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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