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.

Weighing in

In 2010, I lost 30 pounds in about 3 months. The weight loss was significant, especially because I am not a tall person, and I felt a confidence I hadn’t felt in years. Physically, I felt like I could do anything. I rode a bike with a child strapped to the back up hills with ease. I ran six miles and felt like I could run six more. I danced all night and woke up to Charley horses in the morning. Being skinny made me feel powerful. At the time, I had just graduated from college, just broken up with my first love, and was finding out who I was outside of these two frameworks. I felt strong emotionally, and put myself out there every chance I got.

This was not the end of my story (fortunately or unfortunately). Weight loss is not a silver bullet, and it’s not the thing that cures your lack of confidence or sets you on the path to enlightenment. I was still me, and that meant I was still growing and making mistakes and changing. I started drinking for the first time, and with the drinking came an increased appetite for bad food. I struggled with mental illness, and with that came an ever greater appetite for bad food and therapies that led to weight gain. I started working a 9 to 5, with limited time for taking care of my body in the way I was able to in the days of nannying and school. All of these things – drinking and socializing, mental illness, working – were important parts of becoming my adult self and discovering my talents and my path to happiness. They were also important parts of becoming less physically healthy and gaining a significant amount of weight.

In light of these new developments, I strived to celebrate the power of my body in its updated form. It could lift the heavy things that it needed to in order to do my job as an archivist. It had the nutrients to fight off illness. It could run – slowly. I hopped on the body positivity movement and celebrated that my body takes up space, that it cannot be ignored or tucked away or overwhelmed as it could have been in its previously small stature. But lurking beneath the surface was insecurity – I have had a small body and I have had a big body. I knew that the way you are treated with each is significantly different from the other. I knew that men talked to me differently, I knew that I was served differently, I knew that strangers thought of me differently. My body insecurity slowly became an emotional and intellectual insecurity. Who would listen to me? Why? I had to be 100% certain when I asserted a point or expressed my opinion that I was ready for negative backlash. This became so exhausting that I began keeping more and more things to myself. The insecurity snowballed.

So where am I today? I’m writing this blog. I’m speaking my mind about what I think. I’m sharing this experience with anyone who will listen. I love my body, but I do not 100% love my body. We are like best friends who have started to outgrow each other. We need a long weekend together in Nashville to rediscover what we have in common – or, we need to come to an understanding about what health looks like and what it weighs. In the next two posts, I’m going to talk about tracking what I’m eating and tracking what I’m drinking. This is a personal journey to me, something that is extremely difficult to write about, but something I find comfort in sharing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on body image and self-confidence in the comments (the new blog has COMMENTS) – where are you now? Where do you want to be? What makes you feel powerful in your body? What makes you feel vulnerable in your body?