I was recently listening to a wonderful singer/musician, and had a small lightbulb moment to help keep the imposter beast at bay. If you know us at Loud Coffee Press, you know we’ve felt the nonsensical grip of imposter syndrome, but we’ve also unraveled from its tangly claws.
It was during a listening session to the delightful Joanna Newsom when a phrase popped into my head: “this is how I sing.” If you’re unfamiliar with Newsom’s voice, it’s the kind of voice that only requires one listen to know you've never heard anything like it. Her vocals have been described as “singular,” “childlike,” and my personal favorite, “hyperbolically girlish.” Case in point: it sounds different. It’s how she sings. She makes her music and puts it into the world, and allows others to choose whether to listen or not.
About a week ago, I had the extreme pleasure of going to see Kiss live, in concert. Paul Stanley strutted his stuff across the stage in the usual makeup and heels, flew on wires over the audience, and shouted things like, “how y'all feel tonight?” in his unmistakable yell. While I like to imagine a world where Paul wakes up, walks to his kitchen, sees his wife and dog, and yells, “how y'all feel this morning?” I’m sure what I’m seeing isn’t Paul’s personal life.** This is how he performs. And when Paul performs, the Kiss Army reacts (wildly).
I was younger when I read my first Haruki Murakami book, and I remember being blown away by it. What I can’t remember: was it the sparse language? The fantastical content? The subtextual theming that balances on the precipice of “just about to, but can’t quite figure it out?” What I do remember: while there is a place for certain famous mass-market book clubs, Murakami’s books aren’t likely to make their way onto those. Or, at least they weren’t back then. But, if I asked Mr. Murakami the million-dollar question, I bet I’d have a good guess at the answer.
“Haruki, why did you create your books this way?”
Mr. Murakami: “This is how I write.”
It’s why Bukowski’s poetry reads nothing like Dickinson’s. It’s why we can tell a Pablo Picasso from a Thomas Kinkade. It’s why it took me three full, completely separate novels to find the one that feels like it’s something I want to share with the world, and I shelved the first two.
I mean, it’s taken me long as an artist to be able to stand up and say, “this is how I write.” In MY book, in THIS draft, at THIS point in my life, I realize that finding your voice doesn’t have anything to do with word choice, how sentences flow, or finding a particular rhythm. It’s having the confidence to develop a style that is as comfortable and known to you as your favorite pair of jeans. It’s shedding the false persona, and picking up the phone to say hello to your best friend without even considering the context of the call.
Imposter syndrome carries an implication. Consider the root word:
“Imposter: a person who pretends to be someone else, in order to deceive others.”
Keeping that in mind, defeating the beast can be simple with time and effort. Stop searching for the comparator. Remind yourself that you’re either doing the thing or you’re not. Continue improving. Learn the mechanics. Challenge yourself. Grow. That’s life. But, do the thing.
Want to know a secret? I love to sing, but I don't do it in front of people, because I feel like I don't sound like... well, I don't know who. I certainly don't sound like Joanna Newsom, and I definitely don't swagger like Paul Stanley. I'm starting to believe lately that if I want to sing, I should own the sound that’s unique to me.
It boils down to this: the only person you can be is you, so don’t try to be anyone else.
Thank you for reading. This is how I blog.
**Or is it?
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