Over the weekend, I discovered that my first real mentor had shuffled off his mortal coil. Ron Geisheimer was a high school drama teacher, so he would have loved the use of that expression. Mr. G., as he was known to his students, was the very first person ever to challenge me. He saw worth in my scribbles and pushed me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to acknowledge that – contrary to the desires of my overbearing stepfather – my future lay in the Arts.
I won my very first award – for playwriting – in 1978, because of Mr. G. Through his encouragement, I took that play all the way to nationals and, though I didn’t win that award, the experience ignited in me a desire that continues to burn brightly to this day. Later that same year, he took a small group of his theater students to New York City where we saw Raul Julia on Broadway, as Dracula, had tea with Carol Channing on the set of Mame, and sat in on a dance class given by Martha Graham. We never questioned how he made these things happen. It was Mr. G. That was his gift.
His goal was to show us what was attainable and to help us realize our potential. It didn’t matter that we lived in a tiny New Mexico town that rarely ever showed up on maps. We were children of a vast and multifaceted universe and we could be anything we wanted to be, if we could just imagine it. His goal was realized. It was during that very auspicious year that I truly began to understand just how diverse the world was and that my place in it was not dictated by small town morés or negative thinking.
And in the months that followed, as I challenged my stepfather’s authority over me, refusing to walk his path and suffering the consequences of my rebelliousness, it was Mr. G. who picked me up, brushed me off and pushed me forward to forge the path I had chosen for myself. I wasn’t the only student he encouraged. I was one of many. His encouragement allowed small town misfits to broaden their horizons and truly achieve. To me, that is the true definition of a teacher.
I don’t know much about Mr. G. beyond those years, except what trickled down from old classmates and family still living in my hometown. I know he eventually became a high school principal and, apparently, was the Executive Director of the very theater where I had my very first job decades before. Beyond that, I only have memories of his encouragement and his tenacity. He was one of the first to bring me out of my shell and pushed me toward college, even going so far as to secure a small scholarship that allowed me to realize my dream. If not for him, college would not have been an option.
It was there, at New Mexico State University, that I really came into my own. It was there that I met my second important mentor, the poet laureate Kevin Wilson, who continued Mr. G’s work and molded me into the writer I am today. It was under Professor Wilson’s tutelage that I achieved my very first byline in a national magazine in 1983. I would like to believe both of those exceptional men would have been proud of my accomplishments since then. I never thought to say thank you to either of them, but their legacies live on through me.
This year will mark the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation. That would have been the last time I saw Mr. G. The lessons he taught me were not on any curriculum. His was the way of encouragement, reassurance and support. He instilled in me a love of theater and of writing. He taught me never to look back, but always forward, because that’s where opportunities lie. Most importantly, he made this small town boy believe that anything was possible, if he just set his mind to it.
The stage is a little bit darker now, but I think Mr. G. would be pleased to know his light continues to shine. Not only through my own work, but also through the work of those I have mentored over the years.