat fit, a very satisfying fit. I know writers who have put their all into their art. They take more writerly jobs (freelance journalism or teaching composition, for instance) to pay the bills, and they have a bit more time to write more consistently than I do. Some have succeeded as writers and some less so, but I think for them the pursuit of art has been fulfilling. It’s a very personal decision each writer has to make.
What is one of you proudest professional moments and why?
I guess I think of myself as having two different professional lives. There’s my work as a psychotherapist and then my work as a writer (and a teacher of writing during the summer). My proudest moment as a writer came when one of my stories was anthologized in a collection of stories put together when the journal the story had originally appeared in closed. That felt good. That recognition felt really good. My professional life as a psychotherapist gives me proud moments fairly often. I’m proud when I can make a real connection with another person, when I can establish a rapport and help the student to get more settled or stable or understand herself better or just feel more accepting of herself. That’s a big deal for a person. Those moments make counseling really satisfying work.
In general, what do you think makes a strong woman?
I think the same qualities that make any person strong – independence, resilience in the face of obstacles, clear principles and the fortitude to stand up for them.
Any other advice, or things you want to say to college students?
Pursue your interests with vigor; seek input from others, always keep learning.
Suzy received a BA in English Literature from Boston University, an MFA in Fiction writing from The University of Virginia and also an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Iowa. She has taught fiction writing to undergraduates at the University of Virginia, the University of Iowa as a graduate fellow, and fiction writing at the UVA Young Writers Workshop for ten summers. Now she works as a psychotherapist at Newbury College where she has been counseling for eight years.