There are a number of people that would say that the month of November in the year 2016 rocked them to their core. It rocked our country from our perch of democratic superiority. It rocked the notion that ours is a progressive society, on the brink of achieving racial and gender parity. I, too, was rocked but because of more than just the presidential election (and I cannot overemphasize how rock-worthy that was). I became pregnant with my son in November of 2016. The confluence of these two events rocked and socked me. This is the world into which I am bringing a new human? With this guy as the leader of the free world? And I have to stop drinking? Now?? I had no idea how to be pregnant or be a mother in the most ideal of circumstances. I had no idea what to do about any of this. For some reason, I felt like a fraud.
I think it’s fair to say that most people get hit with imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Questions like “How did I get here? What am I doing? How long before everyone else figures out that I don’t belong here?” swirl around in your brain and inevitably churn down to your stomach. It feels as fun as it sounds, doesn’t it? I have long struggled with my writing and whether or not it’s good enough for anyone to read. Ok, that’s a lie. I know it’s “good enough.” But there are lots of “good enough” writers. That’s never been what I wanted. I have never wanted to be “good enough” at anything. I want to be the best. I want you to think I have the best words (wink). If it’s not “the best,” I don’t share it. I don’t write for public consumption nearly as much as I want to because coming up with “the best” takes time and energy I don’t think I have. My imposter syndrome tells me “I can’t be the best so I’m not going to this at all.” I struggled to come up with the best words after the presidential election. I so desperately wanted to say SOMETHING. I wanted to say SOMETHING about being hopeful. As the months passed, I wanted to say SOMETHING about being a woman, SOMETHING about refugees, SOMETHING about believing in science, SOMETHING about the importance of public education. Everyone around me was saying lots of somethings: prominent writers, politicians, celebrities, friends on social media. Over time it became painfully obvious that none of it was making a difference. So many things which I hold dear in this country got a turn at the top of the President’s agenda and then got beat down, like a progressive Ferris wheel of doom. It wouldn’t stop. All of the somethings being written by others just became echoes of angry voices agreeing with each other. I felt like my voice wouldn’t add “the best” of anything. So I contributed nothing.
In the midst of a country gone mad, I was growing new life. There were times I was overwhelmed with that beauty and its power. Most of the time my feet hurt. Thanks to my pathological need to be “the best,” I dove into the books, the classes, and the mommy blogs. I had to know what the others were doing so I could do it as well if not better. The imposter syndrome started to manifest here, too. With each new development in my pregnancy, I became mildly terrified. I had to know if this was normal. I had to know if others got nasal congestion, racing heartbeat, acne, migraine headaches, hip pain, knee pain, swollen ankles, swollen fingers or nausea from prenatal vitamins. I Googled absolutely every question that popped into my head when it popped into my head. What kind of food should I eat to keep my blood pressure low? Should I sleep on my right side or my left side? How much could the baby really hear (read: should I make my husband stop cursing so much)? I accidentally ate feta cheese – WAS IT GOING TO GIVE MY BABY LOW SELF-ESTEEM? Oddly enough, none of my questions were unique. While this was a great relief to my worried mind, it was strange to realize how ordinary this extraordinary experience really was. As badly as I wanted to talk about it, I felt silly vocalizing any questions except for a few very close friends and family members. How am I being “the best” if I’m complaining or asking the most basic things? Of course, writing about any of this was absolutely out of the question.
I spent a lot of last year alternating between fear of writing and guilt over not writing. My outlet became reading Twitter. Lots of Twitter. I heard someone on a podcast say that tweeting can feel like writing. It turns out that reading tweets also scratches the same itch. I fell into a cycle of feeling guilty about not writing, reading Twitter, and then feeling better. Guilt, Twitter, better: repeat as needed. I thought this was working…until I impulsively signed up for a writing workshop. My wonderful English teacher from my senior year of high school recently published a book. I was so thrilled for her and I wanted to support her so I registered up for her workshop at Changing Hands Bookstore. I truly was not signing up as a writer – I was signing up as a former student. I’ve always been a good student. The writing thing had been dormant for months. Remember, I had Twitter. Still, I brought a pen and my favorite Moleskine notebook. I waddled my nearly nine months pregnant self into community room at the bookstore. I took a seat very close to the front because, as I said, I’m a good student. The Marvelous Sandi Marinella (I graduated school thirteen years ago and it’s still weird to use her first name), spoke so beautifully about her journey to and through writing her book. She encouraged us to recognize that we all have a story to tell. I loved having the opportunity to be able to sit before her and learn from her yet again. I love being a good student, you guys. Then, she presented the evening’s first writing exercise: brainstorm some excellent metaphors. I hesitated briefly and looked around the room. Everyone else had already pulled out notebooks and tablets. I was sitting up front. And I’m a good student. So I took a breath, took out my Moleskine, and just WROTE. And it was…glorious. I’ve never been the type of writer to have words just pour out of me. It’s more like they spit out in rapid fits and starts. I’ve always liked it that way. I’ve always liked the moment of “OOH, that’s good!” jumping through my steady thought processes. In this kind of setting, there wasn’t time to sit and think and let those moments jump out. I just had to let my fingers go. The “that’s good” moments were smaller – more “ooh” than “OOH” – but there were lots of them, which surprised me considering how rusty I was. It was exciting. Hell, it was fun. Too quickly, Sandi (yup, still weird) was telling us to wrap up the last prompt. I wanted to end on a high note. I had only managed a few lines this time but I liked what I wrote. It was about the night before I found out I was pregnant. It was meaningful. It sounded like me. It was even a little funny. So I squashed the imposter syndrome under the considerable weight of my very swollen foot, and volunteered to read aloud what I had written. These weren’t my best words. These were just the first words I could jot down in a few minutes. I opened my mouth, and before I even really realized what was happening, I was done reading. I sat back, beaming. I could have done a tap dance if I had tap shoes that would have fit my giant feet. Of all the things I went without last year – beer, margaritas, soft cheese, caffeine – I had no idea that writing was the thing that was truly missing.
So, I’m writing again. I’m writing because as frustrating as it is to come up with the best words, not writing anything is actually worse. I’m writing because it feels better than retweeting. I’m writing because it’s an election year and there is work to do. I’m writing so my son will have something special to read. I’m writing because I’m tired of reading stories that I felt like I could have made better. I’m writing because I have settled for being “good enough” and I can’t ignore that anymore. You can call that pride if you want to – I call it being self-aware. At the risk of sounding like a character in a Lifetime movie, I’m not being my best self if I’m not writing.
I do have SOMETHING to say after all. I’ve got something in stacks. Stacks on stacks. You might not like it. It will not always be the best. I will hate that.
But I’m still going to write it.