Discover more from Swordfights & Spaceflights
An Imposter Syndrome Essay
Long before I knew the words “imposter syndrome” I had it. Even though writing and telling stories was all I wanted to do with my life, there were obstacles telling me that I couldn’t. People telling me the “right way” and the “wrong way.” But I just wanted to make people believe the unbelievable, to have faith in their imaginations. I wanted to inspire.
And I wanted to be inspired.
In high school, I was the over-achieving girl with her nose in Wilde, Hugo and Dickinson during lunch hour—advanced English class reading, reading I didn’t have to do because I was not in that class. (I was told my grades weren’t good enough by some snarky teenager given too much power. I had straight As, and she didn’t like the look of the mousy girl who smiled too readily and cried too easily.) So, I read in the lunchroom at a black-walnut laminate table or in the hallways sitting on the too-blue floor while other students had food fights and flirted.
I became a girl with a plan. The mousy girl with a mission, and I sniffed in disdain at people who didn’t know what they were going to do with their lives.
I started my first middle grade novel in high school. I had vision. I had imagination. I didn’t know then that it was something known as “fanfic.” (And if it was still around, I’m sure I’d get a laugh.)
I needed to share my creativity. So, I gave it to my cowboy-booted father. And his first response was that I was plagiarizing, that I should use MY vision and imagination and write something of my own. He told me my idea for my novel was terrible.
I spent the night crying in a bathtub full of bubbles.
When I was younger, my imagination was so much richer. I would hide in an old maple tree covered in gray gnats pretending I was an evil witch so I could burst the magic bubbles. My little fire-haired sister played the princess in a gauzy cape that blew around her as she spun, magic bubble wand spewing forth hundreds of tiny pearlescent souls.
I flew from the branches, with the help of my black magic, and attacked, arms flailing, voice cackling, bursting one bubble after another before the wind could carry them to the doghouse castle.
My flailings were always to no avail. One shimmery bubble inevitably made it across the aluminum chain-link fence and popped on the taupe castle that smelled of dog shit, letting my sister win. If it didn’t happen that way, my family would get angry at me for making her cry.
It was easy to write when I was younger. It was easy to place my imagination on paper; there were so many bubbles floating in my head. Ideas flying across freshly mown grass, bringing with them goals and dreams of how life could be, of my future.
I wanted to be a writer.
I could be whoever I wanted—a pirate outcast or horror story heroine, a condemned nursemaid or an elfish princess. I stood in the stage of my mind as a full house applauded. When I got my first short story competition award, I felt like I had something to show my father. Something I could shove in his direction and say, “See, I didn’t quit” even though that night in a bathtub full of bubbles, I swore I would.
In college, my fascination with wicked queens and bubble princesses faded. I only dreamed of being a writer. I had been educated to see that I couldn’t live practically on my wild imagination, both by school and by my family. I no longer believed in happily ever after.
No longer a witch or a princess (or a pirate or an elf), I knew that most writers had to have day jobs. At that time I was very materialistic and idealistic; I wanted my dream and an uptown city apartment with luxe furniture, a convertible, lush new clothes, and comfort that only money can bring. Dreams be damned, or at least be set on the back burner of a cold stove for later reheating.
I consoled these abandoned desires at night when I wrapped myself in my blanket and pretended that I was a part of something exciting. I pretended that I was a character in one of my favorite movies or television shows—a vampire slayer hunting demons in an abandoned park, or a starship ensign fighting for my life. I borrowed other people’s imaginations again… More fanfic, only this time in my head. Eventually, I imagined my own scenarios, things which I would eventually write down, start a story with, then abandon… I imagined somewhere I had courage.
There is a recurring dream that stands out in my fading memories of childhood.
I am alone in my quiet home sitting on orange shag carpet, staring at a blank television. I hear a rattle. The metal doorknob jiggling. Then… Pounding.
Outside the window, it is dusk, sun setting on sagebrush hills.
The pounding grows, and the metal door starts to shake.
When the door breaks, falling in pieces on the wood stove just feet away, I run. Down the hall—which has lengthened three times the size of the house—I run as something grunts and growls and shuffles behind me.
I turn to my bedroom and stumble to my bed, diving into the darkest corner. I bunch myself up. Shaking.
I don’t know how many times I woke up there. In a cold sweat. Terrified to even open my eyes. Squeezing them shut until I fell back to sleep.
Like everything, my nightmare couldn’t last.
One night. I decided to fight back. I would kill the demon that I knew would kill me. I would not cower in the corner anymore.
So, I stand up from behind my bed to face the darkness, and I am blinded.
A shining white horse that is more than a horse sits on my bed, legs curled beneath it, silver hooves shining. It turns to me. A silver spiral pointing between its ears swinging, stopping centimeters from my stricken face.
Its voice is crystal, clear, awakening. Beyond that, I only remember feelings. Pride and courage. Not words.
Now when that dream haunts me, the little mousy witch rides on the back of the white horse with a horn to vanquish the darkness.
Magic bubbles will always get past me. I will never be a princess in gauzy white throwing bubbles into the void. I’m the evil witch who fights for a place where she can pop as many magic bubbles as possible. I may never become a great writer. But I can’t be that little girl who cowers behind the bed in nightmares waiting for the darkness to leave.
I am afraid. But what I’m afraid of most is letting all the bubbles pass me by.
As an adult pursuing a dream, it doesn’t matter anymore if I’m a princess or a witch, but I cling to the thought that one day the witch will get her happily ever after. I cling because if I don’t choose my dreams, I risk letting all the bubbles past my black magic barrier. All without a fight.
That’s what imposter syndrome does. It’s that darkness in nightmares; it’s the indefatigable little princess who cries when all the bubbles are gone, popped by the witch. It’s a little voice that eats magic.
Everything I strive for in life is a bubble ready to pop, and one dry finger can destroy a perfect rainbow of pink, yellow, and blue. Unicorns and darkness-monsters exist only in fiction (unless they have people skin on). Magic is only what I can make it. But I can make a lot out of it. And counting the bubbles that I’ve taken… I would say… (In my bet witchy voice) They are mine. All mine.
Queen of the Black COMING SOON!
Thanks for reading Swordfights & Spaceflights! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.