Perception and Reality

When I was a younger teacher in my early forties, our English Department Coordinator died suddenly of a stroke.  She was fifty years old.  Lori was a formidable woman, both loved and revered on campus, but also feared.

kitten, lionShe was the final authority on all things pertaining to the English language – curriculum and text books, reading lists and grammar construction.  We all stood a bit in awe of her.

About a decade later, when I was appointed Department Coordinator of the same group of English teachers, I remembered Lori and how stolid and authoritative she had been. She was the person on campus who was always at every dance, every sports game and tailgate party, every important committee meeting.

I neither could nor wanted to follow in her footsteps.  I knew I had to make my own stamp on the high school campus and follow my own teaching journey.

My principal, upon appointing me, gave me some sage advice:  The perception of power, he said, was far more important than the reality.  I learned how true his words were.perception is reality

Whenever I made a comment or decision, teachers and staff suddenly gave more weight to my words than they had before, even though my philosophies and ideas hadn’t changed.

I realized it was the mantle of authority that people responded to, not the person herself; the perception rather than the reality.

An accessible and widely anthologized poem by American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson which shows this disconnect between perception and reality:  Simon and Garfunkel set the lyrics to music which you can listen to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euuCiSY0qYs from their “Sounds of Silence” album.Sounds of Silence

RICHARD CORY

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

silouhette

Lori had been a great mentor to me, and now that I’m older than she was when she died, I realize how very young she was to leave this earth.  Now, by virtue of age, I am a role model and advisor to young mothers, young teachers, young writers.  The prospect is both rewarding and frightening and often carries an unwanted burden.

What experiences have you had with the concept of perception and reality?  Has your initial impression of someone or something changed with time and reflection?

Do you have someone in your life who’s acted as a mentor to you or to whom you are a mentor?

Posted in , ,

Comments

30 Comments

  • Mozette says:

    What a great reflection on this topic you’ve written… and it’s very true.

    I was part of the Logan Writers’ Guild when it first began in a drafty old garage with only 7 members in the middle of winter. It took so long to get off the ground and we put up with all kinds of crap.
    But the Guild made it! I was on the committee for a long time as Librarian and unofficial book-hunter. I was also the person new members flocked to because I was the most friendly-looking.

    When I left to make my own path in writing, it wasn’t taken well. In fact, the committee members pretty much told me to take a flying leap. Gee… how… um… nice? I told them to get stuffed (in other more colourful words – as you can well imagine). I had been with this LWG for over 15 years and it was time for me to be on my own and do my own stuff/shit… you know – write the great Australian novel! 😀

    Well… months passed and I found out that the LWG pretty much crumbled after I left. I was the glue that kept that group together. It’s now non-existent because I jumped off the wagon there and its wheels fell off, and it went broke because they had the wrong kind of president to lead it (she made it go broke) and I really didn’t want to go back.

    However, when somebody who used to be a part of it sees me, they ask me why I left. I tell them that it was for the best. I do visit other groups and they can see where I’ve come with my writing… how well I’m doing. However, having a huge time with the Logan Writers’ Guild in my life would never have made me the writer I have become without being involved with them (does that make sense?).

    And you know, I never knew I had that affect on such a group of people… I’ve never been the glue before in a group. 🙂 It’s kinda humbling to know I was.

    • Mozette says:

      OOOOOHHHH!

      The GR is coming to visit me!

      Well! I better hide the chocolate! And I hope he doesn’t mind hanging out with me while I watch ‘Supernatural’ on dvd. 😀

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks for sharing, Mozette. The Logan Writers’ Guild is now defunct? Can you tell us more about it? I always think it’s a shame when a good organization goes belly up, but I guess some just outlive their time.

      • Mozette says:

        Sure!

        We had two presidents – Brian and Brian (yeah, funny I know! – and they ran the Logan Writers’ Guild like a tight ship. One of them had been to Vietnam, the other was a Navy man – so you can see where the tight ship thing came from.

        They were the best people to run it! Once it was off the ground, we had a populous of around 35 people – financial and non-financial – and we met on the first Friday night of each month. We had homework, had to bring in some writing we were working on and read it out… no longer than 500 words. Some of us were poets (which broke off into another group called The Logan Poet’s Society) and I scored myself the nickname ‘Red’ because we had 3 Lynda’s!!! Wow! So, there was a name that stuck with me well throughout my life!

        When I had a melanoma operation in 1996, and I showed up with a walking stick, everyone was shocked! The presidents helped me to a seat and allowed me to stay seated for my part of the homework… seeing that getting up and sitting down all the time was difficult for me. I think I realised then they saw me kind of like their own daughter; and hated to see me go through this kind of pain.

        Then the two Brian’s left after saying they needed to live their own lives and hand the presidency onto somebody else. We all understood; and this is where it all started to fall apart.
        Anyone who tried to take over just couldn’t fill the rather enormous boots that were left for them to fill. However, we did find one committee did it when the Logan City Council became our Patron and helped us financially… and we floated along pretty well, until one president was voted in and embezzled almost all the funds of the LWG! What we didn’t know was that he was halfway through Bankrupcy (which in this country means you can’t work anywhere near money – not even through a volunteer organisation). He nearly ran us broke! He was impeached (which I don’t ever want to do to somebody ever again!) and the lady who took over ran the LWG into the ground by unincorporating… this means we lost our insurance, lost our financial footing with the community and lost any credibility with the Logan City Council. We also lost our patron… stupid woman. We lost all our money because of her.

        By this time, I had left because there was so much back-stabbing and sniping in the group, I just didn’t want to be a part of it – I just wanted to be a writer and be with other writers socially. It just wasn’t happening… and she was the one who told me to take a flying leap (real nice!).

        Well, there you go… the group is defunct because of bad management. It could have been a great thing – but because of greed, dreadful personalities and clashing personalities and making everything too personal, it fell down. 🙁

  • Jo Robertson says:

    We’re having another hot day here in northern Cal — low 100’s, but still …

    I think everyone’s recuperating from the exciting week at National. I know here in the Lair, we’re pretty exhausted. I am — and I didn’t even make it to San Antonio this year. But the clever stories about conference spinning around the Lair are making me LOL.

  • Susan Sey says:

    Good morning, Jo! This is a great topic, & one that particular interests me. I’m a woman, & a small one at that. I look very young & have been waiting for years to come into my authority. I’m still waiting, honestly, but I think that’s more a function of who I am (more beta than alpha, certainly.)

    That said, I did have an interesting experience with perception & power several years ago. I was teaching outdoor education, & had a cabin full of inner-city 5th graders in a little cabin in the woods. It was after midnight & a wicked storm was raging outside. We could hear the pines creaking in the wind, & the lightning & thunder were all but simultaneous. We were really in the thick of it.

    I heard the whimpering, & I said, “Settle down, everybody. It’s just a storm. Go back to sleep. I’m here.”

    And by god, Jo, they went back to sleep. Because I told them I was THERE. As if my physical presence was enough to keep a tree from creaming us in the night.

    It was an eye-opener, though, in terms of the authority my words held with these kids. They trusted me, & it impressed me a great deal. Made me very careful with my words so as not to abuse that trust, or take it for granted.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    What a beautiful story, Susan! Thanks for sharing.

    Sometimes just the voice of assurance is all kids want. Cuz, uh, we know you’d blow away in a strong wind, girl.

    As you know my middle daughter lives in Jersey City and they have loads of opportunities to work with inner city kids. These kids are always hanging out at their apartment, doing their homework there, grabbing a snack.

    When I asked Kennan if that didn’t drive her bonkers (she has three children of her own), she said simply, “This is the only really safe place they have to go.”

    So sad and beautiful at the same time.

  • catslady says:

    In many cases I don’t think we know what lives we have touched. Think of all the people you have met in your lifetime – the comments you have made. For good or bad but hopefully more that left those with something for the better.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Hopefully, that’s true, Catslady. I always tell my kids that the past is the past. You have to move forward.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    So, I’m surprised with all the writers visiting our blog that no one’s had a mentor. It’s almost impossible to go through this industry without a guide.

    Mine is the lovely Brenda Novak, whom I’ve known for nearly 30 years. Of course, she was an infant at the time LOL.

  • Helen says:

    Jo

    A great post and I so agree with you I don’t think I have had a mentor although I have had lots of family members and friends that I have looked up to and often asked them for advice and I do the same for them.

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Jo, what a lovely thoughtful post. I love it when you get all deep and philosophical! Love the picture of the kitten looking at the lion in the mirror. Sometimes it’s a lion looking at a kitten!

    I’ve had lots of mentors in my life and I’ve valued every one. I think my first mentor was my grade six and seven primary school teacher Neil Campbell (only realized well after choosing my pseudonym that it was partly a tribute to him). He encouraged me to write and made me think I had something to offer. It really makes a difference when someone has faith in you!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Thanks for those kind words, Anna. It’s definitely great to have someone believe in you, especially if it’s not family because, you know, they HAVE to believe in you!

      I had many school teachers who inspired me and probably why I went into education. My 11th grade English teacher taught me everything about language and writing that I needed to know, but it was my high school students who really taught me how to write by My teaching THEM. So odd, huh?

  • Jo, what a great post. The most recent example of perception shift I can cite is getting a book published. Some regard unpublished writers as somehow not having a valid claim to the the title of writer. Others, even in RWA, regard the unpublished as the great unwashed, untalented masses. Sell one book, and the perceptions of both groups change.

    I’ve been lucky to have several people graciously offer ongoing advice. The late A.C. Crispin is one good example.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      That’s so true, Nancy. It makes you wonder how many great writers are out there languishing for lack of an audience. Publishing is definitely one of those part talent, part luck endeavours.

      • I think so, but self-publishing at least lets people get out there and show what they’ve got. I’ve read some fabbo self-pubbed books, many of them from here in the Lair and of course including yours, Jo.

        • Jo Robertson says:

          Aww, thanks, Nancy. I have two and the fact that an independent writer won a Rita (maybe two writers did?) shows that there’re good and bad writers in all sorts of publishing platforms.

          I think the best way to get recommended books is by word of mouth, which our Banditas and Buddies do so well!

  • Shannon says:

    When I was applying for a job, I reached out to two women who I respected. Both provided me good advice–what to do, what not to do, and the importance of saying thank you.

    When I first got into the working world as a professional as opposed to a secretary, I felt like I was an imposter. I kept wondering when they would figure out that I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t know when that feeling went away, but it is nice to feel comfortable in my own skin.

    I am in a group where from time to time I share my experiences, my strengths, and my hopes. It is rare, but on occasion someone tells me that I helped them. They gave me a card that in part said, if you would be happy for a day, go fishing… if you would be happy for a lifetime, help another.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Beautiful sentiment, Shannon. I have definitely known that feeling of wondering when someone would discover I don’t know what I’m doing — whether writing, teaching, rearing kids or whatever.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    The perception figure on the blog shows either two persons facing one another or a white candlestick holder.

    Which one did you see first?

  • Becke says:

    Jo,
    Compelling topic. My dad’s words, “Everything is based on perceived value.”

    I believe we receive wisdom with age. I used to worry about my perception to others. Was I too chatty? Did I seem stupid? And on and on. One day it occurred to me that everyone else was concerned with their world and no one was that concerned with me. It was very liberating.
    b

    • Becke, not worrying about what other people think is a blessing. I’m still not to the point where I can manage it as much as I’d like.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      Wise words from your father, Becke. I think that’s so true; everything is filtered through our own personal experiences and one person’s reality is different from another.

      What do they say, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”?

  • Great topic, Jo, and one of my favorite poems. Favorite for the simple truths it holds. You never truly someone until you walk a mile in their moccasins. (My Creek Mawmaw always said that.) And nothing and no one is ever as good or bad as you think. Everyone is something more and something less than they show the world. Took me a while to learn that. I try very hard not to judge people whether their treatment of me and behavior where I am concerned is good or bad. I don’t always succeed. But I try.

    I have been so very fortunate on my writing journey to have a number of people act as my mentor and guide. Diane Gaston has spent hours on the phone with me, often in the middle of the night, discussing agent decisions, submission decisions and all manner of writer concerns. Her mentorship is all the more precious to me as her THE MYSTERIOUS MISS M is one of the reasons I decided to write historical romance, long before I met Diane. And La Divina Campbell has also been a mentor and sounding board for me over these many years. She is beyond generous with her time and experience and I love her dearly for it. Grace Burrowes has recently become a mentor to me by way of a critique I won at the Moonlight and Magnolias conference. She could have simply sent me a critique and been done with it, but we have spent a great deal of time online via Facebook messaging taking my manuscript apart and discussing ways to improve it. The Banditas have been mentors as well. Your honest posts on so many aspects of the writing world and your encouragement and belief in me have kept me going when I truly wanted to quit. All of these women are very busy writers. The fact they take time out of their busy schedules to help me is a debt I can never really repay.

    I think I was often thought of as a pushover in the opera company because I was one of the few Americans and I tried very hard to be accommodating. I think they believed I was not confident in my talent and my ability to sing a lead role. It wasn’t until I went “diva” and stormed off the stage during a dress rehearsal vowing not to return if the lead tenor stayed. (He was lazy, not very talented and a real “*itch!) To everyone’s surprise, including mine, the director decided to replace the tenor rather than me. From that moment on, I was treated with respect and a little fear (LOL) and gratitude from the tenor’s understudy – it was his debut role. To quote Stephen King “Sometimes being a high flying *itch is all a woman has going for her.”

  • Jo Robertson says:

    That’s a great King quote, Louisa. I, too, am grateful for all the people who’ve been generous enough to share their expertise with me on my writing journey. I’ve heard it said — and it’s true! — that romance writers are the most generous of all writers.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    I just have to add, Louisa that you’ve led such an interesting and diverse life that I’m always eager to hear your stories!