Grossly qualified

For years, I was in the closet. Quite literally, I sat in my closet, writing for hours in hundreds of 180-page, spiral-bound notebooks, for most of my childhood: telling whatever little story that popped into my head, writing about Hootie and the Blowfish, drawing sketches, and filing it all away for myself. This year, my parents sold my childhood home and cleaned out that closet and the notebooks I left behind. With my permission, my parents put the notebooks on the curb for bulk trash pickup by the village trash collectors. In my mind, these notebooks were getting a somewhat unsentimental funeral, but one that felt right, as they had always been private for myself only (or so I had hoped). 

Within hours of being left on the curb, I had a message from a teenage girl who trash picked my notebooks and wanted to know if I wanted them back. She summarized what she found in them, clearly having read through things that I never thought (and really hoped would not) see the light of day. After much hand-wringing, I finally wrote her back. “I’m a writer now. These writings got me where I am today, but they’ve played their role.” I requested that she destroy them. 

After years of fiction and non-fiction writing; livejournals and microblogs; classes and notebooks; blogs and literary magazines, I did it. I called myself a writer. I told this strange garbage-picking teen, in so many words, that I had become the person that I always wanted to be. And I believed it. She responded (I imagine while popping her bubble gum and TikToking), “k.”

There’s nothing I love more than watching someone do something I could not, would never, be able to do myself. It’s why I loved Project Runway in college and spent hours in front of the Great British Baking Show over the last couple of years. It’s why I so frequently find myself at #BOSSBABESATX events, like I did during the kick-off of SXSW 2017. I sat and listened to a group of successful business women at the top of their creative fields answer the question “how do you deal with impostor syndrome” – and two answers knocked the wind out of me. One woman admitted what a process it is every day, talking herself out of feeling not good enough for the work she does and the life she leads. Another woman said, deadpan, that she doesn’t struggle with it at all. Her seat at the table is 100% hers. 

Sidney Gish has a song entitled “Impostor Syndrome” where she sings, “Every other day I’m wondering / what’s a human being got to be like? / What’s a way to just be competent? / These sweet instincts ruin my life.” Sidney emerged as a Mitski-tour-approved singer-songwriter before she could legally drink. Her voice rings with authenticity and creativity, writing about the human condition in a way only a young person can. She has a seat at the table. But, like the first woman I heard speak at Boss Babes, she can’t help but feel like she’s about to get caught for not being enough. “For human grossly underqualified / For canine grossly overqualified,” she says of herself.

For years, I didn’t describe myself as an artist. I told my paternal grandmother I wanted to be an artist once, and she told me, “Don’t be an artist. Artists are kooky!” Into adulthood, I (a pretty certifiable kook) painted and created and it was just a thing I did. I wasn’t serious or talented enough. Today, I own it. Is it confidence? Well, maybe. Is confidence when you give up caring what other people think of your own conception of who you are? If so, then yes. I’m an artist and I’m confident.

So why is it so much harder to characterize myself as a writer? Part of it is the ebb and flow of my writing practice. In 2013, I wrote every day and published it on my blog, Make. I went on to found Side Dish, a literary blog for people who wanted to be creative but maybe didn’t have that space in their professional lives. In 2016, I started Yoga Farts, which flourished for a year or two but has lately been dormant. 

If my confidence is less about believing in my own abilities in a way that I didn’t before and more about believing that I’m the one who gets to define me, then what does that mean for my seat at the table? I’ll be the first to admit that I live and die by the attention and praise of others, and it pushes my creative boundaries to know that someone is watching. I used to compare myself to other people. To writers who could find that right word and the right audience. To painters that could make a photorealistic dog instead of a cartoony one. It didn’t serve me. Every inch of growth I’ve had as a creative being has been from saying to myself, with eyes on my own paper, I want to do this and so I will. 

So this month, I’ve been reconceptualizing. Maybe it’s less about the seat and more about the table. You’re invited to join me any time, but it’s my table. I bought it off Craigslist for $25, and it has fizzy water rings all over it, and it’s mine. It’s where I paint and it’s where I write. It’s where I decide who I am.