Before the signing: Do I have enough bookmarks? Enough candy to give away? Stickers? What if I run out of something? Maybe I should have the bookseller get me more caramels, or more water. My throat gets dry if I talk too much. I hope my mom doesn’t show up. People will think I’m not professional. God, I hope I sell a lot of books or else the booksellers will think I’m a loser…
During the signing: Oh, this is fun. More people will show up. Maybe I should call my mom. That would be nice. She loves things like this. No, she’ll just tell everyone she’s my mother and the booksellers will think I was desperate. Is that woman looking at me? No, she’s running away. Doesn’t want to buy a book. Or talk to me. No one's talking to me. Maybe I’m smiling too big. I look like a freak when I smile too much. No one likes a smiley author. I’m all by myself. Maybe I'll just rearrange these pens…
Later during the book signing: That was a nice little flurry. See people do like me. That one person though… No, I don’t want to write your life story. Yes, I’m sure your life would make a wonderful book. Keep smiling. Twenty minutes of conversation and no book. Maybe if I rearrange the piles to look smaller, like I’m selling. The bookseller is so nice. She keeps asking if I need anything. A few more customers, I said, jokingly. Was it my imagination or did she look a bit pained? Maybe it was because of that one customer who said it looks like a great book, but they have it cheaper at Target. Well, at least I made it into Target…That's it. I'm calling my mother.
Toward the end of the signing: Can people see that I’m sweating? Why does that bookseller keep apologizing for the lack of customers? Doesn’t she know that it’s much better if we pretend that everything is fine? That they didn’t order in fifty books and we’ve sold six? Oh my god, I’ve eaten all the caramels. I can’t believe my mom said she was too busy to come down. Oh, God, even my mother doesn’t want to come to my signing. I’m doomed! I’ll never sell another book. Everyone will know… What did authors do before they could play games and read tweets on their cell phones…
End of the book signing: Thank God that’s over. Two hours and eight lousy books sold. Why do I do this to myself? I’ll never do another signing. What a waste of my time. I could be writing. I just want to escape…Oh, God, what does that bookseller want now? Another signing for the holidays? With other authors? Oh, that sounds like so much fun! Of course, just shoot me an email…
I feel like an imposter.
Now, I don’t feel like this about everything I do. I don’t feel like a sham educator. Even though I don’t have a degree, I’m a great teacher and the kids at the afterschool program where I work would corroborate that, even without bribery. So would my boss. I also get consistently good reviews for my community ed writing classes. More than one student has told them that my classes are just the writing breakthrough they needed. No, this feeling of being a fake is very specific.
It’s as a writer, an author, that I feel like a total poser. Like I’ve made a writer suit and slipped it on while no one is looking. (It puts the lotion on its skin.)
Intellectually, I know it’s not true. I have seven novels published by major publishers. I’ve received wonderful reviews from well-respected industry outlets such as Library School Journal, Romantic Times and Kirkus. I have countless magazine articles in nationally distributed magazines. I’ve written for major websites, as well as a handful of startups.
Yet, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop and for everyone to discover that I’m nothing but a hack in author disguise.
Every rejection, every poor review, every mistake in my research, every time an editor takes the red pen to my work, every time a book doesn’t do as well as expected, I’m embarrassed—like I’ve finally been caught out.
If my current success as a novelist isn’t enough, what would be? Would making the New York Times Best Seller list do it? Would a movie deal? Would more money or more recognition ease the anxiety or would these markers of writing success simply increase my feelings of being exposed as a phony?
I’ve discovered a name to this feeling. It’s called Imposter Syndrome and it’s actually a thing. In fact, some of the world’s most successful women suffer from it. I’m not comparing myself to the likes of Emma Watson, Maya Angelou, or Cheryl Sandberg, (all of whom have said they felt like imposters), but feelings of inadequacy and the sense that we don’t deserve success can happen to anyone. Every time I credit good luck or circumstance as being responsible for my successes rather than talent and hard work, I’m giving in to that undercurrent of anxiety that when it comes right down to it, I’m just not that good of a writer.
This syndrome is often found in people who are experts in their field because experts know the more you learn, the more you have left to learn. So the more knowledge I acquire about writing, the less qualified I feel. In addition, most writers are avid readers and it’s hard not to compare… every time I read Hemingway, Conroy, Austin, Jackson, etc, I want to throw the book overboard and walk the plank.
I wish I had some kind of happy, positive solution to hand out here, but I don’t. The reason I am up at four in the morning writing this essay is because of that feeling. I only know two things: It’s just a feeling and feelings pass and I am compelled to write so I must be a writer.
At least, I think I am.
I'm delighted to announce that Velvet Undercover received an Oregon Spirit Honor Award from the Oregon Council of English Teachers. I am so incredibly honored. I am also excited for Fonda Lee, whose book Zeroboxer... was the winner!
You can read about it on the http OCET website!
Today my family got together to remember my father who passed away on Memorial Day at the age of 98. We had a picnic, which is fitting, because dad was known to drop everything and travel for miles for a good picnic. While I was helping mom go through the storage a couple weeks ago, I came across a little medical container of polished rocks that dad had collected out in the Arizona desert. I decided to make all his children and grandchildren a pendant that could be hung on a ribbon or a chain or even a key chain. I'm not crafty, but I think they turned out pretty well.
I also wrote a poem that I will share here for my family who couldn't make it today... it's not really a poem, more of a word picture, really, but I think it represents my father well.
Sage brush roamer
One line teaser
Wood stove welder
Bloody Mary sipper
Lyle George Foreman
So a while back I posted a bucket list of things I want to accomplish in the final third of my life. One of those things was to get a master's degree and teach college level writing, English or history. Of course, that brave young woman, (I wrote it in April, I think), had no idea just how difficult going back to school and working three jobs would be. I began my academic journey soon after and I have never juggled so much in my life. I had no clue what I was letting myself in for. (Keep in mind that I am just starting my academic career so I have years to go...)
That isn't to say I didn't rock spring term... I got a 4.0 and managed to finish a book, teach daily at an after school care program and teach a novel-writing course at my local community college.
But by the end of term, I was exhausted and within spitting distance to burn out. My father passed away just before the term finished so I can't say my emotional malaise was totally because of overwork. However, the doubts kept pouring in. Is this something I really want? How important is being Professor Teri to me? And most importantly, what if I get there and hate it?
Isn't that frightening as all get out? It's the final third of my life, people, I no longer have the luxury of switching careers midstream because I am TOO CLOSE to the estuary that leads into the final ocean of my life... I've had cancer twice, I've seen the reaches of the horizon and I DO NOT WANT TO FUCK UP HERE.
Constantly reevaluating goals is essential to personal, professional and financial success. Things change, priorities change, circumstances change. As we gain more knowledge, we need to adapt and change up the game plan. While I'm not quite ready to give up my dream of Professor Teri sitting at an old chipped desk, surrounded by books in an ivy covered office, there are some things I need to consider.
- My age. Would a university really hire an old professor fresh out of school no matter how many books I've had published?
- Will I make enough money at the end to recoup the cost of attending college? (As an aside, does anyone know of scholarships for middle-class, middle-aged women?)
- Would I want to sit and grade bad essays by students who just want to pass the class and move on? I've judged many a contest and sometimes it's just excruciating. My dream is to be a sort of traveling professor. Teach a term here, teach a term there, dragging my happily retired hubby from place to place. Can I do that? Is that a thing?
- Right now, I teach writing and creativity classes for Portland Community College's Community Ed Program, which means I get a ton of students who REALLY WANT TO WRITE. I don't have to follow college plans or outcomes--I get to make up my own lesson plans and only have to worry about my student's growth and satisfaction. I also give workshops at local events and conferences. I make my own schedule. Don't I already have the best part of teaching without the politics, grading and constraints?
- I really love learning and going to school. I love being challenged. School is fun in a way that it wasn't back in the day. But do I really want to spend eight or nine years of my final third going to school?
- Will my writing suffer? Returning to school will make be a better teacher, for sure, but will it make me a better writer?
- Do I want to finish school for the right reasons or underneath it all, do I want to succeed because I have an academic inferiority complex?
So there you have it--the things that swirl around in my head at night when I can't sleep. Would love some input.
So one of the things I would like to do in my final third is learn a martial art. I really don't know much about them except it looks like a really cool, tough way to keep in shape. It also addresses the things that all of us in our final third should all be aware of--balance and flexibility. I won't have time for karate or kickboxing classes in the near future but I plan on doing it at some point.
My friend, author April Henry already has.
And she's pretty bad ass at it, actually.
And here's what April has to say about her love for martial arts:
A few years ago, I took a kickboxing class that was really fun. The instructor had a black belt in kajukenbo, and he started up a mini kajukenbo school at our gym. I joined because I loved the feeling. Some grappling/Brazilian jiujitsu, (BJJ), was always part of our requirements, but then our teacher began offering formal BJJ four times a week - and I go all four!
In terms of self-defense, kung fu is fairly practical, BJJ even more so. Almost all fights will end up on the ground, if they are serious. I can now take care of myself, especially if my attacker hadn’t studied any martial arts.
It’s also good for me as someone who writes mysteries and thrillers. I have even worked through scenarios of what a character could do if, say, they were being dragged out to the woods. Martial arts teaches you about fighting back, how to read a person’s thoughts (like where they are going to hit you) and how to cope with a certain level of violence.
If you are interested in martial arts, I would observe or try out several schools to find one where you like the instructor and students. Many schools will offer a free week or something similar. Look for someplace that will meet you were you are - not demand that you be some whirling dervish. I would highly recommend Westsideakf.com. Check your ego at the door and you will learn a lot!
To learn more about April and her writing, visit www.aprilhenrymysteries.com
This final third blog series is basically me outlining what the last years of my life is going to look like. It has helped me clarify my own personal goals and serves as a reminder of why I'm doing what I'm doing. So while it may look like I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I'm actually moving ahead in a whirl of business. So onward:
Related to getting my degree is this goal of my final third: I want to teach university level writing.
I came to my love of teaching late in life, but I realized that there were always two things I ended up doing… write and teach. I’ve been teaching children off and on for years, but last year I was offered an opportunity to teach at our local community college for their adult education program.
I absolutely love it.
I thought that my teaching talents were limited my age, but it turns out that I’m just a pretty durn good teacher. My evaluations have been great and I have multiple students who come back and take every class I offer.
So I have this dream… I get a master’s degree and continue to write my books and I teach at different universities and MFA programs around the country and the world. I get to see the places I’ve always wanted to see, live in foreign countries and different places and take in everything. That’s why my education is key to everything.
Professor Teri Brown
It could happen, right?
Photo courtesy of Serge Bertasius and freedigitalphotos.net
I’ve always been a rock and roll kind of girl. When I was about five, my babysitter introduced me to Sugar, Sugar by the Archies. Then I heard my very cool big brother and his friends listening to In A Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly. I was hooked.
After my brother married and moved away, there was a dearth of good music until my parents bought me a little transistor radio when I was about ten and I heard Under Cover Angel. Then came a whole slew of hits: Dream Weaver, Silly Love Songs, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, everything by the Eagles, etc. Songs that propelled me from childhood to teendom.
Then, as a teen, my mind was blown by Journey, Pink Floyd, The Cars, Def Leppard, Rush, Boston… the list goes on.
In fifth grade, I decided to play a musical instrument and I chose the flute because it sounded pretty. However it takes a lot of work to learn a musical instrument and I was more into horses at the time and though I finished out the school year in band, I decided it wasn’t for me. Besides, in fifth grade I was obsessed with Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road and the disconnect between Benny and the Jets and the Streets of Laredo was just too vast.
As an adult, I discovered Alternative music and that was my passion for ages. I mean, COLLECTIVE SOUL! It was during writing Born of Illusion that I started listening almost exclusively to old jazz and during the Summerset Abbey series, I fell in love with ragtime.
Then I went even further back and now it’s all classical, all the time, which brings me to another item on my final third list… I want to learn how to play the flute. Yep, I have gone back to the lilting beauty of the flute and wish with all my heart that I could play the Streets of Laredo.
Life’s funny like that.
Of course, that will have to come after I finish school and write all the books, as mastering a musical instrument does take time and energy, of which I have little to spare right now. But it will happen and someday, I will rock the Streets of Laredo.
Photo courtesy of coward_lion and freedigitalphots.net
My grandmother was an amazing woman. I think she was 50 the first time she went to Europe and I think she went four times before she passed. She told me once that she thought she was meant to live in England, that she actually got homesick for London and the surrounding areas.
I’ve never been abroad unless you count Mexico and Canada. But before I die I want to live for three to nine months in another country. My wish list includes Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy or Spain. One of the reasons I’m going to school is to get a degree so I can teach somewhere for a few months. It could work, right?
I think part of my longing to live elsewhere and experience another culture is my love of history. I want to immerse myself in places where I can wander into buildings that can count their years in thousands rather than the hundreds. I want to live in a tiny garret in an old village somewhere and mingle with the people, eat the food and maybe learn the language, (if in Spain, France or Italy). And I want to write a book there.
My worry is the world is turning into such a unstable place that such adventures won’t be prudent for much longer, but maybe I’m just being a provincial American. Or maybe that’s part of the growing that I need to do.
At any rate, It’s on my list.
Photo courtesy of Jannoon028 and freedigitalphotos.net
I want to climb a volcano.
There, I said it. I know it sounds totally crazy, especially for an overweight fifty-year-old, but I don’t think it is and here’s why…
As many of you know, I have been fitness crazy since my last bout with cancer. I spent a year learning to run, increasing my strength and my stamina. Last fall I ran The Bridge of the Goddess half marathon. It was epic. But training for it also took hours and hours of my time. Some of my runner friends were like, “You could totally do a full marathon!” I looked at the hours it took me to train for the half and decided that that was a big ole noper.
About the same time, I came up with a case of plantar fasciitis and my podiatrist told me that while I could still run once it was healed, I should probably mix that up with some other form of exercise, so I took to hiking.
And I absolutely love it.
Always wanting to challenge myself, I did Cascade Head on the Oregon coast.
Then I did Saddle Mountain.
Then I did Dog Mountain.
Big climbs. Big, BIG climbs.
I plan on doing several mountain hikes this summer and then next year I’m going for Mt. St Helens. It’s practically vertical in places as you scramble over pumice and rocks, but it’s so close and how many people say they’ve climbed a volcano???
I don’t feel like this is my year. I am still too heavy (I am one of those odd cases where a person can train for a 13 mile run and still be 40 pounds overweight!) and I feel like I can be stronger, so I consider myself in training:
To hike up the side of a volcano and look inside.