Things to Teach, Things to Learn

Spent the past couple days devouring Lynda Barry’s new book Syllabus. My sister gave it to me for Christmas because I am gearing up to teach my first class in February, and it’s a fitting source of inspiration. My sister and I talk a lot about how our lives have been shaped and how we work to shape to our lives and about all the things that fall in between. We talk a lot about gaps and bridges and phases of life.

A few weeks ago, she told me “We teach what we want to learn.”

In Syllabus, one of Barry’s notes says “Teaching this: To be able to accept what comes up.”

That about sums up what I’m hoping to learn, and how I wish I could live out my days.

So, to get started on that…. I have a pretty big fear of drawing. You can ask any of my work-work coworkers, and they can tell you how funny and out of scale and crooked all my lines and shapes are, especially when drawn on those massive white boards. My inability to draw has bummed me out for as long as I can remember. I just dug out a sketchbook I last drew in back in March of 2012. But about half way through the Barry book, I felt like I had an opportunity, and the responsibility, to just see what came up if I tried without trying. In one of her classes she took attendance by having her students draw 2-minute self portraits on index cards, which she then collected and held all semester. So I pulled out an index card (which I got in my stocking!), set my timer, and went for it. So that I wouldn’t feel so alone, my five-year-old son joined me, though he spent about 10 seconds on his after bemoaning the unfairness of only having 2 minutes.

Here it is, my first self-portrait in 10 years.

O said, "Aw, you look so cute, like a kid!"

O said, “Aw, you look so cute, like a kid!”

"But two minutes is toooooo short for me." (O's 10 second self portrait)

“But two minutes is toooooo short for me.” (O’s 10 second self-portrait)

It is tempting, but I probably won’t have my students draw attendance cards.

I’ve spent the last year working part-time and going to grad school full-time. I’ve written 21,000 pages of my book and started a crown of sonnets. In a few days, I’ll reverse the order and work full-time. Writing needs to make its way back into my morning routine, which means before I wake the boy up and get him ready for school, which means I’ll write from 5 – 6:30 am. These 2-minute self-portraits are going to become part of my morning warm up, to keep my head from taking over too soon and to get my hands moving.



IMPOSTOR: One who imposes on others; a deceiver, swindler, cheat; now chiefly, one who assumes a false character, or passes himself off as some one other than he really is. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Impostor Syndrome came up recently in an online forum, as it will when writers get together and talk about their work and lives and all that falls between. Wikipedia has a handy synopsis:

The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

 Last week, I hit send on an email to a lit journal and looked around the room. Wait. Who just did that? In moments of bravery, I am often unrecognizable to myself.

The editor I emailed got back to me right away, expressing interest. I’m going to follow up with him and another editor. It feels huge. And still, I felt disconnected from the experience, like it somehow wasn’t really me. Not the real me.

This time, I caught myself having that feeling when I was having it. That clarity is a shift in the right direction, a way through the notion that I am somehow not worthy.

Part of this recognition also comes from hearing other people’s experiences, knowing that I am not alone. As I sat down to write this up, I googled “impostor syndrome.” I never noticed that this phenomenon is common among highly competent and successful people. So maybe, for today anyway, I can place myself in the “highly competent” category of human being, and let that spill over to how I feel about my writing life. It seems like a cool way to turn things around. And useful.

In the past few months, I’ve taken a lot of chances and thrown myself out there, made my opportunities. I’ve pitched and pursued. I’ve asked editors to take a chance on me. It’s paid off. I taught a session at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House during their Write-O-Rama fundraiser. This summer and fall, I have work forthcoming on, Bitch magazine and the Bitch blog, Chautauqua Literary Journal (2015), and High Country News.

This is really just to say, and to remind myself, take chances. Your work and your writing matter, and you are worthy to tell these stories.