How is Everyone Not Crippled by Imposter Syndrome?

This week’s been rough on the writing front. I keep vacillating between enjoying writing and wanting to abandon the craft forever. I have a writing conference tomorrow and last week had my critique group, which always seems to drum up feelings of fakery on my part. There’s something about being included among these legit, talented adults that make me want to thank them for their kindness and bolt for the door. But I think the big source of this unpleasant feeling came a little over a month ago.

I won second place for Student Journalist of the Year in the Michigan Community College Press Association awards. They look at everything you’ve done and a letter sent from the newspaper faculty. The biggest honor in my eyes is that I was picked because my peers voted me in. And then I won second place at the actual thing.

I was quick to point out to my husband that this meant I was the second best community college student journalist in the state of Michigan. It diminishes it somehow while still being true. Makes it feel like not as big of a deal. He laughed at me, which is the appropriate response.

I believe this has been the source of most of the trouble.

I walked out of the ceremony that day with a brief feeling of elation and surprise… that was quickly replaced with a lingering, “Now what?”

Now what. What will you do with this momentum? What’s next? You’re done with your year at the paper, your days as second best community college student journalist in the state of Michigan are over almost as quickly as they started. So what’s next?

And the truth is I didn’t know.  Other than feeling like a fraud because they awarded someone who is not a journalist a journalism award.

The other day I was introduced as a writer in casual conversation. I wanted to throw up my palms and say, “Woah woah woah lets not just start throwing words around.” But my friend was quick to point out that I was a published writer. Which, yeah, okay, is true. I guess. And I’ve been paid for my writing. Also true.

It’s hard to accurately explain it. It’s like my default mode is, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll just show myself out.” This is true for friendships, my career, and this writing side hustle of mine. It’s almost like the more I try to legitimize myself as a writer, the more the imposter syndrome rebels.

Surely you’ve heard of imposter syndrome. It’s when your brain rejects all feelings and notions that you belong somewhere or deserve nice things. That even the status quo is undeserved. It instead replaces them with a parrot that screeches, “BRAWK! You’re a fake! Everyone will find out soon enough and you’ll be left with nothing! BRAWK! All of your hard work is meaningless when it isn’t adequate! BRAWK!” It’s that. On repeat. On a loud speaker.

I’ve been trying to drown it out. Remind the bird that, okay, so I’m not going to be on News Bus 7 delivering headlines. I’m no restaurant critic eating the finest of salmon foam with a lemon pesto gastrique. But I like this thing I’ve been doing. I’ve liked it since I was a kid. And I should be able to be imperfect at that something… especially if I enjoy it.

But before I can give myself permission to be human, I need to be dragged through the imposter syndrome with that obnoxious bird first.

“I’m a big dumb bird!”

“Yes, you are.”

“But I’m right.” It whispers. “Brawk.”

I wish I could be comfortable with the idea that I’m getting better at this. That I’m okay.

But it’s so hard to drown out that goddamn squawking.

The Bus Hustle

The year was 1994. I was in third grade.

I had just started going to a new school. New neighborhood. New life! I had a chance to start over and boy, I was going to seize that chance in my tiny little sticky fists, because GOOD GOD I needed it.

You see, I was never a popular kid. In my previous school, social advancement opportunities were sparse. I was never invited for team sports. Birthday invitations were non-existent. I lived a block away from the school so there wasn’t even the chance of sitting down and making a new friend on the school bus. I was doomed to stagnate. My personal brand of “quirky but a bit of a crybaby” wasn’t a winner.

But all this was going to change.

My new school was further away from home and thus required a school bus ride. 15 minutes. 15 minutes to roll out PHASE ONE: HEARTS AND MINDS.

I tried desperately to make new friends by sitting in any ol’ seat. But I quickly learned that the bus had a specific social dynamic.

The front of the bus: goody-two-shoe types, so eager to arrive at school with their smiling faces and pigtails. This often is where the pretty, popular girls sat, clinging to their seatmate to ensure no new and totally harmless stranger in town could score a seat.

Back of the bus: Generally where the boys sat, all rough and tumble, with their spitting and their yelling of the word “PENIS” loudly because it is not a swear, but generally pretty inappropriate to throw around in public.

This left mid-bus. The misfit and drifter kids sat here. I usually ended up in the emergency exit row, since the driver knew I was too timid to ever mess with the door or any of its latches. Phase one had failed.

My solitude in the exit seat gave me time to reflect and plan PHASE TWO: LEVERAGE AND INCENTIVISE.

What do kids like? Candy. What do I know best? Candy.

In the 90s, fruity, waxy taffy Airheads were where it was at. Caramel Apple Pops probably resulted in a great many dental visits, but we still braved it for the deliciousness of that lollipop. There were tiny juice cartons filled with fruity bubble gum that would lose its flavor in five minutes, but you’d shotgun that whole thing anyway. Warheads were so sour you thought your tongue would never recover. So many wonderful candies, usually available at Albertson’s for about 10 cents.

My plan was simple. I might have been young, but I knew that supply and demand was a capitalism… thing. And while a school bus wasn’t a candy store… it could be.

I went to Albertsons and stocked up on all my 10 cent favorites. I would take advantage of the whole “trapped on a bus” situation and sell my candy for 25 cents. Brilliant. The kids would love me and I’d make a profit. Just brilliant. PHASE TWO was looking great.

That first day I opened up shop I sauntered right to the back of the bus. I knew my demographic. The boys were sure to have cash, as they’d never had a “stupid sack lunch”. And boys loved candy.

“What are you doing back here?”

“I’d like to sell you some candy.”

Eyed with suspicion, the boys looked at my wares before offering up quarters and dollars left and right. PHASE TWO was working! We laughed, I made money! Everything was coming up Lauren! I had a good thing going. The next few days marched on like a montage from a tinier, dorkier version of Wall Street, with all of my cash and prizes going into a coveted Hello Kitty drawstring bag.

Monday, the next week, the tides changed. I boarded the school bus with my candies, ready to make some sales and maybe cement these budding friendships when – shock – I failed to remember the other constant in capitalism: competition.

My brother, specifically.

“Hey man, this is my turf.”

“But we don’t want your candy.”

“What – why?”

“He’s selling it for a dime.”

HURK. Undercut. By my own brother.

And almost as soon as it had begun, PHASE TWO quickly dissolved into PHASE THREE: SADLY EAT CANDY ALONE AT RECESS.

I later asked my brother why he did it. Why sell the candy at cost to run me out of the bus candy business?

His reply? “Just to mess with you. I wanted to stop you.”

 

Ah. Well. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

Lifeline

I grew up a gamer and, in my heart of hearts, will always be a gamer. But there’s kind of a problem: I’m not very good at gaming. I’ve never been one for strategy. In shooters I’m generally the one spinning in circles trying to figure out how to change my gun and – oh, never mind, game over. I’ll be waiting over here, guys. You finish saving the world.

I think part of the problem is I grew up in the age of turn-based roleplaying games and 2D platformers. I never quite developed the skillset for modern gaming. And anything Facebook based like a Farm/Sky/Star/Sea/City-ville my brain recognizes as a waste of time.

So despite my love of games and gaming, I don’t do much of it these days.

Enter Lifeline. Developed by 3 Minute Games, Lifeline chronicles the journey of Taylor, who has crash landed on a far off planet and for some reason is texting you. Lost and alone, you are their only source of grounding as they struggle to survive. (By the by, I’m saying ‘they’ because Taylor’s gender is never revealed.)

Title card for the game "Lifeline" shows a human in a spacesuit in silhouette, in a rocky ravine.

Part The Martian, part Choose Your Own Adventure, Lifeline is pretty fantastic. Taylor sends you text messages and you can choose one of two canned replies. By way of making suggestions and offering your thoughts on what is happening, they move forward in real time. So if Taylor is walking, they’re walking in real time. You might not hear from them for an hour or so. There is a fast mode if you want to skip this, but it really adds to the game.

When I was working through the game for the first time, I found myself checking my phone. Wondering how Taylor was doing. This is especially true in moments of drama. You’re left feeling anxious and concerned about a character. In a game. It’s pretty great.

Screenshot of messages in the game "Lifeline"

I don’t want to offer spoilers, but like in so many Choose Your Own Adventure books, endings are sometimes less desirable, so you can backtrack if needed and try another path in your decisions tree and hope it leads to a different fate.

Lifeline is also easy because you can play it in your free time. Unlike other so-called casual games which I find are often repetitious and meaningless, Lifeline freezes in time if you can’t reply to Taylor right away. There’s no, “Hello? Are you there?” like when you’ve neglected a real conversation. Just a nudge from the game: Taylor is waiting for you. My free time has been chaotic lately, so it’s nice having something I can drop in and out of.

I was playing Lifeline: Silent Night, its sequel, on a plane last week and my seatmate finally had to stop and ask me what I was doing. I had been chuckling because it has a bit more nerd pandering this time, which is pretty funny. I explained the concept and wrote the name down for him. He sounded like a bit more serious of a gamer than I, but seemed excited to give the game a try.

I think the Lifeline series can appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike because at its core it’s just a good story done in the perfect format. Plus it’s a lot of entertainment for a couple of bucks. It works on either Apple or Android phones. Give it a shot.

Alt Text

Okay, this is a little PSA on alt text. What is alt text? If you use WordPress or design websites, you might have seen it as a field on your pictures. If you do web design, you might recall hearing about it. Alt text is “alternative text” and it has it’s roots in the earlier days of the web.

This goes back to the days where we had dial up internet. Remember that? WEEEEE TRRRRK ACK ACK ACK. The modem dialed up and you waited for those sweet, sweet internets to come to you. Well, back in those days, images were slow loading. Alt text would explain what a photo was before it loaded. Or if it didn’t load… which was a common issue back then!

Well, there’s a case to be made for why it’s still relevant on the web today and it has everything to do with accessibility.

I found out about this issue from a good buddy of mine named Miller. Miller’s my age and completely blind. A childhood friend of my husband’s, they grew up together. Miller was sighted back then but lost his sight in his 20s. But Miller, god bless, is a nerd like us. So not being able to see the internet won’t keep him from using it.

He uses a screen reader. JAWS is the most common. And it reads the internet to him. The reader goes SO FAST. Everythingseemsstrungtogetherwithnobreakjustthislongalmostbuzzingsoundthatisthetextbeingread. He says he can keep up. Sometimes I wonder if normally paced conversations are agony for him.

For Miller and people like him, alt text is how they can know what a picture is supposed to be. It is read to them along with the text in the article/site/page/etc. In my gig as Online Editor at my school newspaper, we incorporated alt text day one. And while it is kind of a long process, I’m glad we do it.

Take a look at the last photo you took on your phone. How would you describe it to someone who couldn’t see? How would you describe it to someone who might not know what colors are?

See? Kinda hard, right?

It’s not only the right thing to do, there’s been laws and legislation passed that require compliance and reasonable accommodations be made in regards to those who need an accessible internet. Alt text is just the beginning. Some websites are designed in such a way that it is incredibly hard for screen readers to navigate.

I will say, I can be better. I’m going to go back and make sure all my photos on this blog have alt text. It’s just a little thing that makes a huge difference for folks. It’s something maybe you can do, too, if you have control over your content.

I’ll end this post by linking to a video of Tommy Edison, noted film critic who was blind since birth,  describing colors, which is just as interesting as it sounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59YN8_lg6-U

Wes.

I don’t have much to say this week. We lost a friend of ours. A kind, funny, and all around awesome guy. I’ve been acting weird and broken because I haven’t really known how to talk about it. I’ve been saying that we had a death in the family, but then I have a hard time explaining. My own “real” family is so small and fractured. I’ve been lucky to build a network of people who are my urban family, who share advice and support and love. Wes was a part of that. He was a brother in my internet family.

I’m thankful for the time we had together and the memories. I’m sad I won’t be able to make any more.

It’s likely you didn’t know my friend Wes, but I can guarantee you would have liked him very much.

My “Must Listen” Podcasts

I love podcasts. I used to bike to and from work for years, listening to podcasts with one earbud in. I started with NPR – a ton of NPR – but then comedy podcasting started taking off. Comedians I loved were putting out content for free. What they lost in time they gained in notoriety and new fans. Then there were shows diving into weird, niche topics that only I really cared about and I couldn’t imagine why they existed… except to entertain me. The bike has been replaced with a car, but I still fill my commute with podcasts. They fall into two categories: serious, interesting stuff and dumb, silly comedy stuff. Folks are always asking me what I’m listening to, so here’s a list of my go to podcasts.

Oh, and if you have a show to recommend, let me know! I am always looking for new stuff to listen to.

Here’s the interesting ones!

 

Oh No Ross and Carrie: Ross and Carrie investigate different religions and spiritual/pseudo-science experiences… and they do it from as neutral a place as they can. I was introduced to them when episode one of their series on Scientology dropped. They’re nice people and not looking to expose – just experience and report. Which is why I think this show is so good. Episode to try: Going Preclear (Part 1)

Criminal: This show profiles different crimes and the criminals that commit them. While the topic seems like it would be very narrow, just a rehash of those true crime TV shows you see on all the time, the podcast is fresh and intriguing. Episode to try: Episode 40 – Pappy

Reply All: This show is still all about the internet and still one of my favorites! I’ve talked about them before, but this is a reminder that you should be listening to them. Episode to try: #47 – Quit Already!

 

If you’re a big dumb comedy nerd like I am, try these out!

 

Comedy Bang Bang: CBB is my must listen to podcast every week. Comedians come on and become silly characters and have an improvised conversation. It is often weird and raunchy and is sort of the quintessential improv comedy experience through your ears. It has introduced me to characters I love. It has a TV show now. It is not 100% Grade A every time, but it makes me laugh. If you’re a serious comedy nerd, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Everyone else will probably just find this weird and judge me a lot. Episode to try: #338 – Be My Guest, Literally! They usually don’t just have regular people in the studio but their special guest plays along really well. If you like this, I’d listen to the “Best of” episodes to see if you’re in.

Spontaneanation: Comedian Paul F. Tompkins didn’t start out as a king of comedy podcasts, but he is now. Prolific and a great improviser, he’s a frequent guest on other shows. But did you know he has his own?! Yes! It’s a funny improv podcast of a different sort. Paul has on a guest, that guest has a conversation with him and then he and his “improviser friends” make up a scene based on the chat. I am especially fond of improv and PFT so, again, if you’re not a deep comedy nerd maybe not your thing. Episode to try:  #4 Savannah, Georgia. It’s just a silly time with silly voices and gives you a good idea of what this show is all about. BONUS RECOMMENDATION: Watch PFT and puppets on ‘No You Shut Up!’ on YouTube.

How Did This Get Made?: Paul Scheer from “The League” sits down with his wife June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (one of my favorites) to review terrible movies. Comedy and terrible movies are two of my favorite things, so this is just a natural win. Fun fact! This podcast is the reason why I went back and watched all of the Fast and the Furious movies! Episode to try: If you see a movie on their episode list you’ve watched, go for that, but otherwise try #53 Anaconda. You can listen to this without having watched the movie because they do a good job talking about it, but… you also pretty much know what you’re getting into.

HEY, BRAWNY.

HEY, BRAWNY.

YEAH YOU.

I’ve seen your billboards all over Detroit.

I know you think you’re cute. Ha ha, says your big, barrel chested mascot. “Never Throw In the Towel” “Bend But Never Break” “Stay Giant, Detroit”

And then there was the video.

I get what you’re trying to do. A cute wink and a nod about Detroit staying strong because it’s down and out and has some cleaning up to do.

Well, I gotta be honest. Your wink and nod and 6+ month likely million dollars+ ad campaign rings a little hollow as I commute past crumbling overpasses, underfunded schools, and a city that doesn’t need your ad campaign disguised as encouragement.

Detroit did break. It broke. Bankruptcy.

You want to chime in? Help us.

image

Make donations. Send plaid covered groups to help us clean up the lots that loom underneath your giant advertisement. Put your money where your mouth is instead of making a little joke at our expense.

Seriously however much you spent on billboards could make a huge impact on Detroit.

You could even say… giant.

Treat Every Day Like April Fools Day

Today is April Fools Day. I have affectionately referred to this day as “Nerd Christmas” for years. People and corporations alike come together on this one day to make us smile in an extremely dorky wink-and-a-nod display.

It used to be a delightful day on the internet. But all of the cutesy fake products and pretend web services have faded away to people fibbing about pregnancy or getting married and passing around fake news and lies. And really, this is the kind of stuff people do online (mostly on Facebook) everyday. It’s just that on April Fools were a little more “on the swivel” than usual, ready with a critical eye.

So on this April Fools I want to make a plea to you.

Treat every day like it’s April Fools.

Use critical thinking skills anytime you see a story or post that just doesn’t smell right. Free iPad? Probably a scam. $50 free at Target? Likely not. Like a photo of someone’s lotto numbers and you’ll get a cut if they win? Can’t imagine a more unlikely scenario.

I will say, I am fully aware that makes me THAT GUY on Facebook. Often I’ve found myself busting into someone’s Facebook thread and saying, “Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted you to know this isn’t true.” And then generally I link to Snopes.

Snopes is hands down my favorite truth telling website. http://www.snopes.com/

It takes news, myths, and rumors and lets you know if it’s true, false, or mixture of the two. It is my go to for when I want to rain on someone’s parade. Which… I don’t want to be THAT GUY. But the amount of misinformation roaming around on the internet is staggering. And people just look at the title of a story and move on. No considering of the source, no checking up on the facts. And it isn’t just limited to clickbait-y websites with a ton of ads. People have a hard time because this is everywhere.

I know it’s work. No one wants to spend their time googling. But I would argue that it is now more important than ever to make an effort to verify information. Especially as we move deeper into this political season. Fake news looks like real news. Hell, sometimes it is reported by real news. How often have you seen stories from The Onion paraded around like they’re real?

Snopes. Politifact. FactCheck. Treat everyday like it’s April Fools Day.

(But seriously, congrats to my friend Stephanie who actually got married today. No kidding around!)

Rick Santorum and Family, 2006

I have a lot of nice art in my home. Not any thing really fancy, just stuff I picked up over the years thanks to the internet and talented friends. There’s an eclectic mix to be sure: pictures, paintings, prints…

But among them is a particularly prized possession: a print I ordered from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It is from almost ten years ago, when Rick Santorum, a Republican Senator with a history of aggressive conservative politics, lost his seat to a Democrat in a landslide election.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was there. And they captured what might be my favorite photo in all of politics. Behold.

20160325_101019

This is Rick and his family when they conceded. The caption reads:

Photo Credit: Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Eight-year-old Sarah Maria Santorum weeps as her father, Rick Santorum, concedes the U.S. Senate race to Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. last night. Other family members at his side include son John, far left, wife, Karen, daughter Elizabeth and son, Dan.

There’s a high quality version of the photo on their site here: http://old.post-gazette.com/images4/2006108rr_santorum_concedePJ_580.jpg

Now, as you gaze above, please reflect on the many things that make this photo AMAZING. The crying girl with a dolly in a matching jumper. The disinterested teenager. The grimace on his wife’s face. The bewildered, wide eyed look on his son’s.

It fills me with delight. So I bought it and put it in the gaudiest frame I could find.

I have it in a place of honor in my home.

20160325_101032

Ask Me Where I’m a Local

A coworker referred to me as a “Southern belle” today. It’s kind of funny to think about, as I’m not really the debutante-in-a-froo-froo-dress type. I suppose I can see it. She’s been in meetings with me where I’m generally pretty demure. My default mode is, “Could you, please? Thank you.” (Probably to a fault.) The last time we spoke, I did use the expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” “Y’all” is still a regular part of my vocabulary.

But, you see, I’m not really from Texas. Sure, I lived there for ten very formative years but I’m from Washington State. Well. That’s where I grew up. If you asked where I was born as a means of asking where I’m from, that’s somewhere else entirely. It’s really a misnomer to say I’m from Detroit. And we’ve discussed how I’m from the Internet.

When people ask where I’m from, I have a clunky story. And on top of it, I’ve got this identity that is very hodge podge:

“How do you know the words to ‘Rapper’s Delight’?”

“Did you just use Yiddish? Are you Jewish?” (Not Jewish, no Jewish relatives, just picked it up from my mom who got it from who knows where.)

“You are the oldest young person I know.”

There’s no easy way to talk about who I am.

Sometimes I think back to the bio I wrote for a piece for this comedy blog:

Lauren Church loves to laugh. She enjoys writing but isn’t sure what she’s doing with her life. This is surely the midlife crisis that high cholesterol has promised her. She blogs every Friday at itscasualfriday.com.

At no point do I say where I’m from. Because I can’t pack that into a short couple sentences. I still think it does a good job of describing me (and it makes me laugh).

When I do talk about where I’m from, and stumble all over it, people have a natural question. “Why?” Like I said – no easy way to talk about all this. That’s why I liked this Ted Talk by Taiye Selasi.

To summarize: so many of us have a journey that takes us beyond a single place. Our life experiences are a mosaic and these places where we’ve lived have imprinted on us cultures and customs that cannot be summed up by saying where we’re from. Often it is better to view ourselves as ‘multi-local’.

I love this idea. I know, it’s easier for people to ask where you’re from. They can put you in a category, know what to make of you, what to expect… I’m all for managing expectations! But the reality is that people are way, way more complicated than that. Selasi’s talk concludes by saying that asking where you’re from versus asking where you’re a local gets to the heart of your intentions. If you really want to know someone and get an idea of what makes them who they are, you’re better off asking where they’re a local.

I mean, I’ll take the stereotype that I’m a Southern belle. I’m sure it’s easier to put me in that box and as stereotypes go, it’s pretty cute. But a better way to think about my identity is subscribing to Selasi’s method. My name is Lauren and I am a local of Detroit, Houston, and Spokane. It still may bring up the “why” and maybe I’ll answer that. But it’s better than backtracking and fumbling through these things that don’t quite describe about who I am. And I understand not everyone knows or cares. But we should. We’re all people with a unique path and story. We just need to learn how to tell it.