Saturday, June 23, 2018
poet vs. imposter syndrome
I finally have a free weekend, so am settling into my Saturday with coffee, a couple of sizeable eclairs, and a manuscript critique I'm working on accompanied by some vinyl. I'm finding, despite how much I hated workshops as a whole, I do like the one on one work of examining a book, sussing out what what works and possibilities to make it stronger. I've done this a bunch of times over the years for friends just on the fly, but have only recently started doing it as something that generates income. (I'm determined to make all those degrees and writing experience pay my student loans payment, that creep a little higher with each year (as they are income based) and I will probably be paying until I die. It also helps that so far, the manuscripts have been people whose work I already have familiarity with and like. So it's much less like work and more like fun.
I was having a conversation with a friend recently about how, as you get older, you spend a lot of time in your 20s and 30's looking at situations and thinking you never really have a handle on certain things, certain skill sets, certain knowledge bases. Maybe it's a little bit of imposter syndrome. I'm pretty confident, but then sometimes I feel so much like I'm making it up as I go along. I think only in the last 4 or 5 years have I been ready to admit that there are certain things I actually do pretty well, and I guess pulling together a manuscript, even though the struggle was real difficult on that first book 15 or so years ago, has gotten to be more of a second nature. Or another example: Someone also asked recently if I wanted to be on the Library's social media committee, and when I considered it, I realized that I actually am pretty good at it in the context of my own work promotion (I've been blogging since 2002 after all) and the press (which thrives in part due to social media--or maybe even wholly). A few years ago, when the ARTCACHE was included as part of Chicago Artists Month, a couple of us had to go to a couple sessions on marketing, and as I sat in the audience, I realized that the people up on the stage really knew no more than I already did, and actually, disappointingly for the time investment, probably less. I also have been marketing and promoting things for Aesthetics through it's own channels, so I'm pretty much already doing it.
But it's hard to claim that authority when you don't have a degree or a certificate to back you up (and even of you do). This applies to other, more mundane library things as well..I recently took on interlibrary loan duties during a personel shift, and in the middle of a platform changeover and spent two weeks freaked out that cramming new system and procedures (well, mostly new, my last experience in ILL being over a decade ago and then only occasional backup) Sometimes it feels like there is so much already in my head and on my plate that adding new things will only result in frustration and disaster, but I'm feeling a good about it. ( we also have some crackerjack student workers who do a lot of the processing themselves, so I mostly just have to supervise them & see to the non-I-share things.) I am also learning how to help out with the maker lab & the 3-D printer (the librarian who oversees it is going on maternity leave in August, and again I thought it would be hard to get a handle, but actually it's not so hard. ) There's always that feeling that good god, I'm never going to figure out this software or troubleshoot this machine. But, then , I have to remind myself that a lot of things I learned I eventually figured out...writing a poem, making art, handcoding websites in the early aughts )before you had nifty things like tumblr & wordpress that made it easy.) Running an online business (there was a huge learning curve when I was developing the etsy shop). Eventually I got the hang of things, but it's hard to remember those things in the panic of facing whatever new things comes your way and you're freaking the hell out.
And poetry, in general, has so much of this. Particularly since the stakes are at the same time kinda high and not high at all. So much rejection, even when you feel you feel on (or nearly) on top of your game. All the poems you send out that you think are amazing that no one wants (all the meh--things that people seem to inordinately like.) Also the weird markers--the top-tier journal pubs, the first book, the next, fellowships, tenure, awards-- things that even the people who have them sometimes feel aren't enough. (and god forbid you eschew them completely, which leaves you flailing in imposter waters even more frantically.) Even the work feels slippery if you focus on that instead of externals--today's genius, tomorrows garbage fire. it's rough, especially when money, which seems the ultimate sign of success in American society, isn't even much in the game. People outside of poetry seem to respect you as a poet if you have turned it into cash, but I can still say of all my years in poetry, the most I've ever earned (including prize money, royalties & book sales, workshop & reading honorariums), probably doesn't even hit $3000 my whole lifetime. Respectable for a poet, but I've easily made 3x selling art & paper goods. When it comes to degrees and certificates, my MFA made me feel even less like I had a handle on poetry than the years I didn't have it.
So then what is success in poetry? The internal satisfaction of writing something good (though see garbage fire above--who knows?) I like to think it's readership, and people interested in your work, but those things are harder to track. Sometimes, you feel like you're flinging words into a big old void. Even those likes and hits feel small in the grand scheme of things. When I'm feeling down, I start self-googling as therapy , and it always perks me up to find things like this (mere mentions on tumblr, but look at the notes on that first one! Which means that many people actually laid eyes on that single line from a kinda old poem!) I also get really excited over occasional reviews, and hearing that my books are being taught in classes I nearly fell on the floor when I heard the James Franco Sundress chap hits were in the thousands--even if people were only interested in JF and not poetry..lol..) One of the most amazing things in my early days of publishing on the web, was not even the appeal of the work to editors, but the really nice notes I got from readers on how much they liked the work, or the writer friends I made because of those connections. Or a really good response to work at a reading. Again, less measurable than a book prize or a teaching position, but in the end somehow so much more worth it.