Discover more from THE FEELING by Kate Carraway
THE FEELING: "None of this is for real, and even if it is, I didn’t earn it"
On inverted imposter syndrome
This edition of THE FEELING was part of MORE FEELING, a subscribers-only series that ran from 2019-2020.
I had some dumb occasion to look at my Twitter profile where it says “Writer,” and was like “….oh!” and also “I guess?”
Writing as a job and definitely as a career seems provisional, to me (or just, for me). Like, it’s what I’m doing just for now, in the tiniest possible unit of for-now-ness, until something else, the inevitable “real” thing, comes up, even though writing is and always was my dream job. (Well, my actual dream jobs are “swimming instructor” and “pro surfer” but, within the realm of reality where I can both make a living and actually perform the required work, let’s say “writer.”) So is this, like, a pineapple-upside-down-cake version of imposter syndrome, like, a subtle and self-protective inversion of that particular anxiety?
I feel very, completely confident about being “here” — I have close to no anxiety about actual writing; as a craftsperson, I usually know what to do; I am up to whatever professional “challenge” of the technical or emotional variety — but not about staying here, claiming it, expecting it, living it. This means that I can’t ever see the future in a meaningful, dependable way: when I’m trying to answer questions about my life, like from a therapist or friend or online quiz or man to whom I am legally bound, questions that assume some measure of stability (even though I have an actual three-story house on an actual rectangle of land in an actual city in actual Canada; am married to a guy who is both Olde and Goode; am nuzzled in right and tight to a cartoon beehive of family and friends), I just can’t.
This cozy, happy life feels ultimately provisional, too, until proven otherwise. I mean, three of my very best friends (three of them!) have abandoned me, twice with no explanation. I have lost people to other cities, wives, addiction, children, religion. So like, “Where do you live?” like, fuck you for asking! I mean, that could change in a month! It has; it will. “How much money do you make?” The fuck should I know? “What do you do?” Do you know what you do? I know for sure I am loved, so, sure; I know for sure I am curious, warm and empathetic; I know for sure that I prefer my hair to be messy and huge and blonde even though I keep going back to brown and straight and sometimes, like right now, bangs. Otherwise, objective evidence aside, it all feels like a sweet apparition, fuzzy at the edges.
So I’m certain that some of this is just going to be the basic bitch that is my anxiety, but I’m also certain, firmly certain, that my “lizard brain,” that li’l survival-oriented, ancient bud of the brain stem, and my “monkey mind,” the screamy-freaky consciousness, have teamed up to convince my whole-ass self that none of this is for real, and even if it is, I didn’t earn it. I did a podcast recently (I don’t think it’s up yet but cannot bring myself to check) where I casually explained that my health anxiety and hypochondria is always popping because I am sure that I don’t actually deserve to exist — the differences between “self-worth,” of which I have “little” and “confidence,” of which I have “all of it, everyone’s, yours too” are never talked about but very important — and the host was like “…….. dark” but to me it was just, like, *flips hair.* “Yeah.”
My self-worthies are anything to do with guys/men/sex/socializing, and also bosses/work/intelligence/opinions, like, I got it. My lack of self-worthies are, instead, and for better or worse (because who ever knows) everything to do with sustaining myself in this world, being a wanted member of a group, and not spinning out into pitch-black, ice-cold oblivion. It’s as if my “default” is “alone, in space” and staying here, on the ground of Earth and among people and making even “enough” money and continuing to breathe and pump blood through my body has to be maintained with this constant vigilance and effort, and having done it so far, until now, was all just a lucky mistake. Like everyone else’s lives respond to gravity, but I’m always thirty seconds away from my body sprinting across Queen Street and then up Yonge Street and then into a cornfield and then through the open, waiting door of a vessel that will shoot me into some unknown, not because I want to but because I’m not allowed to stay here, and me being here at all was a mistake. Like a wrong turn on the way to a meeting will end with me dead in some alley: nothing gruesome, just, done.
I am good-natured, optimistic, strong-willed, happy, but all this survival comes as a surprise. (I’m Nicola Six, but in a better mood.)
So while I believe I am kind and smart and capable, and am so full of agency and gratitude it drips out of my ears and eyes and nose and mouth in thin lines of some gelatinous, day-glo-holographic substance, I guess that I really fundamentally believe that if it came down to it I wouldn’t be able to just take care of myself in a consistent, accumulating, safety-making way, and would just die, kind of instantly, like a quick, Le Labo-scented, pink-smoking POOF! The idea that this wouldn’t happen is just hilarious to me, at the very concrete bottom of my subconscious. Like: ha.
I think this is the same unprocessed trauma everyone else has, magnified by my constant rumination: there’s the usual, early life stuff (being in so much trouble all the time, because teachers and random grown-ups and my mom assumed I was being a little dick when I just didn’t understand the rules; being unlistened-to, and unseen, and contorting myself into what I thought would mean that I was “good”), and the lesser, later-on stuff like being so bad at “processes” (coffee makers, sewing machines, closing a window!), math and languages (I learned to write from reading, so, “by ear,” and could not really tell you what an adverb or verb is, but if you need an overview of the major moves in literary theory of the 20th Century, I got you, babe), and not knowing until I was like 22 that I have a learning disability called “dyscalulia” (if you’re reading this, there is a decent chance you have it too, I just know this about us), and being given the message from everyone I ever, ever encountered that I was not “for” or “of” the real, working, busy-busy world, that I was not only dreamy in nature but A Dream, an idea, of a human woman-person; that I was for soft skills, soft hands, soft things; that I was made to charm and talk and emote and jingle-jangle; that I was the right kind of bright for a girl, so, I would be a lawyer or a publicist or something, but wouldn’t be expected to work that hard; that I was expensive and high-maintenance and silly and a talking doll; that I was valuable, but I wasn’t real.
My dad is my best friend and my role model and my champion, my second email after Simon following any news or event, and a successful entrepreneur, and a legitimate feminist and Actual Nice Guy, but when I was starting out and asked him to look at my Excel documents where I managed my workflow and finances, he just, wouldn’t. Like blew it off, waved it away. I actually think, in retrospect, that he just didn’t know how to do any of that stuff on computers and without a secretary, and also that he didn’t want to have occasion to criticize or correct me, and also that he didn’t want to impose — my parents are pathologically opposed to “imposing,” it’s so cute, so WASP! — but in the moment it felt like I wasn’t worth the time (even though this man basically dedicated his life to, you know, me).
Even when I got contextually successful, talking about work, or asking for help, felt like playing “office,” like mashing calculators and scribbling on graph paper in crayon. I recreated all this trauma, as we do, in my career, where I was broke for a long time (and, fine, so is everyone), but didn’t think that was something I could expect to someday not be, or might be able to drag myself out of, because I thought, I can’t do anything like that!, anything with planning and solving and following through, on logistics and rules created by men in rooms and suits, on doing anything that is more “actual” than “adorable.” I was happy, for a long time, to be paid minor sums to excavate my still-in-progress emotional development, relationships, identity, feelings. Being so unstable for so long, being asked explicitly and implicitly to humiliate myself over and over, and then to have to essentially beg for money for the privilege of doing it… I don’t know. It does a number. It was real. And if I weren’t already set up for it, I wouldn’t have done it. (But, at least, I saw what happens to the women, always women, who do it for too long: they’re gobbled up, writer-princesses in fairy tales that get real as hell.)
Getting married to a Perfect Man both solves everything, and make it all worse. Now I sometimes just naturally walk to the passenger side of the car (my car), even though I’m a better driver than him, and will just naturally follow his instincts about so many things because I no longer trust mine (and why would I? I have been wrong; I have made every wrong decision about myself), and even though he has more faith in my untouched, untested hard skills than anyone ever has, he also laughs, indulgently, when I add or subtract something wrong, or when I ask him how the house is heated, because I don’t know, because why would I ever know how anything works, I’m just a stupid fucking little baby!
So I don’t know where to go with this. I’ve done the inner-child work; I see her clearly, with her soft brown hair and huge blue eyes, so willing and terrified. I carry her around and protect her. I sneak her caviar on crackers like she’s a rare white dove in my pocket, with the flesh of an orchid. But this feeling, this belief that I will dissolve, left to my own devices, is granite.
I need to feel like I have a right to exist, without earning it, temporarily, by being smarter than the next guy, or wilder and cooler than the next girl, or some of the right kinds of cute and alluring (and time will come for that, all hungry and mean), or whatever. I believe that everyone, including the totally gross open-mouth-avocado-toast guy two tables over at this coffee shop, has a true and infinite “right” to exist, and that everyone is worth everything, that we are made of love-stuff, star-stuff. I don’t know how to catch some of that feeling for me, though, and I don’t know why.
Announcement: I’m happy to note that the profoundly misogynistic fervor around “Pumpkin Spice Lattes” has not done more than lapped the collective consciousness this year (if a branded, mainstream lifestyle product is affiliated with people we are to find ridiculous, they will ALWAYS, always be “young women”), anyway, the real deal on this is that the “fall” drinks are whatever but the CHRISTMAS DRINKS at Starbucks or any other capitalistic coffee enterprise are inevitably so good. Peppermint is the Clarins Flash Balm of hot drinks: makes everything better; makes everything a dream.
“On Sunday, before Macy made his way to the all-women Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif., outside San Francisco, he stopped at Starbucks in his sparkling silver Infiniti sedan and grabbed a coffee and a treat, video shows. He arrived at the prison in sneakers, jeans, a button-down white shirt and casual dark suit jacket.” You guys, is anything cuter than this little item about William H. Macy visiting Felicity Huffman in jail, and first getting “a coffee and a treat”??? “A treat”! Oh my god.
Just a little obsie, about how Full Nerds own Twitter now: the unembarrassed proliferation of the phrase “cool kids.” I saw a writer call an Away bag a “cool kid” thing, LIKE, MA’AM! Shame can be functional.
I saw this pic on my friend’s Instagram Story of a cake decorated with a question mark made of Smarties, from an election party. (TORONTO, ONTARIO: Canada just had a federal election; the hot, problematic, ultimately correct while being electable candidate won; “Smarties” are also controversial, in that some people don’t appreciate how the dye comes off on your hands as soon as you touch one, and how they taste like trash, and some people know this is true but also fine.) I wish I was a person who WANTED to do something like bake a cake that adhered to the theme of the party I was going to. I wish I wanted to so much more than I wish that I knew how. Imagine, knowing enough about what was involved in “a cake,” and then when the time came to make it, you felt like it? And then did it? And didn’t eat it that night, and actually brought it??? What kind of self-negating Obliger shit is that!!!!! For my 30th birthday my friend baked extremely Me-themed cupcakes and brought them to a bar and the party started at, you know, 11, and you know, she would have had to remember like the little napkins and to take her little Tupperware home and all of that. And she did! What is that like?
I had to put Twitter back on my phone for work reasons (that sounds so dumb but it’s really true! I kept uploading it, DMing, deleting it, uploading it, annoyerd) and was confronted, with the freshness of a blonde twin chewing Doublemint, with the problem of having Twitter on my phone. So, I am back to leaving my phone somewhere else than where I am so I am less and less inclined to look at it, and honestly, this is the right thing to do. Holding it and touching it less has significantly more power than managing what is on its dumb little face.
P.S. Please send me an email with, like, what you’re up to, and/but only if you want, a little note about “me” (ew) or “More Feeling” that I can wedge into an edition of “The Feeling” to entice more people to get onto this one. Thank you!!!!!!! (!!!!!!!!)
P.P.S. Despite what it says directly underneath this, which I did not write, forward whatever you want to whoever you want, you know?