Who Me?

Achy hips. A bad shoulder. Crow’s feet. A mortgage that I pay with paper checks. The realization that it has been almost twenty years since I graduated high school. At this point, it should be beyond clear that I am a full-fledged, full-grown adult. (Well, unless you ask my daughter who, after seeing me try on a pair of jeans that ended up being too long, told me it was okay because I would grow into them.)

Confession, though–I don’t always feel like a grown-up. In some ways, eighteen feels like yesterday. Driving my Neon, living in an off-campus apartment with my best friend, fitting into size 5 jeans, using my VCR to record shows while I was in class. I remember that girl–that version of me–so vividly that sometimes this older me feels like an impostor.

Sometimes when my children call out “Mom,” my brain reacts as if they had spoken a foreign language. Mom? Who me? Are you sure you have the right person?

My kids are seven and eight, and it’s still hard to believe that I’m in charge of them, that I’m the one that gets to decide what’s best for them. (Side note: I really hate making decisions. Why are there so many of them in parenting?)

Last year I decided, after much consideration and my husband’s full support, to homeschool my children. So now in addition to mom, I’m teacher. Cue the self-doubt. Who am I to teach them? Will my methods be effective? Will I have the patience to teach? What if I forget something important, like the i before e rule or how many pints are in a gallon, that leaves gaps in their education? Will I cause my daughters to become awkward, friendless adults who don’t know their multiplication tables? I mean really, who gave me the power to make this life-changing decision? (On a side-note, my husband has no such self-doubts about his title of principal of our school.)

Motherhood isn’t the only place where I have doubted myself, where I have felt like I was just playing a part at times. It also happened when I was in book clubs and a bible study group, and it would be like I was onstage and had forgotten my lines.

The area of my life where impostor syndrome hits the hardest, though, is with my writing. There have been more than a handful of times when I have written a whole post for this blog only to delete it because really, who am I? Who will care what I write or think?

As an introvert, I spend a great deal of time inside my head. So naturally I have found myself wondering why I haven’t finished my novel yet. I can make (somewhat legitimate) excuses about not having the time or energy after spending each day taking care of my kids and household. But if I am honest with myself, the biggest roadblock is fear. What if my book totally bombs and people laugh at my failure? Alternatively, what if it’s a success and I have to do a book tour and media interviews where I panic and pass out, throw up, or sound like a complete idiot? I can see a neon “Fraud” sign on my head in either case. A writer? Ha! Not her.

But you know what? With age comes wisdom. I know it doesn’t really matter what people think about about my writing. I am a writer. I’ve felt it in my soul since I was a child. So I will continue on, editing and polishing my novel, and shaking off my impostor shackles. I will remind my children that I am the mom the next time they complain about having chicken for dinner again or having to redo a subtraction problem. And I will stop being afraid to speak my mind–or at least I’ll work on it. Progress over perfection, my lovely readers.

6 thoughts on “Who Me?

  1. Leena Heikkila

    Sweethearts, all those doubts seems like flying inside our heads are very seldom true. You my Sweetheart are strong, smart, intelligent,loving, caring and placed in such right position in your life. God had given you the most precious gifts for being a wonderful mother, teacher, wife, friend, writer and most of all the wonderful Granddaughter. You are loved and much appreciated.
    I love to see your writings, please keep it going. Grandma 👵

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Katherine Cobb

    Hi Jayme!

    Always enjoy seeing you in my inbox. : ) Maybe you will like this article, that I felt in my SOUL, that my mom shared with me recently…

    Be well,

    Katherine Cobb Author | katherinecobb.com

    https://www.patreon.com/humansofnewyork Brandon Stanton >> https://www.patreon.com/humansofnewyork >> Pressing Hard With Your Crayons >> https://www.patreon.com/posts/pressing-hard-72709436?utm_medium=post_notification_email&utm_source=post_link&utm_campaign=patron_engagement&token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJyZWRpc19rZXkiOiJpYTpmMWI4MjMyYy0yMTg3LTQyN2YtOTI0OS0yMzI3NTgzZmQ1YWIiLCJwb3N0X2lkIjo3MjcwOTQzNiwicGF0cm9uX2lkIjo2MTg0MzYyNX0.xsSsr6iYd3SQqaqdz46SzlmBbvM6EDfhrFxn9GjrcrM >> Whenever I finish working on a book, I’m done with it. After that final, obsessive read through, I’ll submit it to the publisher, then I’ll never look at it again. And I mean never. Why would I? It’s too late to change anything, and I know I’ll find things I want to change. So why torture myself? >> >> But recently I’ve been feeling reflective. I’m out working on the streets again, for the first time in years. I’m rediscovering a lot that I’d forgotten. I’m remembering why I love the work. It feels like I’m having my own artistic tent-revival. So the time seemed right. I finally did it. I bought all three of my photography books, put them in a pile, and went through them page-by-page. >> >> The first book was the scariest to look at. When Humans of New York was published in 2013, I’d been photographing for less than three years. I was twenty-nine, but I was still in my artistic adolescence. Nothing quite fit right. It was all awkwardness, and arrogance, and trying new things. I had no idea what I was doing. Yet there it was, memorialized in hardcover: everything I thought I knew. >> >> Looking through the book was like looking through an old high school yearbook. The author said things I would no longer say. The author made choices I would no longer make. I turned each page with trepidation, wondering what fossilization of my immaturity would await me on the next. And that title! Humans of New York: so sweeping, so definitive. A likely first stop for anyone wanting to review my work. I wish I’d held back that namesake until I had a better idea of what I was doing. Recently I went back to give the commencement speech at my old high school, and they’d bought a book for every single graduate. My first book, of course. As I autographed each one, I wanted to add: I’m so much better now, I promise. >> >> Revisiting that book felt like a chore. I didn’t want to reacquaint myself with the person who’d made it. But I forced myself, because I wanted to grow. I wanted to rewalk the path I’d taken up until now. I was determined to put on a full-body hazmat suit, and plow through all the cringe to see if I could put my finger on the strongest elements of my work. Perhaps there were early ideas that I’d abandoned a bit too quickly. There were also maybe things that had worked a bit too well, and had grown stale with overuse. I wanted to face these things head on. >> >> It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. And by that, I mean I wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. (The younger versions of yourself rarely is as bad as you fear. It’s still you. With a lower batting average, and more acne. But still you. You were trying your best back then too.) There were certainly weaknesses. A few of the photos were completely out of focus. Often the composition was quite basic. Some of the captions make outdated pop culture references, or take juvenile stabs at humor. The captions were probably what made me cringe the most. Not all of them. The vast majority were thoughtful and measured. But a few still rang, and will always ring, with adolescence. And since I’ve grown into a person who takes my writing quite seriously, it was hard for me to see my first blind stabs at committing words to a page. >> >> When I got to the last page of my first book, I let out a sigh of relief. There had been a couple moments when I’d winced a bit. But nothing disqualifying. I felt like I’d just gotten to the other side of a minefield with my legs still intact. I’d taken away some lessons. I told myself that I’d done my duty and that I’d never look at it again. >> >> But then I did, because a few days later my four-year old daughter was having a meltdown. ‘Let’s look at Daddy’s book,’ I told her. In her current state she didn’t have the attention span to listen to the text, so I avoided the captions all together. We just flipped through the pages and looked at the pictures. And looking at it through the eyes of a child gave me a whole new perspective. With all its weaknesses, the book is fun. It’s clear that I was having fun. I was a 26-year old kid with no training. I didn’t know the tricks and strategies of The Greats who had come before me. I didn’t even know their names. But I did have a brand new toy, and a brand new idea, to capture this great big city. >> >> On one of the final pages of my second book, there is a photo of a ten-year old girl, displaying a picture she’d painted. I asked if she had any advice for other artists. She said: ‘Don’t press down too hard with your crayons.’ As I return to the street, that’s become my mantra. >> >> Maybe my unformed self-had something to teach me, after all. The wisdom of not knowing who you’re supposed to be. You can’t press down too hard on your crayons, if you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to do. In the beginning I wasn’t using the camera like a professional. I was using it like a passport. It was my excuse to explore, and talk to people. To connect with them. It was more art in service of life, than life in service of art. Maybe I wasn’t plumbing the soul of every person I encountered. Maybe I wasn’t fleshing out their deepest yearnings. Maybe I didn’t even get their photo in focus. I’d just walk up to three kids playing with a tire, and ask: ‘What’s going on here?’ Then we’d share a laugh, I’d snap a pic, and move onto the next block, to see what I’d discover next. I was having fun. I wasn’t pressing hard with my crayons. There was joy. And joy can be felt in a photo as much as lighting and composition. Joy counts. >> >>

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    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kathy Sherman

    I’m always happy when I see something from you in my inbox. I love hearing what you have to say. So, please keep these blogs coming. Yes, you’re young. Yes, you’re an introvert. Yes, you’re insecure. I’m old now, but can still remember the insecurities of my youth. I wondered all the things you wonder. And sometimes I still wonder those same things. I recently re-read Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain. It reminded me how important introverts are in making the world (and our families) a better place. You go, girl! I am cheering you on.

    Liked by 1 person

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