I’m going to keep writing about myself (and that’s okay)

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The author Rivka Galchen recently had an essay published in the New Yorker titled “The Only Thing I Envy Men,” partially about the experience of finding women writers. She wrote about the many women-authored books she loved that had gone out of print. She wrote of women-authored horror books, crime fiction, and the works of women writers in genres that we do not associate with women writers. She wrote about writing about women writers, and what a stumbling, clownish task it can be. They become more “women” than “writers.”

Earlier this year, I wrote about my impostor syndrome with the hope that those who read this magazine could relate to it. I wrote about my mental health and persistent self-doubt because I believe it is feminist to tell one’s truth. But I also wrote about it because I am, and have always been a creative, attention-seeking person. When I was little, I would dance and sing in the margins of rooms, making a show of shyness but hoping others were watching. I grew up wanting to be both a princess and an artist. So, I wrote it to reach out to my fellow overextended women and fatigued feminists, but I also wrote it for the simple reason that I wanted to write about myself. I wanted to write about myself not from the shining place over the valley of repeated failure, but from the valley itself.

After I wrote it, however, I became self-conscious. I started to feel sort of like, oh, please. Like, enough already. I felt narcissistic. I felt like it wasn’t okay to go on about myself for the length of an essay because, I had a feeling that I was somehow contributing to negative stereotypes about millennials and about women writers and about internet feminists. I felt like I should give up wanting to be a writer and go apply my degree to something practical, with earning potential, like marketing. Kind of an extreme reaction to have to a blog post I wrote in about half an hour, but still. That’s how I felt.

But now, four weeks out from my college graduation, I’ve realized that what I’ve spent the last four years doing is, actually, actively encouraging other people, other women, to write about themselves. How many times have I sat across from a contributor at a coffee shop and discouraged them from turning in a bloodless manifesto instead of a story? How many times have I said things like “I need to see you in this piece”? Too many to count. I refer to the contributors whose work I edit as “my writers,” but I blush every time I tell someone that I’m a writer, because it sounds, in my voice, like this overfeminine, precious thing. It feels like saying “I’m a babysitter.”

But I know in my little princess-artist heart that writing is maybe the only thing I really want to do. And I want to write about myself, not because I want to represent the condition of women or even necessarily because it’s this feminist strategy of personal narration, but because I just do. And somehow, I don’t think it would present the same quandary were I not a woman; did I not feel on some uncontrollable molecular level that nobody wants to hear what I have to say.

But that is no way to go out into the world, and going out into the world is what I am doing. So I am trying to treat myself the way I would treat someone whose work I’m editing, or the way I would treat a little girl like the one I used to be. I am trying to be a woman writer so that the works of women writers are that much harder to lose. That’s what this blog post is about, in case you were wondering. There’s no moral of the story, just me, writing about myself. Because I want to. Because I can. And because, well, that’s the kind of thing I like to read.


Hannah Engler

Editor-in-Chief, What the F Magazine

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Posing as Myself

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Hi, I’m Tori, and I am tangibly close to graduating from college.

I never actually thought this day would come. Not because I didn’t think I wasn’t going to make it, but it was always so far into the future. Eons and decades and centuries away—always a distant reality that I never thought I would have to come face-to-face with.

But with graduation, there comes post-graduation. And that means going out into the real world with a real job and a real salary and a real apartment. However, after eons and decades and centuries of being a full-time student, I don’t know exactly how to succeed at a real job.

And with that dilemma, I have another big problem: I don’t know how to obtain a real job. The process is political, complicated and downright confusing. And once my application somehow advances to a competitive level, I shoot myself in the foot, because guess what? I kind of suck at interviewing.

This snag isn’t because I don’t like talking to other people—on the contrary, I love talking to people. I even love striking up conversations with people I don’t know in line at Starbucks. I like hearing other people’s thoughts and world-views and opinions—it’s probably why I spend hours on hours looking at the top contributors on Quora.

But I suck at talking about myself. I hate talking about myself. It gives me social anxiety to talk about my accomplishments and internships and successes, and I want to stop immediately after I open my mouth.

I don’t want to go into details of what I have been responsible for and executed in past projects. I like to skirt the surface and just say it was “a great experience” instead of giving concrete examples of what made it a valuable lesson; without specifics, I sound childish and inarticulate.

I feel like this might be a mild case of the infamous impostor syndrome. Maybe I can’t talk about my experiences and accomplishments because I am unable to internalize them and feel like I can’t take responsibility for the results. If I am asked questions about a specific role I took, I get nervous I might be found out as a fraud—even though I’m not! I really did contribute to these projects! Sometimes, I did practically the whole thing.

Maybe I don’t want to seem arrogant, because arrogance is one of the top qualities of a disliked woman. I much prefer humility and not having the spotlight on me, unless it is to occasionally tell a joke and be surrounded by the warm and familiar laughter of my friends.

Maybe I’m scared to death of authority figures. I laugh nervously and smile and trail off my sentences; it’s the little girl inside of me who is terrified of the principal’s office and getting into trouble by saying the wrong thing. That hot burn always still creeps up into my cheeks when confronting someone I want to impress.

Maybe it’s just hard to get outside of my comfort zone. Whose comfort zone is being grilled by someone who potentially controls your future?? Outside of my comfort zone is a place that is extremely uncomfortable and often awkward—and very far from the comfort of my bed.

However, as I look back on my past 4 years at Michigan, I know I have conquered scarier things. Heck, I survived the Polar Vortex, waiting outside for the Bursely-Baits bus in -20 degrees Fahrenheit after my 9pm German class. If I can survive that winter (and by winter I mean about 6 months of 2013-2014), I can do anything. That season made me tough.

In every uncomfortable situation, I think practice makes perfect. And practice it will be for me, until the nerves and butterflies fly away. I will practice talking about myself until I can squash that nervousness and pretend like everything I’ve done is the best goddamn thing anyone has EVER done on the face of this Earth and WILL EVER do.

With my fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude, hopefully I will land a real person job. And with that tangible post-grad job, I can continue to add more and more accomplishments to my resume. I am still hesitant about graduating, but with the possibility of starting my career, I want to find experiences that I can find pride in talking about—and I will shout them loud and clear.


Tori Wilbur

Finance Director, What the F Magazine

Art by Erica Liao, Art Director, What the F Magazine

What do I want from me? On impostor syndrome and senior year

I’d like to make an announcement, for feminism: I am having a hard time. In the past few weeks, I have walked around with one persistent feeling: that I’ve failed. I feel that I’ve failed at being in leadership positions in two activist orgs. I feel that I’ve failed my senior thesis, though the process of drafting it has only just begun. I worry that I’ve failed my friends when I cancel on plans, or show up to plans too tired to participate fully. I feel I’ve failed my boyfriend, when we disagree or miscommunicate. Sometimes, I simply agonize over the failures yet to come.

The closest thing to what I have been feeling might be described as “impostor syndrome.” Impostor syndrome is a psychological reaction, not a disorder – it’s not even a personality trait, more a certain propensity for feeling a certain way. It has been studied primarily in high-achieving women (only with great reluctance do I place myself in that category.) These women believe that they are not intelligent or capable, and that evidence from external sources to the contrary is skewed. In other words, they believe that they have somehow gamed the system, and they feel incredible pressure to keep up the “fraud.” My feelings of failure are like this: it is a failure that has been confirmed by nothing and no one around me, a failure that only I can sense. It is a failure I have to keep from becoming visible.

I have to say, I know a lot of “impostors.” The women in my life are all high-achieving. I have friends that work multiple jobs while maintaining academic scholarships; friends who run student publications; friends who achieve great success without any familial support and friends who must navigate familial strife from thousands of miles away. Despite their indisputable awesomeness, these women feel insecure, undeserving, and yeah, fraudulent. This seems so colossally unfair that it makes me want to yell. WHY? Why can’t it just be hard to do everything, time-in- the-day- wise – why does it have to be hard on the heart, too?

Recently, I was texting two of my best friends, both of whom are extremely hardworking women. The conversation went from the amount of work we all had, to things like this:

“I should have cleaned out my room and my car. Or showered. I feel gross. :(”

“My friend is going to a research conference this weekend. What do I ever even do?!”

All of us are busy, and merely human, but it’s hard for us to admit that we need to take a break, or to let ourselves feel good about the things we have accomplished. Maybe it’s because of that word: undeserving. I don’t deserve to be in this class, or this thesis cohort. Maybe I don’t deserve to be at this university, or to graduate in April. I feel I don’t deserve to be tired, or stressed, or sad, because other people are more tired and more stressed and more sad because they have more on their plate. However much I feel I’m balancing, I can’t help but convince myself it doesn’t matter, because other people have more.

I can’t help but feel that I don’t even deserve to have impostor syndrome. I haven’t achieved enough: I haven’t earned it. How crazy is that?

It seems to me that impostor syndrome is rearing its ugly head this year because we are all about to go out into the world, as women with something to prove. Suddenly it’s not just about college – it’s about our whole lives, and what they are supposed to look like. As feminists, we are driven and defiant. Also as feminists, we’re told that taking care of ourselves is of the utmost importance. I am trying to learn to reconcile those two things. Self-care seems like an indulgence, just another thing to “deserve”; or else, another imperative that I have failed.

But the thing is, I can see that my friends are struggling, too, and I know that when they feel like impostors, they are wrong. Because of this, I can learn to treat myself like I would treat them, and cut myself a break as I do others. At any given time, the answer to the question “what do I want from me?” could be a thousand different things I’m not doing or could do better. The answer I am trying to choose is “patience, and peace.”

Yes, I feel like a failure sometimes. But what have I failed to do, really? I have failed to love myself, feed myself, and let myself be.

To conclude, I think I just want to say that if you’re having a hard time like me, you should know:

You are real.

You are important.

You will be fine.


Hannah Engler

Editor-in-Chief, What the F magazine