Caught in a Lie

A few days ago, I was sitting at the bar after my shift (I’ve recently gone back to bartending) and a woman next to me said: “Hi Tara. I read your blog. I really like it.” (Hi, Aubyn!) My immediate reaction was intense discomfort and my usual social awkwardness. I felt pleased and flattered and also naked and embarrassed. I wanted to run home and delete my blog and all my social media accounts. I also wanted to run home and write a new post and Tweet it and share it on Facebook and rocket myself to blog stardom.

It’s a confusing thing.

The day after that, I had a poem go live at Uppagus. It’s a poem I wrote something like 8 months ago. As I re-read it for the first time since it was accepted back in March, I felt similar feelings to when I’d been caught, writer-in-the-wild, at the bar. Intense embarrassment. A touch of shame. I also thought the poem was horrible and overly dramatic and isn’t it fun to beat ourselves up and make ourselves feel bad? And it doesn’t help that my regular writing routine is completely shot. I have no routine.

I sat with these shitty feelings for another day or so, and then a term floated up in my mind that I’ve read about before: “impostor syndrome.” This is exactly what I was experiencing.

From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. [2]

And of course, my inner-critic is screaming “HA! You are not a high-achieving woman! You don’t even have a book published!” But if that jerk will just shut-up for a moment, I’ll go on.

I think it’s extremely common for women who are Doing Things, Important Things, Passionate Things, to try and sabotage themselves by telling themselves they are undeserving. Maybe it’s a bit of internalized misogyny: unless you’re baking bread and having babies, you are not being a proper woman. Leave the book writing, the masterpiece painting, to the men. If we feel strongly enough that we don’t deserve our successes, that we’re going to be caught as frauds, we might just back down from pursuing our dreams.

This is not to suggest that society as a whole has some deep-seated desire to keep women in the kitchen…but maybe it does. Or it did, and some people still do, and we’re all still suffering the effects of that.

When it comes to this blog, and having someone in real life tell me they read it, I immediately start questioning why I’m writing, what I’m writing…how can I pretend to be an authority on writing and mothering and how they fit together? Well, because I am doing those things, right now. I’m fumbling my way through writing and mothering, recalibrating every day. And as long as I stay true to that, and continue to share that experience, my successes and my many failures (see, gotta take a shot whenever I can) I can’t be a fraud.

The blogging, the poetry, these are my truths. Writing is my passion and I can’t not do it. And each time I have a poem published, or a blog post published, and someone sees me and the little voice inside says: “Delete it all! Give it all up! You’re a fraud!” I have to be stronger and louder and more fierce. I am not a fraud or an impostor. And if you’re a woman, or anyone creating at the margins, and you face those same feelings? I see you. And I’m here to validate you and to remind you that you are not a fraud, either. So make your art. Get it out there any way you can. We need your voice.

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Limpets

Last night I saw Yvonne Blomer read at the Dawson City Public Library. It was wonderful. To hear new poetry, to meet some other local writers (they exist! they have a writing group! we exchanged email addresses!) to be reminded that yes, I am a writer and a poet. To say, out loud to people I don’t really know, “I’m a poet” was pretty special. And it didn’t feel nearly as awkward or nerdy as it does when I say it to people who aren’t also poets or poetry enthusiasts.

Yvonne read a new poem about limpets, and about the way young children cling to their mothers and don’t let go. And it got me thinking about my little limpets, all three of them, always clinging to me. It rarely feels anything but smothering, if I’m being honest. So after the reading was finished, I asked Yvonne how she balances life as a writer and as a mother. I asked if she found having a child to be a detriment to the writing life, or if it enriched it. And she said that absolutely, having a child enriches her writing life and helps her to see things in new ways. And we chatted a bit about how intense it is, when they’re just these little limpets suctioned to your legs, your chest. And then she laughed and said “but then they go to school, right?”

Right.

If you know me, you know P and I have talked about homeschooling the kids. It’s been the plan pretty much since Aedan was a baby. There are so many things we love about homeschooling: the kids can learn at their own pace; they can follow their interests, dig deeply into subjects they are passionate about; our family will be free to travel in the winter; the kids can remain close friends. These are all wonderful, positive things that have led us to make this decision. But since coming back to myself as a poet and writer, since reviving my dream of publishing a book (or books!) some day, I can’t help but fret more than a little over this particular choice.

It’s something I hear or read repeatedly from mothers who are writers: the early years are exhausting, but then they go to school. Then you can write. Carol Shields said:

“I didn’t start writing until [my children] were all in school. And I might say to writers with young children, eventually children really do go to school. I found, very gradually, that I had a little more time every year to devote to writing. The first novel I wrote entirely between 11:00 and 12:00 every day just before the kids came home for lunch, and I very seldom got any more time during the day to get back to that. I set myself a little task which was to write two pages a day. Now it takes me all day to write two pages. Then I could squeeze it into one hour.”
   [Interview with Diane Rhem for US Public Radio, March 31, 1984]

If I look at myself, my experience of motherhood so far, with total, brutal honesty, I would say I don’t love it. I love my kids, yes. But I don’t love spending all of my time with them. And I know that this is a trying age. That eventually they will be able to wipe their own butts, make their own snacks, read books or play computer games or watch documentaries themselves. But that is years away. I wonder if I’m really the kind of parent who is cut out for homeschooling, or if it’s another part of the “natural parent” persona I adopted when Aedan was a baby (along with: wanting to grow and preserve all of our food, have goats and chickens, extended breastfeed. I don’t want to do any of these things anymore. I’m tired.)

Maybe I would be a more effective parent if my kids went to hang out with someone else 5 days a week. Maybe I would feel most fulfilled if, after dropping them off at school, I went home or to a coffee shop and wrote for 2 hours, or 3 hours, or even 4 hours. Maybe I would yell less. Maybe they’d watch less Netflix. I feel like I’m still extricating the mother and human I actually am from this imagined mother-person that I invented from beautiful blogs like Soule Mama and other internet people like her, when I first became a mother. As much as I love the idea of a huge vegetable garden and hand knit clothes and fermented everything, and yes, kids happily following their interests at home all day every day, maybe that’s just not me.

Maybe there’s a way to balance it all, to find a way to be both published poet and homeschooling parent. Maybe I’m just having a bad day (the boys did break a really beautiful dish and bury the petunias in dirt, all before 9 am, so…)

I do know that I don’t have to decide right now. And as my littlest limpet clamors at my feet to be picked up and read to, I am reminded that even if I do send them all to school, it’ll be another 5 years before those blissful, uninterrupted hours of writing time. So I guess I should try to “enjoy it while it’s lasts.”

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Big Things, Little Things, All the Things

I’ve been quiet in this space for weeks, now. I’ve got a few draft posts saved, but each one I’ve sort of given up on with my hands thrown in the air. Truthfully, I’ve felt unclear on the purpose of this blog, on where I want it to go, what I want it to do. I started it because I just needed to write. But over the last year, that need has turned into a (fairly) regular poetry practice.  In fact, I think I could safely say I’m working on a chapbook length collection of poems focusing on my experience of motherhood. When I have time to write, I want to be working on that, because, let’s face it…I don’t actually have all that much time to write.  So all of that being said, I’ve decided to use this space as a place for me to announce upcoming publications and to give my readers regular life and writing updates. Ideally I’d like to get back to publishing once a week, but realistically I’m shooting for twice a month.

I’ve got two more poems forthcoming online in June and August, and I’m still sending my best work out as it’s polished. Recently I’ve decided to try submitting to some of my “dream” markets: they’re print (as opposed to online) publications, they have a wide readership, and they pay. They also have very small acceptance rates, but I’ve got nothing to lose. And in a further effort to get paid to write poems, I’ve submitted a poem to Room’s annual poetry competition. I’m working on a batch of three poems right now, and I think two of them are good enough to send out. It’s tricky, learning to critique my own work. Over the winter I met with the University of Western Ontario Writer-in-Residence several times during her office hours at the public library. It helped me to hone my inner editor: by the last time we met, she didn’t have much to suggest–in a good way. Writing continues to be the keystone to my mental health. It is so hard to drag myself to the page some days, but I keep doing it.

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering about the “big things” promised in the title of this post. It’s truly very big. Are you sitting down? Good. Make sure you don’t have a mouthful of coffee (or wine.) Ready? Okay. We’re moving back to Dawson. I know, right? It’s pretty huge. I am at once excited and heartbroken about this. But the reality is that we have a business there. And it needs our attention, more than we can give it from here. Thankfully we’ve still got our log home (with our outhouse and our limited running water) so we’ll live there for the summer with a plan to move into town by the fall/winter. My parents have very generously offered to do some needed repairs on our home here in London, and then we’ll likely list it at the end of the summer. P is in Dawson now, and he’ll come back in the first week of June so we can all travel up together.

It all seems a bit surreal, at the moment. Two cross country moves in less than two years. It’s exhausting to think about. But we’re taking it one day at a time, and it really is the only thing that makes sense right now. I look forward to seeing my dearest friends again. I look forward to the fresh air, the mountains, and the river. Northern themes abound in my writing so I’m curious to see what sort of inspiration pops up once I’m living there again. I try not to think about how much we’ll miss our family here. It’s going to be really hard.

So there you go: all the things. What kinds of things are happening in your world these days? Have you ever moved across the country? Twice? Did you survive? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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Two Poems in Rat’s Ass Review

I’ve got two poems up in Rat’s Ass Reviews on going “Love and Ensuing Madness” series, “Parents’ Aphrodisiac” and “The Girl from St. Eustache.”

The first of these, “Parents’ Aphrodisiac” went through many drafts. There are 7 different drafts saved on my computer, and there were countless smaller changes made along the way. I really believed in this poem; loved the tension between being a mother and being a partner and lover. I think it’s important to view mothers/parents as the multifaceted, many-hats-wearing people they are. This poem was rejected a half a dozen times before finding its home at Rat’s Ass Review. I got lucky: I think that’s actually not that high of a number, but I was close to giving up. After some encouragement from other writers, I submitted it one more time, and it was accepted almost immediately.  I hope you enjoy it.