One of the first adult horror novels I remember reading was Carrie by Stephen King. My dad had a copy (which I still have), and we watched the movie together too, though I don’t recall if I read or watched it first. I was probably around 11 or 12 at the time, which some people might say is far too young, but I think it was at exactly the right time for me. Carrie White was a character I could really relate to – I may not have had telekinetic powers, but I knew all too well how cruel other kids could be and what it felt like to be viewed as someone who didn’t belong.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the movie scene where Carrie is waiting for Tommy to pick her up for prom. She’s feeling optimistic, confident that for the first time she’s going to fit in and enjoy things just like anyone else. Meanwhile, Momma White is freaking out, saying, “They’re all going to laugh at you.”
Perhaps because I’m older now, I find part of myself is reflected in Momma White too – raging insecurity and feeling unworthy. Sometimes it almost feels like these two characters are perched on my shoulders. On the one side there’s Carrie, excited and hopeful that a wonderful world is just waiting for me. On the other side, Momma White’s character is just as loud, saying I’ll never fit in, and worse, someone’s going to point out all the reasons I’m a freak.
This internal battle is nothing new, but it’s been weighing on me heavier as I’ve become involved in an anthology project. If you recall my January post called “My Nemesis” you’ll know I was in a full out war against the short story form. The good news is that finally at the end of February, I won the battle. The bad news is the next stage – sharing the story with others – feels like an even tougher conflict.
Now, even my Carrie side isn’t naïve enough to think the story is done and over with. She’s ready to give it a nice bath, put it in a pretty dress, and dab a bit of lipstick for a final polish.
Last week I had arranged to submit an early draft of the story to my editor, which Carrie thought was a good idea too. But Momma White? She spun into full freak out mode!
As my cursor hung over the send button for longer than any normal person should, I was bombarded with insecurity. What was the editor going to think about my story? What if he hated it? What if it didn’t fit in with the other stories for the anthology? But worst of all – what if it demonstrated that I have no business at all attempting to be a writer? Maybe I should just bow out of the project completely and stop wasting everyone else’s time?
Before I could maneuver my mouse to close the email, my Carrie side came along, using her telekinesis to press send. I gasped and ran out of my office screaming. Well, ok I wasn’t screaming, but I did close my laptop so I wouldn’t be tempted to refresh my email every two seconds.
These two sides of myself continued shouting over each other for days afterwards too, agitated because all the authors involved in the project were scheduled for a video conference call. I’ve read works by almost everyone that I’ll be sharing the table of contents with, and Momma White was only too happy to point out that I’ll stick out like a sore thumb amongst these writers I admire. “They’re all going to laugh at you,” she cried.
By the time the call came, I’d gotten myself into a right panic and felt like I was going to throw up. Momma White almost convinced me to skip the call all together. Thankfully, Carrie, with her infectious optimism talked me down ever so slightly, just enough to pull myself together and get on the call.
In the end, I had a fun time chatting with everyone, learning about what other authors were contributing to the project, and I think I even managed to talk about my own story without sounding like a total dork. Did that force Momma White to shut up? Not even close!
She even suggested that the rest of the team probably had a separate meeting afterward to laugh at my lack of talent and figure out a way to proceed without me dragging them down. As far as I can tell, this did not happen, and I haven’t received an email from the editor kicking me out either. (“Yet,” yells Momma White in the background.)
So, what’s the solution to these insecurities? Can I rid myself of Momma White (self-doubt, imposter syndrome, whatever you want to call it)? I’m not sure.
Part of me thinks back to the end of Carrie, wherein Carrie’s destruction of Momma inevitably leads to her own demise. Perhaps ridding myself of dark unease would also erase my hopefulness or may even make it a monster of its own. For me, I think keeping these two opposing forces balanced is my best way forward. As long as my negative thoughts don’t keep me from pushing onward, it’ll be ok. Afterall, listening to inner doubts sometimes gives me a chance to stop before I do something foolish, and if all I had was Carrie’s optimism, sooner or later I’d end up being splashed with pigs’ blood at the prom.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll stop by again next week.
If you have your own version of Momma White, or have conquered imposter syndrome in the past, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.