The Writing Workshop That Wasn't

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Photo by Johan Rydberg via Unsplash

One Saturday a month, my friend Lauren and I meet for a writing workshop at a cafĂ© in Loveland. This precious time gives us both the opportunity to practice a craft that is often overlooked in the course of our everyday to-do lists and activities (the rule being that we can’t work on anything we’re required to do). We get to engage in meaningful conversation and reconnect in exactly the way I feel friends always should – with hot drinks and warm hearts. Not to mention, the coffee shop we’ve selected is just about as cozy as can be – one of those independently owned places boasting a roster of original drinks for every flavor and mood, with cushy couches and armchairs on one side of the room, and baristas who like to chat with you about your favorite Hogwarts house.

We planned to write yesterday afternoon after hitting a few thrift stores where I hoped to find some cheap furniture to fill my new apartment. We made it as far as Goodwill (and an end table I snagged for $2!) before hitting a minor roadblock. And I mean that in an almost literal sense because… Lauren’s car wouldn’t start.

I’d turned on the ignition and was plotting how best to maneuver the Toyota RAV4 my sister had let me borrow for the day (which dwarfs my Mini Cooper and has a considerably greater amount of trunk space for thrifting, but also has this way of making me feel like I’m driving a tank) out of its parking space when she met me at my window with the bad news.

I invited her in and we sat with the windows rolled down while she called her mom (who lives in town), AAA, and her guy friend who’s gifted with cars and could advise her on what to do next. And then we waited forty-five minutes for the AAA technician to come and jump the car.

“I’m sorry I ruined our writing day,” she said.

In truth, she hadn’t ruined anything. I didn’t have a piece ready for her to critique, so while I would have used our two to three hours working on something new, I could do that just as easily on my own. What I value even more than the writing we accomplish during our workshops is the time we spend together as friends.

And we were still doing that, in the Goodwill parking lot, as we waited for the AAA technician to rescue her ’98 Toyota Camry.

“Hey, the way I see it,” I said, “I’m still getting to spend time with my friend!” It didn’t hurt that she’d also placed a bag of chocolate chip cookies in the cup holder.

And so we put it to good use, discussing work and my anxieties about moving, among other things. And while a writing workshop gives us the opportunity to be heard in the words we put on paper, the best kind of friendships give us the space to be heard in person… wherever that space might be.

Three Times Impostor Syndrome Sets In (And How to Kick It to the Curb)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Photo by Brooke Lark via Unsplash

Impostor Syndrome: the dry-mouthed, sticky-palmed feeling we get when we feel like we’re faking something. It manifests itself in any or all of the following thoughts: “I don’t deserve to be here,” “I’m out of my league,” and “I can’t, actually, do this.” And it always leads to a lack of confidence and self-esteem.

But you know something? We’re pretty awesome, you and I. And we don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit for all of the amazing accomplishments we are capable of performing. That stops now. Below, I’m breaking down three of the main reasons we struggle with impostor syndrome, and how to kick that feeling to the curb once and for all (because we have way too much potential to be suffocated by it any longer).  

1.    We’ve never done something before.

This is the brand of impostor syndrome that settles in on the first day of a new job, or the first day at a new school, or during some other momentous life transition. “I’ve never done this before!” we think. “Everyone will know I’m just kind of bungling my way through it.”

Kick it to the Curb: Maybe everyone will know you’re figuring it out as you go along. But the awesome part of starting something new is that a) nobody – no reasonable person, anyway – will expect you to do it well right away, and b) you’re allowed to not know what you’re doing when it’s your first time attempting something.

That’s right. You’re allowed to not be a pro just yet. You’ve never done this before, after all! Take some pressure off of yourself and just lean into the learning. Hold your head high, keep your heart open, and seek advice from the people who’ve been through it successfully (soon, you’ll be one of them).  

2. We’ve done something before, but we don’t feel experienced enough yet.

Maybe we did something a long time ago, but we’ve forgotten or fallen out of practice. When I picked up tutoring again this summer after a two-year hiatus, this is how I felt. What if I don’t remember how to do it?

This is also how I feel about admitting I’m a writer. It’s still a title I’m so hesitant to claim for myself. Sure, I blog. And I journal. And once a month, I meet with one of my best friends for a writing workshop. But don’t you have to have published a book to be a “real” writer?

Helloooooo, impostor syndrome.

Kick It to the Curb: We’ve all had similar experiences, but rarely do we remind ourselves of this critical truth: all we have to do to become something is, um, the thing we want to do. If we write, we’re writers. If we sing, we’re singers. If we run, we’re runners. Fill in the blank with your own dream, and practice it today. Stop thinking so much and just be the thing you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t. Soon you’ll prove yourself wrong. :)

3. Someone once told us we couldn’t do it.

This one is the hardest to confront. When someone criticizes our ability, their harsh words cast doubt on our dreams for and opinions of ourselves. And it is so, so easy to let their thoughts become the ones that shape our reality. So when we try again, impostor syndrome gets a neat little foothold in those voices that replay themselves in our heads.  

Kick it to the Curb: Please remember that who you are is not up to the haters. Again, the only requirement for becoming something is that you actually get out there and do the thing you want to do. And – bonus! – the more you do something, the better at it you’ll naturally get.


Now… you got this. I promise.

Practical Love (Or, How I Got Schooled by St. Catherine of Siena)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

 Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

I’ve been doing quite a bit of spiritual reading over the last year to help develop and inform my growing Catholic faith. And maybe it’s my bookworm inclinations, or my contemplative, introverted tendencies, but curling up in my bed or perching on my window seat with the writings of the saints, or of modern-day clergy and laypeople, has become one of my favorite pastimes.

Highlighter poised, pen in hand, I mark anything that resonates with me – sometimes with hearts or a “wow” or a “yes!” or a question mark, or my own comments on the material. The process isn’t so different from how I approach a close reading of any other memoir, novel, or treatise, except for one thing…

I can’t help but feel that through some sort of osmosis, this process is making me holier…?

(I put a question mark there for a reason. In case you were wondering.)

It’s a nice thought. And we do, to an extent, become what we read.

But. Underlining a couple of sentences written by a saint (“saintences”? Hehehehe ;)) doesn’t actually make me a better person. And yes, I might be able to feel my heart swelling in my chest, or find myself nodding along with an especially sage “saint”iment (okay, okay, I’ll stop)… but those things don’t really change me, either.

The real work comes when we leave our bedrooms to engage with other people. And St. Catherine of Siena has some thoughts on this in her Dialogue:

“You test the virtue of patience… when your neighbors insult you. Your humility is tested by the proud, your faith by the faithful, your hope by the person who has no hope. Your justice is tried by the unjust, your compassion by the cruel, and your gentleness and kindness by the wrathful. Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come to birth…” (38).

Ain’t that the truth. It is so easy for me to get into “holy mode” when I am reading a book. It is so easy for me to feel, in that moment, that I’m doing something good, that my heart is changing, that my mind is transforming. And they are. I don’t mean to deny the value of the pursuit, because it does help anchor our souls in truth and goodness.

But if we don’t make good on those feelings? If we don’t “walk the walk,” so to speak, and love when it’s most challenging, when our neighbors try us in every possible way and push allll of our buttons?

Then it doesn’t really matter, does it?

I feel like a lot of modern, secular talk of love, in the sense that we should love everyone, is boiled down to a palatable feeling. And what Catherine is pointing to is something more: we should start with the feeling, but let the people God has placed in our lives be the places where we can sharpen that love on a more practical level. When it’s difficult. When it wounds our pride. When selfishness dominates our motives.

How the world would be different if we loved like that.


For anyone who's curious, the edition of The Dialogue I cited is this one:

Catherine of Siena. Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue. Trans. Suzanne Noffke. New York: Paulist, 1980. Print.