Impostor syndrome is exactly what it sounds like. It is the belief that you are a fraud and you will be discovered and exposed and it will all come tumbling down when it happens. Okay, the last part, about it all tumbling down, perhaps that’s more projection. The syndrome as I know it is self diagnosed and I’ve been self-diagnosed with it many times throughout my life.
I have to be the last one awake. I need to know that everyone is asleep before I can start to tune out from the outside world and tune in to me. Before than I’m obsessed with capturing everything. Every joke and laugh. Every sidelong glance and thoughtful expression. Every conversation and concern, cataloging all of it. Every show. Every game. Everything. It’s been this way my whole life. When I was young I remember actually thinking that I didn’t want to go to sleep because I didn’t want to miss anything. For a brief time, from my early teens through early middle adulthood I think a good part of that feeling was that I didn’t want to miss out or perhaps give the space for people to start bad mouthing me. Impostor Syndrome can make you a tad paranoid. It wasn’t a great look and it speaks to a certain neediness I have to cop to. I want people to like me and only like me. Which can be as wearying, I’ve come to understand, for those people who love me as it is for me.
When I was a kid I didn’t realize I did it. Being from a family of night owls, like SERIOUS all night owls, I didn’t put it all together. But when I got out in the world I recognized it. I wanted to know every detail of every story. I wanted to be in on everyones’ feelings and watch them evolve, shift, change and be fully processed out. I was obsessed with the stories going on inside everyone else. I think watching others process everything, from the tiniest disappointment to the rending and breaking of alliances and relationships was an obsession. I am from a giant, diverse family and I was in the middle and it’s possible that as much as this was my temperament I was also sculpted by my situation. There were endless connections sprouting, flourishing, growing and suffering, thriving and recovering around me at all times. Watching the most intimate moments of transformation, tiny and grand from up close and pulling them apart to try to understand them was my way, I think, of trying to usnderstand myself. I’ve felt an odd distance from myself my whole life. Watching others and trying hard to see as many angles as I could has been my work in many ways. My life has been lived in this labaratory.
I’m again feeling a bit of the impostor. It’s not traumatizing in the way it’s been before, but its there. I’m my own worst enemy at times. I recently made a book. A collection of some of my better parenting stories. I slapped it together. The writing had been done over years and I didn’t give it enough before I let it out in the world. I’ve since announced apologies, but it doesn’t change the embarrassment of it. I think I did it replicating the process of clearing the initial hurdle of becoming a ‘writer’, which was on my blog and eventually on others websites. I put down something meaningful and personal as fast as I could, gave it the most glancing of once overs and put it out in the world before I could lose the courage and edit out the real stuff. This is a GREAT way to get over the fear of vulnerability. This is a terrible way to make a book.
I’d always wanted to be a writer. In some ways it felt unreal and unattainable to me than the idea of being a professional basketball player had been when I was younger. It was the type of thing I’d only tell someone if I got very close to them and telling them was the closest I’d come for a very long time to pursuing it. In some ways it seemed like enough. Just expressing it. It was really more a wish, really. I guess I wanted to write, but only because I wanted to ‘be a writer’. I wrote some embarrassingly terrible things, real attempts on real things called word processors that never ever will be retrieved. I genuinely can’t recall the stories and if they start to come back to me I will immediately do whatever it takes to stop it.
Of course there was also reading. Books. Stories. Closely observed familial dramas. Fantastical tales of lifelong interest packaged to fool adults into thinking them children’s fare. Humorous absurdities disguised as adventures poking fun at everyone, even the readers. Tales of the weird aloneness of being a teenager. Great works of earnest vulnerability that can only be grasped after leaving ones youth. Grand epic tales spanning centuries that happened half a world away and a millennia ago. Sweeping historical fictions relishing the details of times the author can’t have breathed in, telling the story from surprising points of view that lend well known subject matter infinitely more depth and granularity. I’ve loved being spun by the great masters and the hidden gems, my authors who speak directly to me. I have not read nearly as much as my friends who are great readers, but I can’t imagine anyone’s ever been as enraptured and enamored as I’ve been. Or more awed by the force of an individuals determination and constant creativity when I finish a great book. A big part of saying I wanted to be a writer was a certain idolatry you could say. I was and remain inspired and diminished by how I imagine these books came to be. I wanted to be a writer. Sure.
Than I got married. I was working, paying the bills, we were paying the bills, then we had kids. I didn’t think they’d make me a ‘writer’, but they sure enough did. It opened up the art to me, this new found love and frustration and bemusement and exhaustion and love. Writing helped me understand what was happening. And not just the ‘honest, heartfelt’ stuff. The funny things were important too. Important to seeing it was achievable, damn near unavoidable, that there were any number of ways to fail and to succeed and most of them contained at the very least some small amount of humor and at times a huge helping if I could see it. And you have to see it. Even if I had to go looking it was nearly always worth it.
The heartfelt came more naturally. Truth is that I lost my filter. I was always tired, constantly running on empty and wondering what the hell I was doing. But every day, in the minefield of misgivings and doubt, there was always a million graces that they brought to me. In their sleeping faces and their silly laughs. In the funny progress a kid makes to roll over. In the moments when we were shattered and together wondering if we could raise these kids right. I’d transition through most of these things most days and as a man that is extremely different. I’ve gone years in a single mood. Based solely on emotional transitions I lived a lifetime every day before breakfast with kids. The raw vulnerability that permeated the air found an outlet in the writing. I mostly embraced it and sought it to relieve the pressure.
That impostor thing sticks though. We’re over seven years in to this whole parenting thing and most days I still feel like I’m doing a poor impersonation of my parents. Also, the thickets are cleared and I’m in a meadow at the moment. There’s not so much to pick apart. Not so much to make a laugh out of, though I’m sure I could find some if I tried. Which I don’t so much. I like to play with words now. Try to fiddle and fit them into something approximating poetry so I can stay sharp and express more associatively. But my writerliness was tied to parenthood and I’m feeling a tad unwriterly in this fallow phase.
Which brings me back to stories. I’m back to that original curiosity. That original sense that I want to do what writers I loved did. I want to write a great story. I want to write a lot of them. Which is daunting as I’ve never done that. Never come close, in fact, without it being based in my life. But here’s where I’m scared. Scared to fail. Scared to let go of the tiny toehold I have on being a ‘dad blogger’ and ‘parenting writer’ as it’s the only teenie bit of writing success I’ve ever had. Scared my stories won’t resonate and no one will read them. Scared I won’t be able to pull it off.
I’m also excited to give it an honest go. Excited to know that I have a toolbox now. One that is filled with the tools I’ve stumbled upon by following wonder and curiosity and simple wish fulfillment. Excited to try to write a tale that I know that I can imbue with so much more than I could have before.
Like every great and terrible impostor that has come before me, I guess it’s time to start faking it.