La Impostora Regresa

Wednesday was a great day. An essay I worked hard on and was proud of was published on The Rumpus. I was (and am) crazy-thrilled. I pretty much never send my work out. I either post it here or leave it gathering dust in the back folders of my cloud drive. So writing a pitch, sending my essay out … it was a huge deal for me. And then to have the piece accepted … ! Of course I was happy.

In the essay, I give white people some marching orders, elaborate on something I need them to do. And, shortly after I shared the essay, two different white women commented to say they would be changing their behavior post haste.

Their comments surprised me. I mean, yes, I was telling people to make a change … but was I expecting them to do what I’d asked? Was I expecting them to tell me they’d listened to what I’d said?

My first response to their comments was to start writing back, something along the lines of: “Oh, well, you don’t have to make that change! I mean, if you *want* to, sure, but don’t do it on my account!”

Happily, I stopped myself from typing or sending those messages. Because I was asking them to make a change. Quite clearly. asking.

So why was I so quick to back off my request the moment someone let me know they were considering it?

Oh yes, she’s back!! La Impostora and her twice-damned syndrome!

I know, of course, that this is still a beast I have to battle. I haven’t kidded myself that I had somehow magically vanquished Impostor Syndrome as I lay sleeping. I’ve simply been waiting for her to rear her ugly head again. But I wasn’t expecting that head-rearing to happen in response to publishing this essay. And that’s silly, of course. I had put my work out in the world and it was getting a good response … of COURSE I would suddenly find myself pushing back against Impostor Syndrome. What better, more obvious time would there be for me to be showered with gifts from this treasure trove of insecurity?

Who am I to think I can tell white folks what they should and shouldn’t be doing? Who am I to think my feelings about people’s behavior meant enough, mattered enough, carried enough weight that I could say, “stop doing this thing you’re doing that’s upsetting to me?”

I’ve wrestled with my Impostor in the past. So many times. There have been times when I haven’t noticed her creeping into my thoughts. Those times, she has been able to drive a wedge between me and whatever goal I’m pushing toward. Those times are the most frustrating because I don’t recognize the pattern of self-denigration and self-denial until it’s too late to stop the thoughts and move forward. Sometimes I am able to see what I’m doing early enough in the pattern to shoulder past my Impostor and get shit done. The hard truth is that the Impostor wins these head-to-heads far too often. I am hoping that one day I’ll have done enough work on myself that, even if I still have to fight La Impostora, those fights will all fall into the second category, the push her aside and get back to work category.

In the case of my essay on The Rumpus, there were many opportunities for La Impostora to shove me backwards over a cliff. I had originally sent that essay to another publication. It was accepted, and then I received a contract that had some troubling language in it. I balked at signing, but my Impostor slapped me back: who was I to question what An Important Well-Respected Magazine wanted from me? She instructed me to sign and shut up. But I couldn’t get past my hesitation. I reached out to the mag’s editor to suggest some revisions to the contract language. By the time I learned that the magazine wouldn’t budge on the demands, I’d received an acceptance from The Rumpus … which was when La Impostora smacked me again: How dare I consider pulling my submission from The Magazine and moving forward with The Rumpus? And, too, there was no way I was good enough to be published on The Rumpus, so I should just forget all about that.


And now she’s back again, telling me to back down from the entire premise of my essay simply because someone read and respected what I said.

Listen (speaking entirely to myself here, but sometimes these things need to be said aloud and in public): I am a person who has the right to like or dislike whatever I like or dislike. I have the right to tell people to stop doing something that displeases or disturbs me … and they—because they are sovereign, fully-autonomous beings—have as much right to decide to do what I’ve asked as they have to tell me to shove off because they’re under no obligation to listen to anything I have to say.

I have no problem with folks taking issue with the point of that essay. I was ready for that, steeling myself against how hurt or angry it would make me. I was ready to defend myself, to haul out receipts and invite folks to step back. The few negative comments I’ve seen haven’t troubled me at all.

And maybe that’s a sign of progress in my fight against La Impostora. In the past, if someone questioned my position, I’d have been inclined to turn around and question my position right along with them. I mean, if something I said raised their eyebrows, I must have made a mistake, right? I’m not saying that I don’t make mistakes. I’m saying I no longer instantly assume that anyone questioning me must have the right of it.

I tend to think I’ll be fighting La Impostora forever. I don’t want that to be true, but it feels true. Seeing ways that I’m getting stronger against her helps. And I know I’ve written about Impostor Syndrome more than once, but the more I “talk out loud” about it here, the better I seem to get at recognizing the pattern before it derails me. If it seems annoyingly repetitive, you’re welcome to scroll on by. Imma keep working through.

I’m following Vanessa Mártir’s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it’s unlikely that I’ll write 52 essays by year’s end. But I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

Arun 15

I’ve been thinking a lot about Galway Kinnell’s lovely, lovely poem, “BlackBerry Eating”:

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry — eating in late September.

This has long been a favorite of mine. I love those “many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,” love “squeeze,” and “squinch,” and “splurge.”

This poem has been on my mind as I’ve been playing with the Arun, surprising myself by finding big, squeezable words that fit in one syllable, and greedy ones that seem to take a syllable for every letter. The poems themselves have been equally unwieldy,  refusing to fit tidily into the space I’ve made for them. But I continue, keep looking to learn this black art.

Today was Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day. I’m still in the hospital, but I came prepared: An envelope full of poems ready to be distributed. And distribute I have. I think most people around this ward have assumed I’m nuts, but they’ve still taken their poem. I definitely consider the day a success!

circles trough
and around me.
Some carve new ideas,
fleshy thoughts.
I enter here,
stubborn, insistent,
muddy sky,
calm from chaos,
plumbing the darkness.


An Arun: a fifteen-line poem in three sets of five lines. Each set of five lines follows the same syllable structure: starting with one syllable and increasing by one (1/2/3/4/5 — 3x).


First, I have just one thing to say:

Oh, and that would actually be 55,981 words, in my case.  Just saying.

Whew!  Wasn’t sure I’d make it.  And, in truth, I really shouldn’t have.  I did most of the writing in the last week … which, if you weren’t sure, is INSANE!  I’m pretty happy with my success this year, however.  It’s the first year I’ve ‘won’ since 2004.  So that feels good.

Now, did I write something I could get excited about, something I would ever show another living soul?  What do you think?  But it doesn’t matter.  For me, that’s not the point.  The first year I did this, the thing I loved about it was the ‘just write as much as you can every day’ of it, I loved that it forced me to carve out writing time when I’m often able to beg off the writing because I have so much else to do.  But with NaNoWriMo, you just have to get your pen on the paper and quit the whining.  It’s a great practice.

And then I got the surprise perk: after November, I was suddenly writing in a whole new way.  My stories were longer, fuller, filled with dialogue (my characters used to be annoyingly silent practically all the time).  The novel I wrote that first year was pure schlock, but the experience of writing it made a wonderful difference in my ‘real’ writing, showed me that I actually could sustain a story arc for more than a five or six pages.

So another November goes.  Tomorrow I check in with my students to see how they did with the last days of their November writing challenges.  I didn’t have them do NaNoWriMo unless they wanted to (one did!), but they were charged with writing as much as they could about anything they wanted to write about.  I’m happy to see them writing away.  No matter how many pages they’ve filled, all of them have written more than usual by taking on the challenge.  I hope it ‘sticks’ with a few of them!

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Dear reader,

We regret to inform you that the item you ordered, a blog post from Girl Griot, is currently out of stock.  We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you.  Unfortunately, Girl G has been writing like a crazy woman trying to finish her NaNoWriMo story by the November 30th deadline (13,752 words yesterday, people!) and has run out of gas in the NaBloPoMo department.  We anticipate having this item in stock again as early as tomorrow.  It is important to us that your if you want kin experience is a positive one. We appreciate your patience and thank you for being a loyal if you want kin, you must plant kin customer.  Please accept our sincerest apologies and this coupon for free shipping on the next Girl Griot post.

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(Yesterday I was running behind the time, and today I’m ahead of schedule.  I’m a day early posting my entry for The Painted Maypole’s Monday Mission.  Tomorrow’s mission is to write a blog post in the style of a letter of regret.)

Day 8: One week down, so many words to go …

If I hope to make it to 50,000 words by 11:59:59pm on November 30th, I need to write 12,500 words a week.  Well, I managed to do that this week, thanks solely to the fact that last weekend I wrote like a crazy person.  Tuesday through Friday I did practically nothing.  Seriously.  I think on Tuesday I managed 250 words (need to clear 1,667 a day to stay on track) before the election was called and all the crying and laughing began.  And since then, well let’s just say that this novel hasn’t been the priority since then!

But today I was determined to get back to it, to actually write my daily total and not just eat up the buffer I created with last weekend’s ginormous output.  Started in the morning … nothing.  Held my notebook in my hand all the way to work … nothing.  Took a lunch break at work thinking about the story … nothing.  I started to get a little desperate, a little worried that maybe  I had run myself aground, lost momentum (not “Joe-mentum,” thank you very much … I never had any of that).

On my way home from , I decided not to go home, decided that I should find a convenient coffee shop — on my bus route, perhaps, since I haven’t found any good options near my house yet — and just sit there sipping decaf Americanos until I made my way through the word count.  I believe that last sentence should be written in the shape of a light bulb.  That proved to be the secret: I parked myself at a table at place on Atlantic Avenue and found my way back into the story.  I stayed until I had written more than 1,700 words.

Amusingly enough, there was a gaggle of NaNo writers at the front of the shop.  Two couples, all four working on novels.  I thought about introducing myself, but felt shy to just insert myself into their conversation.  It was nice to know they were there, though, to know that I wasn’t the only one plugging away at this challenge on a warm Saturday night.

If I can somehow keep this up, I’ll make the 50,000 words by November 30th … but that’s a BIG ‘if’ back there …

Day 2: My Life as Art

Years ago, when I was painfully poor and couldn’t buy Christmas gifts for my family, I decided to write about each family member instead, to give each of them a story, or group of stories in which they were the central characters.  This plan proved to be a lot harder than I’d thought it would be.  It was surprisingly difficult to make up stories about them, particularly my aunt and my grandmother.  It was a challenge, but I got it done, and everyone received their “Your Life as Art” book on the day.  Some were better than others.  I think the ones about my brother were the most fully-realized.  For some reason, he was easier to see on paper than anyone else.

For my NaNo novel this year, I’ve had the probably not at all brilliant idea of writing about AC, writing my imagined version of his life story.  I’m not sure how much “I” will be in this story, but I’m sure that I will definitely not be wrapping this up and presenting it to him as a Christmas gift.  In any case, here I go with a new installment in the “Life as Art” series.

One thing I’m realizing as I start writing though (made it up to 2900 words yesterday!), is that there is so much I don’t know about AC.  For all the time we’ve spent talking, how is it possible that there are basic, small-talk things I don’t know about him?  That’s surprising and also sad.  Yes, it leaves lots of room for me to fill in fictional details, which is what this writing is all about, but what does it say about my actual relationship with AC?

Day 1: Getting something on the page …

The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I jumped in without a plan.  I’d only heard about it two days before it was set to start, so I signed up and just started writing.  Every year since then, I’ve tried to at least map out some ideas in October to make the November 1st start-up easier.

This has never worked.  I have never written as much or as easily as I did in year one.  That first year, I wrote almost 100,000 words in 30 days.  I’m still not sure how I did that.  Ok, it was worst writing ever (well, almost the worst … I think the mystery/crime/thriller I started writing when I was 17 was definitely worse), but it was a novel, and it held together, and I did it.  Every year since then has been much harder and I’ve only once managed to squeak through with 50K by November 30th.

I attribute these less then stellar showings to my attempts to organize in advance … and also to my completely insane attempts to write something good.  I figured that, since it had been so ‘easy’ to write 100,000 words the first time around, maybe if I slowed down and wrote a little less, I could write something I didn’t think was crap.  Wrong.  So very, very wrong.  I’ve written bits that I’ve liked very much each of these last years, but worrying about good writing and worrying about word counts just don’t mesh.  Trying to force inspiration every day for a month works about as badly as you’d imagine.

This year?  I haven’t had any time for any advance planning, so I’m diving in without a clue.  As for trying to write something good … well, that kind of noble effort will have to be saved for some other opus.  My next grant proposal, perhaps.  For NaNo, I’m just interested in cranking out the text.

At this moment, I’ve got 2,500 words, which is more than the 1,667/day that I have to hit to make 50K, so I’m pleased.  Already banking words for the bad days ahead!