A Good Mentor Gives You Rope

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Apr 26, 2011 in , , | 3 Comments

We are happy to present the second in our series of guest bloggers.

The bloggers will be giving you a glimpse into their personal mentor/mentee experiences. Some spotlighted relationships may have grown into deep personal friendships, while others might be purely business in nature–mentees observing their mentor at work. No matter the depth of the relationship, mentees will testify to the importance of their mentors. Guest blog posts will appear, sporadically, but always on a Tuesday. 

Please welcome Marco Martinez-Galarce, a resident of the Santa Cruz-Monterey Area, Mr. Martinez-Galarce is a talented fiction and nonfiction filmmaker/writer at Sin Zapatos Productions, and producer/director at Eileen Street Productions. A graduate of UCSC with a MFA from Columbia University, he is currently a lecturer at UCSC, taught at two other colleges and serves as a mentor to his students. You can see his work at Episodes Archive.

My Impresario, John Dizikes:

When I decided to invite the new Provost at Cowell College to our first Cowell College Cabaret at the start of that Fall term, the last thing I expected was that I would meet the man who would guide me, would teach me, and who would prove to be not only a mentor but also a friend for all the years to come.

John Dizikes had been appointed Provost at my College that previous summer, and to tell the truth, it was the kind of academic behind-the-scenes occurrence that simply didn’t register with most students, certainly not with me. However, despite being completely clueless about most things, I did understand that inviting the new head of the college to come and see my work might not be a bad move on my part, politically-speaking, which is what I did, and as a result I came to know the most supportive, understanding, challenging teacher and mentor I’ve ever had.

John is an American historian; he was one of the original members of the UC Santa Cruz faculty, having been hired by the celebrated Page Smith himself when the university first opened. When John and his lovely wife Anne took over the leadership of Cowell College, they truly turned their years in the provostship into an era, one that is still fondly cherished by one and all who were there, be they students, staff or faculty.

John taught me two very important concepts, concepts which have served me well as a film and theater director, and as a teacher: the power of saying ‘yes,’ and the wisdom of giving people enough rope to hang themselves.

Yes. It is true: when one says ‘yes,’ things happen! When one says ‘no,’ that is, more often than not, the end of the conversation. True power resides in saying ‘yes,’ no two ways about it. I’m always bemused by some folks, especially in academia, who seem to be enamored of the word ‘no.’ They think they are so muscular and forceful when they go about uttering ‘no’ to this and ‘no’ to that. That is not real power. When one has said ‘no,’ nothing happens, there’s nothing to be affected, guided nor modified – forget about something being learned. With ‘yes,’ things happen, things that one can then influence and change, refine and shape, especially the people involved. John Dizikes taught me this very powerful concept by the way he dealt with me.

Rope. Well, John certainly gave me sufficient rope to hang myself a few times over, and then some, and I certainly managed to do so often enough. And as a result, I learned that I actually had limits, and that when I crossed them there were consequences to be had. However, being able to push the proverbial envelop, as it were, rushing to meet my ‘limits’ and all of it, that was something that I also needed to learn, for it gave me a sense of how much capability I had in me. Truth is that I had never worked so dedicatedly in my life before I met John, for his constant belief in me made it literally impossible for me NOT to work myself to my very limits. The rope he so generously allowed me to have challenged me in more ways that I knew were possible, and the end result was that I learned to work hard and long, to pour my entire being into the task at hand, to push myself to the very edge of my being, all in the quest of excellence and achievement.

John used to tell people at UC Santa Cruz that he was but my “impresario,” and that was exactly what he was, my life’s impresario par excellence. He opened doors for me, promoted my case and my work, secured the necessary funds I required to mount every crazy theatrical project I thought of and proposed, made sure that the college and its community allowed me the use of any and all spaces in whatever insane ways I sought in order to make my theater, was a deep fountain of knowledge and wisdom from which I could always draw all I required, became my teacher, my advisor, my mentor, my friend.

However, the greatest impact John has had in my life has been in my teaching, for I have emulated him as best I could in how I deal with my own students. When I first got hired to teach at my Alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, foremost in my mind was how to find a way to honor John’s contribution to my own education, my work and my life, and it became clear that the best thing I could do to achieve just that was for me to try to do for my students what John Dizikes had done for me: Yes and rope.


Marco Martinez-Galarce, 2011