Listen, I don’t mean to brag, but I kind of won the mother-in-law lottery. Sitting down to write about how Dorothy Mullen has inspired, supported or empowered me is a pretty overwhelming task, because there’s so much I could say.
Her life’s work, a Princeton, New Jersey-based nonprofit called The Suppers Programs, is all about providing people the skills and knowledge they need to fix their health by simply eating whole foods and reconnecting with loved ones at a shared dinner table. It is insanely inspiring to hear the dozens and dozens of stories of life-changing transformations that have taken place in Dorothy’s kitchen. Her devotion to her work is a huge inspiration to me as an entrepreneur, and my health has certainly benefited from her influence as well.
There’s also the small matter that she was the woman who raised Max -- my best friend, my life partner, and Written’s #1 supporter.
But instead, I’m going to call back to a moment nearly a decade ago, when Dorothy did something remarkable that set me on my journey to becoming the creative entrepreneur I am today.
In the summer of 2008, I spent a month in Princeton with Max, living under Dorothy’s roof. When I arrived at her door one day in late-May, we had only met once before, and Max and I had only been together for about a year. She immediately made me feel like I was one of the family, and put me to work in the garden and kitchen (a sure sign of love and acceptance in the Mullen house).
It seemed that anytime she wasn’t cooking, she was poring over her notes or working at her computer. One night she told me that she was trying to revise her manuscript for her book, but that she hated doing editing work — and that she wanted to pay me to do it for her.
Here’s who I was on the outside: an incoming senior English major, with a semester-long independent study thesis under my belt, blessed with an uncanny knack for finding typos and a love of refining phrasing until it rang clear as a bell.
Here’s who I was on the inside: a fraud, terrified of being found out.
But Dorothy was convinced that I was the answer to her problem, and the next day I got started. I parsed through every page of her manuscript, struggling to ensure clarity in the more scientific sections, and struggling to remain focused and not get swept up in the stories of miraculous transformations her participants had shared.
By the time I left Princeton in June to return home to Vermont, I had learned all about nutritional harm reduction, how to cook a damn good pot of stew, and that my writing and editing abilities were stronger than I had previously believed. Furthermore, Dorothy had provided me a new line item on my baby résumé: “revised a manuscript to be published.” Sounds pretty fancy, right?
I don’t know for sure that it opened doors for me, but I do know that the confidence I gained from the experience enabled me to open doors for myself that would have previously been too intimidating to consider.
And, as you, dear reader, will learn over the coming few weeks, the seemingly disparate jobs I’ve held since then now look like a clear (if winding) path to the founding of Written Paper Goods.
p.s. If you’re curious, Dorothy’s book, Logical Miracles: 100 Stories of Hope and Healing, is on Amazon.