Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Impossible Imposter

My parents and I are going to Las Vegas in March. This will be my first visit to Sin City (and Nevada in general). When Mom asked me what I wanted to do while we were there, I came up with one of my typical batshit ideas: I decided I wanted to visit the campus of UNLV and find out more about their MFA and Ph.D. programs in creative writing.

"Wait," you're saying to yourself, "doesn't she already have an MFA?"

Once every three or four months or so, I decide that I should go back for a second MFA. This is not because I enjoy being in school. In fact, there are few things I hate more than being in school. And it's certainly not because I feel like getting tossed around in workshops again. (Not to brag, but I only cried once during a workshop in all my years of education-getting. Those of you who know me know that I cry over everything, so this is a pretty big deal.) No, it's because I feel like what I have done is not enough. It's never enough.

As I said to my parents, "I don't think I went to the wrong school. [Lesley is the best, for real.] I just think maybe I should have studied poetry instead." Earlier this year, I mentioned that I've won a competition to have a chapbook published, and on my way to that point, I was also a semi-finalist for one prize and a finalist for another. But I'm terrified that someone is going to take these things away from me because they'll figure out what a horrible writer I am or--worse yet--everyone who ever reads it will think that I'm useless and don't deserve to be published.

This stems from something called imposter syndrome. And I have a severe case. Women, in particular, are susceptible to it. This is speculation on my part, but I assume artistic types have the most trouble with imposter syndrome, because our work is already undervalued and (some of us) feel like jerks whenever we manage to pull ahead of the pack. I mean, just read this list of actors/actresses/assorted others (including Don Cheadle, Meryl Streep, and Maya Angelou, of all people) who seem to suffer from imposter syndrome!

I'm working hard to internalize the notion that there is a difference between being realistic and giving in to imposter syndrome. For example, I want to stay grounded and remind myself that--at least at this point in my life--I'm not the kind of writer whose work is going to show up in The Paris Review or Poetry or even Passages North (thanks for rejecting me twice so far, and an extra shout-out to Northern for dismissing my grad school application back in '09). And there's a good chance I wouldn't be happy in a poetry program, anyway, partly because I'm not happy in school. Yet I also have to remember that Laura LeHew, Carlos Reyes, and Ted Enslin (!) have said some nice things about my poetry. 

Striking that balance is difficult, as are so many other things in life. Any time it gets too difficult, I have to remind myself that, to this day, Richard Blanco telling me he didn't like my outfit is still the worst thing a poet has ever said to me (to my face, anyway). But that's another story for another time. Meanwhile, I'll be over here trying to talk myself out of a second MFA. Who has that kind of time, anyway? I should be out in the world writing, instead.


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