This is a quick note to say Happy 2023 and to set my intention to come back to blogging, after many years hiatus. There will be no theme here other than whatever fits my fancy. Short form like this and longer essays will show up hopefully regularly. Good luck to you and to me in our new year endeavors.
May dust off this thing and write something here. We’ll see.
My friend Amanda gives talks about imposter syndrome. If you aren’t familiar, imposter (or impostor with an “o”) syndrome is a psychological state where one is plagued with persistent self-doubt and fear of being publicly embarrassed as a fraud, despite having the “required” expertise. Amanda and another friend of ours saw this syndrome in themselves and decided to “lean into” the issue by giving talks and reaching out to others.
When Amanda and I were texting about researcher Adam Grant’s book, Think Again, I made a typo, calling it “Winpostor Syndrome.” I immediately loved the term. It seemed so apropos. Let me tell you why.
In his book, Dr. Grant reminds us of the benefits of what Buddhists call the “Beginner’s Mind.” The Beginners Mind, or “Shoshin,” is the state of being eager to learn a new subject. Shoshin is when we are observing keenly and are ready to challenge our preconceived notions. It is approaching a subject as if we are new to it. Even when we are at an advanced level of expertise in a subject, a beginner’s mind helps us to always be surprised and be able to learn something new in that area. It is keeping an open mind instead of harboring a closed one.
A curious, intelligent person will always maintain a beginner’s mind. This isn’t to say that you go back to square one and pretend you know nothing. It is to say that as we learn more, we also learn how much we don’t know. Isn’t this always true? The more you know about a subject, the more you begin to understand how much you don’t know.
Going deeper into physics, for example, just continues to blow one’s mind more and more. Quantum physicists are all like, “Listen we don’t know wtf is going on.” They are not impostors. They do not think they are lacking in expertise. They are world class intelligencia. And here they are saying, “Fuck if we know!” They have the Beginners Mind.
Winposter syndrome is being an expert in your field. It is getting so advanced in the subject that you are confident you can sort out what is knowable AND what has yet to be discovered. It is concentrating on what you want to do instead of what outside forces pressure you to do. It’s starting out where you feel comfortable and venturing into new spaces at your leisure.
Back to our example of physicists. Quantum physicists are OK with not being high school physics teachers, even if the local school wants to hire them. They like being in labs all day, not classrooms, and they don’t feel bad saying “I don’t know how to teach and I’m not going to try that at this time. Maybe later.” And guess what happens? They retire from the lab and start teaching, because they are ready to take on that new challenge that is related to their expertise.
If a person wants to venture into a new aspect that is related to their current skillset, the Beginner’s Mind is all they need to do so and to do it well. If they remain curious and intelligent, they will succeed. With a solid grasp on what the related skillsets are and the industry as a whole, an expert can add to her repertoire.
Winposter syndrome should be a litmus test. If you don’t feel at least a little bit of an “imposter” then you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing. Things are stagnant and the work is getting rote. This is ok for a bit, in order to rest, make money, etc., but it is not the natural state of curious people.
As our expertise grows, we discover more and more areas where one could learn more. This is the nature of expertise. It is like science: Science is always changing its answer to questions; As we get more evidence, our understanding of a phenomenon improves. As we get deeper into experience and expertise, our understanding of our field widens. We see branches where we could expand. Impostor syndrome would scream “You’re a fraud” when you attempt to learn about and do tasks that may fall under those branches. Winpostor syndrome says “I don’t know but I have enough expertise and curiosity to try.”
A beginner’s mind is a great thing. If you feel impostor syndrome creeping in, let it be a reminder that you’ve just leveled up, that you are trying something new, that you are expanding your horizons based on all the knowledge and experience you’ve gained so far, and that you already have more than enough expertise to let you in that door.
Forgetting me in the time of COVID
The trope of the time trap in fantasy and science fiction has been on my mind during this pandemic. My mind keeps returning to The Lotus Hotel and Casino in the Lightning Thief series and the Nexus in the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe. These are places that once one enters, all sense of the passage of time disappears. Hours, days, weeks, months and even years can feel like one second, and one’s life is forgotten. The person is disconnected from their former lives. They forget their mission. They lose all sense of motivation or drive. They are stuck, save for some miracle rescue mission.
Another scene in literature has also been on my mind. In her book, Zora Neale Hurston describes a doomful moment when of a group of destitute people are praying through a hurricane against which they have no shelter or defense:
“It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands . . . They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against cruel walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”-Zora Neale Hurston
I’ve been staring at walls. I’ve lost all track of time. I’ve lost track of myself. It’s like COVID equals a C[hristine] VOID.
To be fair, I can’t blame my lack of blogging on the pandemic. That’s been the state of this blog for years. But the fear and paralysis I’ve been feeling? Yeah, COVID-19, that’s all you. Doing my morning pages, a daily habit for many, many years now, has been spotty. A week will go by and I will not have written a word. This isn’t me.
I feel like I’m just waking up to something. Maybe it’s Death? Maybe it just took this long for me to realize I was wasting time. I don’t know. Something weird is going on. The compulsion to write is back in spades. It came back today, vomitous and vertiginous. Seriously, I feel nauseous and nervous. Writers, true writers, can’t help themselves. They write. They can’t NOT write. Today the wave of sick hit me when I realized I’ve been wasting so. much. time. I’ve been writing the wrong things. I’ve not been writing any things. I’ve thought about blogging then stopped myself. I don’t want to dive into the online environment at this time – It’s vulture culture. No, thanks.
But here I am, left with the dilemma of my orientation: I’m a writer. I’ve always been a writer, since I could write. Essays, mostly, but poetry and fiction are my loves.
I could guess about all the reasons I’ve been taking such long breaks from my nature. But who cares? Being away makes me sick. My time constraints, my lack of confidence, my pessimism, my pandemic pastime of staring at walls, none of it matters. That was then and this is now. If I don’t write, I will …
I don’t know. Maybe this is why I don’t sleep well. Why I’ve put on extra pounds this year. I feel off. I have felt off for a while, way before the pandemic forced us inside and away from each other. I’m sick of myself. I’m tired of this C VOID. I need more C. Less void.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
A short tale of being taken off a casino floor
I’ve never looked my age. This is OK now that I’m older, but when I was younger, it could be a problem. I have many stories, but here is one:
When I was 21, I took a road trip with my brother to see his high school friend, T, who was working in an Atlantic City, New Jersey casino as a manager. Our high school was small, so I knew her too and I was looking forward to saying hello.
As soon as my brother and I walked into the casino, heads turned, but it seemed normal. It was during the day and the casino was relatively empty.
We kept walking around. We found T. She gave us a little tour. I noticed that despite being with an employee, eyes were increasingly on me. T’s presence didn’t stop me from getting carded at every table we stopped at and every archway we stepped through. At one point, I was almost sure we were being followed by undercover security.
At one blackjack table, the pit boss and a very large man in a black suit were whispering with each other and steely-eyed staring at me.
Spidey senses: Tingling.
I think T had stepped away at this point. The two men came over and said, “Miss, we need you to come with us.”
I said nothing. Everything sort of froze in time. The cards at the table stopped being dealt and all eyes were on me. And like a young, inexperienced idiot, I got up off my stool and went with them.
Fear level: high.
Heart beat: increasing rapidly.
The pit boss stayed behind but the large man and about 3 others, who literally appeared out of nowhere, escorted me and my brother off the floor. It was a total perp walk. Everything and everyone stopped to watch this little black suit funeral procession.
Cheeks: Blood Red.
Heart beat: Severe.
We went through so many doors and down so many dark, skinny tunnels, I would not have found my way out to save my life. Thankfully I think T found us at this point and she kept assuring me it was all OK. She had been telling the pit bosses that she knew me and knew I was of legal age. She told us the whole casino was on edge because they’d just gotten dinged for allowing underagers in about two weeks prior, and this was all just paperwork and not to worry.
OK. Fear level: Decreasing.
Heart Beat: Still Bad.
But then, after a lot of walking, we suddenly go through a random door that I didn’t see before. It leads into one of those plain white rooms you see in movies where the large men beat the shit out of card counters.
Welp. Fear level: Severe.
Heart Beat: Almost System Shutdown.
Another man was in this room with a computer (high tech, as this was the early 90s, which made the whole scene even more terrifying). None of the men said anything. They ran my license and confirmed I was legit.
Computer man hands some objects to Large Man. Large man pounds the objects around, then flipped over my tiny, 2-inch wide wrist and pushed it hard with a stamp soaked in black ink. The stamp was some sort of square with lots of lines of numbers and letters in it. He (did I say he was very large?) man said, “OK. Just show dis at every table you’re at and no-one will bug you no more.”
Confusion level: Shrodinger’s Cat.
but, Heart Beat: Lowering to Intensive Care Levels.
Large Man was right. I didn’t have any more trouble. Actually, I never had to show my wrist to anyone. All the pit bosses’ eagle eyes spotted the stamp before I sat down. It was like some sort of casino magic. The rest of the visit went smoothly but I do remember not really being able to speak for the rest of the day.
That is not the worst story of my life as a woman-who-looks-younger-than-she-is. I have a lot more harrowing ones. But that was a pretty, uhhh, interesting day. I told this story on Twitter, with GIFS. Follow me there for more tweet threads.