On Tangerines and Being an Imposter

Ok, so the tangerines bit in the title isn’t true. Sorry. I was standing in the kitchen making a pot of green tea and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to write about this morning, and I saw a bowl of tangerines. Actually, they weren’t even tangerines—they were mandarin oranges, so I lied about that, too. I have nothing to say about any citrus fruit (except that I really should eat the rest of the mandarin oranges, as they’ve been sitting there for a while. They’re probably starting to get mushy, and I hate wasting food).


citrus fruit
See?  I didn’t lie about there being a bowl of some kind of citrus fruit.

So I was a liar about the tangerines.  I see we are starting off fantastically with this post.  Truth is (or is it the truth?), I’m kind of winging it this morning. Once I get something in mind to write about, I get going and can’t stop. I’ll be laughing to myself (unless I’m writing about something that has made me angry, and then my wife is startled by mutters of, “That asshole!” and “She won’t be elected again once the two people who read my blog start calling her office and making some noise!”

Ok, so two is an overstatement.

When you get in that flow, writing is fun and happens without your really meaning for it to. What results is a product of doing something you enjoy. What’s strange is when you find yourself in a situation where you’re getting paid to do that thing you enjoy. A couple of months ago, Carl Richards wrote an excellent New York Times article entitled “Learning to Deal With Impostor Syndrome”. (Hey—“impostor” is not spelled with an “-er” at the end of it, my spell check angrily insisted. You learn something new every damn day, don’t you?) 

Until I read Richards’ article, I had never consciously labeled the crippling fear I had of submitting my writing to someone and asking to get paid for it. (Cue discouraging interior monologue.) If you’re good at something and enjoy doing it, how is that work that deserves pay? And also—there are a zillion other writers out there; many of them as good or much better. Why do I deserve to do this or be paid for it? 

I wrote my feelings off to a litany of other things (including low self-esteem and never being allowed to eat ice cream when I was a kid*) and never thought much more about it. But then a friend posted this article and just like that, my insecurity had a name: “Imposter Syndrome.” (This was kind of like recently when I discovered that the fear of throwing up is an actual, DSM-IV phobia.  It’s called “emetophobia,” for those who, like me, are like, “What? Just because I have an anxiety attack when I get nauseous, I’m not crazy? I mean, I am crazy, but I’m a valid, NAMED kind of crazy? Yay!”) 

“Imposter syndrome” makes me think of the villain in a Scooby Doo cartoon having his mask ripped off to the gang’s exclamation of, “That’s not the Loch Ness Monster; it’s Old Mr. McGee!” I guess it kind of feels that way—that despite someone paying for and actually enjoying what you’ve written, they’re going to see behind your mask and shout, “Hey! You’re not a real writer! You’re not a funny blogger like Jenny Lawson, an entertaining journalist like Emily Yoffe or a fantastic storyteller like Anne Rice! Pretender!  You’re just you!  Give me my money back!” 

I’ve been doing freelance work of late, doing all sorts of writing and proofreading for various people. With each writing gig, I wait for the other shoe to fall. “You want me to write this? This isn’t hard and I’ll enjoy doing it. Surely, this is all a farce and the person hiring me will turn out to be my wife posing as someone who messaged me with a much-needed writing assignment.” (“But you were struggling and I just wanted to boost your self-esteem!” she’d say.) 

But the assignments keep coming, as does the positive feedback. I guess (impostor that I am) I’ll just have to pretend to be someone who is confident and cocky in a Trump-esque fashion. “I write fantastic op-eds!  My articles are high-quality!  My op-eds solve world peace! Everyone else’s writing is weak and lacks stamina!”

*The ice cream thing is a lie, as well.  I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and while Christmas and birthday parties were banned, delicious, delicious ice cream was not.  

EDIT:  My iPhone dictionary insists that “imposter” spelled with an “-er” is just fine, thank you very much.  Apparently, it and my Mac need to have a heart-to-heart…er…hard drive to hard drive?  I’m leaving the title of this post spelled the way it currently is—just to cover all bases.


Maybe the problem is ME. It’s probably me. Ok, it’s definitely me.

The title of this cartoon is “Comic Strip Demonstrates an Awkward Pitfall of Speaking to Your Coworkers.”  It also applies to neighbors, cashiers, or any random people with which you might be forced to speak.

Maybe it’s not so much about having to discuss topics that strike to the very core of your soul as it is just taking a minute to listen to and really care about what the other person has just said to you.  Which would help one avoid these types of circular “Shit; now I’ve made a fool of myself and am totally stuck” mandatory greeting moments.  Moments that I find myself in allllllll the time.

For example, here’s a conversation I had with my wife the other day:

Me:  I saw one of our neighbors downstairs earlier—the lady who is married to that guy who looks all serious all the time?  (You can see I’m really good with names and faces, here…) Gypsy ran up to her and the lady was petting her.  I totally forgot that our dogs had met her and her dog in the lobby the day before…so I was explaining that Gypsy wasn’t ferocious when she reminded me that she had taken a picture of her chihuahua with Gypsy.  You know:  Jack the tiny chihuahua with Gypsy the huge Great Pyrenees.

Wife:  Oh?  What did she say about Gypsy?  Does she like her?

Me:  This is weird, but I THINK she said…  I’m not sure, but I think she said she sent the picture to a friend of hers who is dying.  I think she said dying.  Either that, or she said a friend named Eileen.  I didn’t think it was appropriate to ask, “Did you just say ‘dying?'”

Wife:  So what did you say?

Me:  I said, “Oh, I forgot about Gypsy meeting you and your chihuahua yesterday!  I’m losing my mind!”

Wife:  (Looking stunned at my social ineptitude/total insensitivity to the dying friend.)  So you didn’t acknowledge the dying friend?  At all?

Me:  Being that it took me by surprise and I wasn’t sure that was what she had said….  No.  I didn’t know what to say.

Wife:  How about, “How did your friend like the picture?”  Which would have covered both “My friend named Eileen” or “My friend who’s dying”?

Me:  (Looking stunned at her genius)  If I could rewind back to our conversation, that is EXACTLY what I would say.