Deadlines, Doubt, and Dealing with Impostor Syndrome 

I had an important deadline Saturday, had to submit something or I’d miss my chance. I found out about this deadline in January. Jan.u.ar.y. I’ve had many weeks to make this happen. Here’s how I worked on it:

  1. Stared at the information.
  2. Thought about how much I wanted that thing.
  3. Stared at the information.
  4. Wondered why anyone would ever consider me for that thing.
  5. Clicked away from the page, telling myself I couldn’t work on it then because I had so much going on and I had to do some homework before I’d be ready to work on that.
  6. Ignore it for a few days.
  7. Repeat from step one.

Over. And over. And over again.

I finally started working on this on Sunday. Yes, when I had hardly any time left to get my work in order. Of course.

Every night last week, I sat down to work, and every night I pushed away from my computer, telling myself I would never finish and shouldn’t be trying anyway because I’m all wrong for this opportunity.

Needless to say, this is horrifically frustrating.

So what’s my story? Clearly, as is true for so many people, particularly women, particularly women of color, I keep running smack into the solid granite wall of Impostor Syndrome.

There are plenty of reasons to love the amazingly talented Viola Davis. Having her call out Impostor Syndrome just moments after being handed her Academy Award was kind of amazing.

I read  about this thing years ago, maybe as long ago as 2011. I recognized myself then, recognized the ways I tear myself down, doubt myself, struggle against the fear that I’ll be unmasked at any moment. On one level, I was relieved to discover that I wasn’t alone, that there was actually a name for the way I thought about myself. At the same time, it was disturbing to discover the realness of what I was doing. I recognized it, but I didn’t try to do anything about it. I didn’t know what to do about it. Yes, there were things I’d learned about stopping a thought, replacing it with a better, kinder, more based-in-reality thought. I’d seen that work when I tried it with bad body thoughts (it’s a body/fat acceptance thing … fodder for another post). But I don’t seem able to catch myself when I sank into Impostor fears, at least not immediately, not quickly enough to stop myself from sinking. I figure out what I’m doing only after I’ve fully shot myself down.

I may have only learned about Impostor Syndrome a few years ago, but I’ve been letting it hold me back for so much longer. All those times I didn’t stand up for myself, just accepted whatever awful treatment was doled out to me …Yeah, that was me believing I deserved to be treated like crap, that whoever was cutting me down was simply seeing me for who and what I really was and letting me know. When a supervisor lost confidence in me and stopped backing my play, I never questioned it. It made perfect sense to me. Clearly she had finally realized I was a fraud.

I had been planning to write that I’ve been losing the fight against Impostor Syndrome for my whole life. But I’ve been trying to track back to when I first felt unworthy, and it’s definitely not my whole life. But it is easily the last 15 years, and that’s a painfully long time.

I shrugged it off a moment ago, but stopping the thought really does have to be step one here. I can’t fight the cycle if I don’t see it coming and cut it off at the knees. I need to see those moments as they happen and shut them right down.

And, in some ways, this is a perfect time to be pushing myself in this way. I’m about to be putting myself out in the spotlight in a couple of ways that will surely trigger Impostor Syndrome again and again. Ramping up my vigilance now, at the start of this “spotlight season,” will be good for me … and it will be challenging, and exhausting, and demoralizing … and so helpful in the long run.

Yes, I can already see that this has to be part of my Be Your Own Cabana Boy self-care plan. Maybe one of the most important parts. Seeing myself clearly, not putting myself down, not standing in my own way … these things are as important as feeding myself well, as getting enough sleep. It all comes back to that comment I threw in so casually at the end of yesterday’s post: I’m worth it. Those L’Oreal ads were clearly onto something. I’m worth this hard work, so it’s time to put in the time.

Is Impostor Syndrome something you’ve dealt with? If so, what have you done to push back against it? If you’ve never faced this, I’m super happy for you, and I’m also super curious about you! How do you think you’ve avoided it?



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride!


It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

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The only thing I have to fear is …

… all of the things, apparently.

I pulled a prompt out of my writing prompt envelope tonight, and it said: “What I never tell anyone is …” I started my freewrite and the first thing on the page was, “I never tell anyone how scared I am pretty much all the time. Of so many things.” That wasn’t what I was expecting to write, but that’s what came out.

I wrote for about 20 minutes … and uncovered a whole host of fears I wouldn’t have imagined myself to be carrying. Mostly I’m afraid of screwing things up … whatever those “things” might be — my job, my friendships, my health. I’m afraid of being too quiet, too loud, too clever, too dull, too serious, too frivolous. I’m afraid of the spotlight, but afraid of being ignored.

WTF?

This isn’t something I’m aware of 24/7, but then I’ll suddenly notice it, notice how tense my shoulders are, how tense my jaw is … and I’ll have to force myself to unclench.

What is that? Why am I so constantly afraid? And of such just-live-your-life things. And have I always been? I know we have a family joke about how fraught with tension I was, even as a small child, but is that real? Have I always been afraid?

People who’ve known me a while might point to things I’ve done that seem “brave,” whatever that means. I’ve traveled alone. I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I’ve read my work in front of audiences of people who aren’t just my family and friends. I stood up to a surgeon and his staff who wanted to sterilize me.

Okay, all of that is true. And more. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t also afraid. I’m terrified every time I have to read. I’m often afraid when I’m traveling. I was entirely afraid during that hospital experience. I was so afraid during one of my surgeries this past summer that I cried through almost the whole pre- and post-op period. I may be able to do “brave” stuff, but that doesn’t erase the fear.

And I certainly don’t want to get rid of fear all together. There are plenty of real things for me to be afraid of.

Job security was a big one in the mass of fears that spilled out in my freewrite. That surprised me, but it’s real. It’s something I would have dismissed before the debacle at my last job. Seeing how quickly and easily I could be cast out was a real eye opener. Seeing how casually someone I’d worked with and thought I could trust could knowingly sacrifice me for her own gain was shocking. So this fear of about safety on the job is new. And rough. I hate worrying about whether I’m giving ammunition to the wrong person, not making myself useful enough to the right one. And yes, that’s in my head … but in my current job, it’s also real. I see that happening around me all the time. Feh.

So, fear. It’s hard to admit that I have so much of it, that I carry that stress with me regularly. And that it comes in many forms and from many directions. Yesterday, walking away from a friend’s house, the first handful of blocks of that walk had me tight with worry because people hadn’t cleaned their sidewalks, and I was so afraid of slipping and falling and messing up one or both of these bionic (but still breakable) knees of mine. I carry that fear — of slipping and falling — all the time. When I’m going up or down a flight of stairs or an incline, when I stand up on the subway or bus, walking down the street. Yes, I’ve had this particular fear for many years, since my knees were first damaged and a bad slip or fall would put me in bed for a few days, unable to do more than hobble slowly and painfully around my house. There was a brief, shining moment after my first knee surgery when I forgot about it, forgot to worry about falling. That was glorious. It was a revelation — Oh, this is what it feels like not to be disabled! But it didn’t last long. Less than a year later, I was in pain and moving toward my second surgery, back to worrying about uneven pavement, every flight of stairs, the slippery tiles on the subway platform.

Carrying fear all day every day has to be chipping away at me, shortening my life. Certainly making me curtail my movements, my plans. Fear is what makes me bite my tongue in conversations — and then feel frustrated when someone else says the thing I’ve been thinking all along. Fear is what has kept me from expressing my feelings again and again — God forbid I should tell someone how I feel and get slapped down with rejection. Of course, I’ve had plenty of rejection even when I haven’t put myself out on any limbs, so have I really protected myself by not being honest about my heart?

In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s mother talks to her about shame, about how it holds you back. And that’s real, of course. Shame has played a big part in my life, too. But I think fear has played a bigger role, a more dominant role. How sad is that?

So, what do I do with this realization? What’s the next move, the next step? How do I shut the fear down? Is that even the right goal? Should I be investigating it to see where it comes from? Is that the secret to releasing it? Do I acknowledge it and then crush it harder and harder until it’s compressed into diamonds or coal? And then what? Does it somehow become valuable to me?

I’ve been working on developing a better relationship with my anger, feeling it, living with it, embracing it, using it. Clearly there’s some equally serious work to be done with fear. Okay. Here we go.

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In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week. It’s only Week 3, and I’m beat!

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!


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Click on the badge to check out today’s Slice of Life posts at Two Writing Teachers!

Expanding My Heart

It’s the ninth of April. That means it’s time for another in the line of birthday poems I’ve written for my god daughter, my lovely, lovely niece. She is 16 today, a fact that fascinates me as much as it freaks me out.

Sweet Sixteen

Too old to call “baby.” In my heart, you’re always that two-year-old flirting with the mirror, who already knew what I have yet to fully learn: that she was everything, was enough. I mark this moment of your arrival. This sixteen-year love. There is only this wonder, this devotion, this all-I-have-is-yours. Sixteen years in love with your cleverness, your laughter, your imagination, your charm. Sixteen years. I watch you — taking notes, learning from your lead. Sixteen years. Every truth of you expanding my heart.


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a work poem. Well, not today. Loving my niece is anything but work! You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

I don’t dare.

… which is just to say that I didn’t use today’s Poetic Asides prompt: “dare.” It’s a great prompt, but I needed a different distraction, needed to sink my brain in somewhere else tonight.

Escape

I my dream, you are laughing. Your head back, your long neck exposed. I love you. Or want to. Even dreaming, I know you, recognize how easily you will turn away, how quickly your laughter will cut, will fade. But your laugh is full, your broad shoulders are shaking. I love you. I can feel the weight of you against me, the strength of your embrace. This is the sweetness, the reason to believe. I savor the sound, the hidden pain. I wake myself slowly.

I have to say, the bloom is definitely off the rose for me and this form. I’m not throwing it over. Not yet. But I seem to have peaked way too early. And now I’m scrapping the barrel bottom every day. Sigh. Maybe tomorrow’s prompt will set me on fire. A girl can (dare to) dream, can’t she?


NPM15_ForSite_FINAL_FINAL

Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a dare poem. I don’t actually know what anyone might mean by that, but there it is. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

What I can’t write.

Too many things I don’t have the ability to write about.  Really just two.  Really just one.  How long will black women have to live in the world before we are seen as valuable, before we are no longer reviled, ridiculed, devalued, dehumanized, dismissed?

I can’t write about Chibok’s kidnapped daughters because my impotence chokes me.  I can’t find any way to talk through my horror and sadness, my spitting, explosive anger, my inability to do anything.  Anything.

Which you’ve heard from me before.  When Sean Bell’s killers were acquitted.*  When Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted.  When Abeer Qassim al-Janabi’s killer got life instead of a death sentence.  Because that is always the problem for me.  These horror stories so demoralize and enrage me with their ability to show me a) just how little room there is for me in this world and b) just how little I am able to do about it.  And so I rail and cry and then, eventually, I shut up.  Because I still don’t know what is the thing I can do that can actually make a difference.  Because my pain floods with so much rage that I can’t form coherent thoughts.

Chibok and all those missing girls are resting on my heart, weighing me down, filtering into everything.  How could it not?  Hundreds of children taken, a government barely rousing itself to acknowledge there might be a problem.  I thought of those girls this weekend, as I spent time with my 15-year-old niece.  Every time I looked at her beautiful, half-baby, half-grown-girl face.  And again, my pain is flooded with rage.  Because I noticed.  I noticed that, although the girls were abducted on April 14th, reporters — when they finally started talking about it — kept saying April 22nd because that’s when they first bothered to make note of it.  I noticed that, even though the number of girls taken was closer to 300, the number immediately became “more than 200” and “some 200” … as if that was somehow less terrible, less something we should be paying attention to.  I noticed that, the minute the stories began about selling the girls to Boko Haram members, reporters started referring to them as “young women” … as if calling them “women” instead of “girls” would make it okay that they were being sold into sexual slavery.  I noticed that it wasn’t until lots of people in this country held rallies and made #BringBackOurGirls trend that mainstream media finally decided there was something to talk about.  And I noticed that those stories all started by talking about the surprise of the trending hashtag and the number of rallies and not about the girls, not about their families, not with enough of the accurate details such as how long ago those children were stolen.

And I noticed that today 8 more girls were kidnapped from another Nigerian village.

We’re close enough to April, that I’m still connecting my thoughts to writing poems. And, too, I’m remembering Sonia Sanchez talking about using form poems when your emotions are running you and you need some way to harness the chaos.

Stolen

Girls.
Their lives
used as pawns.
This is a game
played too many times.
These
girls. Ours —
our hearts, our
lives, our last hopes.
Thrown to the fire,
Who
will come
for them now?
Who understands —
to us they are all.

And I also can’t write about Leslie Jones. Tressie McMillan’s piece about Jones gets it so right (despite her title), right in a way that I still can’t get it. Kimberly Foster gets it equally right. Yes, yes, Jones is supposed to be a comedian.  Yes, comedians make jokes about uncomfortable things, or uncomfortable jokes about difficult things … or difficult jokes about ugly things …  Yes, I understand.  But even through all of those lenses there was something wrong with Jones’ Weekend Update sketch.  Deeply wrong.  And her response to the criticism is almost more disturbing than the SNL piece itself.

And I can’t write about any of it.  Can’t. Because what is there to say, what can I say that will lead to any kind of desired result?

Years ago, I went to a Marx Brothers film festival.  In Paris.  There weren’t many people in the theater.  I was there with a friend, and we laughed and laughed.  One or two other people laughed along with us, and I realized that they must be English speakers.  Fluent English speakers.  Because the film was subtitled, and how can you subtitle the Marx Brothers?  You would have to keep freezing the frame and inserting long explanations: 1) this is what he said, 2) this is what it meant, 3) this is why it’s funny.  Who has time for all that explication?  How can anything be funny at the end of all those annotations?

That’s how I feel about Leslie Jones’ SNL skit.  If it needs this much context-setting, this much explaining, the joke isn’t working and I don’t see how anyone can find the funny in it.  And Jones’ inability to acknowledge that there could be a possibility that she took a wrong turn, that she was playing for the wrong audience in the wrong moment is maddening.

For now, I’m still in Arun mode.  It surprised me when I was thinking about these stories today and poems kept composing themselves in my head.  But I’m going with it, letting them loose:

My
body.
No temple
this. Not in your
eyes. You only see brown
skin,
kinky
hair, full lips.
You think you know
something about me.
You’ve
watched your
tarted up
master-slave tales,
had your Saartjie dreams.

My
body.
My temple.
Full of wisdom,
heat, contempt for
all
you think
you know. I
once listened, let
you tell me what to
see.
No more.
That’s over. I
don’t need your leave
to see my fine self.

And I keep trying to work on my comic, and I keep trying to find a way to sustain real conversation about race.  And I keep getting slapped in the face with … well, the reasons that I need to keep doing my work.  Nearly 300 black girls can be swept away in one moment and the world barely blinks.  The FBI’s list of missing persons is 40% black women — 65,000 wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, friends, cousins — and yet we almost never hear about any of them.  My heart is heavy tonight, and I don’t have the space for any of this.

_____

SOL image 2014
Slice of Life Tuesdays is hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

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* That first time, I kept thinking that if I tried to speak, I’d find my way.  I tried again and again to process, to find a path. Eventually, I retreated to silence.

Breaking My Silence

So before Seagram’s got me all upset, it had been nearly two months since my last post.  And I hadn’t been doing too much posting before that long break, either.  What’s that about, you ask.  Truly, I’m not entirely sure.  Or, rather, I’m not sure which factor carried the most weight.

I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis for the last year.  Once I stopped teaching, I had a hard time figuring out what my blog was supposed to be.  It wasn’t all teaching all the time before last December, but my teaching definitely informed who I was here.  I was afraid that, without having my students’ fabulous stories and all the things I learned from them, my blog would become the place for me to rant about racism, sexism and my wholly uninteresting pet peeves … and if you look over my posts from the last year, that’s mostly what you’ll see.  I was so busy trying to figure out who and what I was if I wasn’t “teacher lady,” I stopped writing entirely.

Add to that the self-imposed gag-order on writing about the work I left teaching to do.  It’s still true that I don’t want to talk too specifically about my work because doing so will give up the last little bit of anonymity I like to kid myself that I have here.  But, like teaching, my work is so much of what I’m doing.  It’s the reason I was in Detroit last month, the reason I’m having a whole other, off-blog kind of identity crisis right now … and yet I still feel I can’t write about it.  I know that anyone who reads here can easily figure out who I am.  There are so many dots to connect that lead right to me, and yet I still hold back.

In two months, this blog will be four years old, and I’m questioning whether I should just shut it down and move on.  I don’t think I want to shut down, but I’m still feeling stuck.  Certainly it’s true that there will always be things that annoy the crap out of me, and I’ll always be ready to rant about them, but I’m really not looking to just be pissed off online all the time.  So what am I left with?

I could tell you that today, in honor of their election into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and because of the nice memory the song always calls up for me), I had the Beastie Boys’ She’s Crafty playing on a loop on my iPod.  And I could tell you that I know Fox must be pleased that Guns-n-Roses was voted in — in their first year of eligibility, no less.  And you might wonder: Guns-n-Roses?  And I’d say: yes, they’ve been Fox’s guilty pleasure the whole of their 25 years.

And then we’d all say: so what?

Yeah, exactly.  In any case, Seagrams forced an end to my silence.  We’ll see what happens.

Mnemonic device needed ASAP!

On the 51 bus back to Brooklyn, I sat across the aisle from a man who rode along peacefully and quietly … until his phone rang.  At that point, I and everyone else on the bus, was treated to his bizarre one-track side of the conversation.

Hello?

Oh, I forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  How could I forget?  I can’t believe I forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot.  Thank you for calling me because I forgot.  I f***ing forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  I really forgot.  What could have happened for me to forget?

I know, I know, but I forgot.  I f***ing forgot. It’s so good you called because I forgot.  I forgot!   I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  Oh my God, how could I forget?  But I did.  I forgot.  I forgot.

I can’t believe I forgot.  It’s so good you called me.  I didn’t even know I forgot, but I forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  I really forgot.

What is that?  There has be a name for it.  It must be some kind of disorder, right?  I’ve never heard anything like him.  He went on much longer than what I’ve written here.  I can’t imagine having to make conversation with him for more than twelve and a half seconds.