little zee

thoughts on creating and imposter syndrome kinda

I’ve been told by people who knew me when I was a little girl that I had a fundamentally different personality. Apparently I was fiery, outspoken, I did not suffer fools lightly. My sister once told me, “Adults would talk to you like you were a child, and you would talk to them like you were a person.” Whenever I hear this, I strain to remember what it felt like to be a person unafraid to be in the world, but it’s so hard to recall.

Slowly, and by degrees, the self-esteem and self-belief of that little girl was chipped away, leaving in its wake an anxious, self-effacing young woman. I’ve been thinking a lot about my child-self lately, that little girl who slowly and by degrees became disconnected from me. I’ve been trying to find her through creating. My God, it hasn’t been easy. Like so many other things in life, writing, the thing that freed me so much as a child and a teen, became complicated and fraught once I started to do it for a living in the age of online media and Twitter discourse.

Do you remember what it was like to create as a child? To scribble wobbly lines on a piece of paper and display it on the fridge door as art, proud of yourself because something that was once in your mind was now in the world, unafraid and unconcerned about whether it was “good?” I wrote short stories all throughout my childhood and a whole novel by the age of 14, and the difference between now and then is that back then I wrote without expectation, I wrote from a place purely of play, and now, I often write from a place of fear.

So much of the process of working on my book of essays, Carefree Black Girls, was untangling myself from my fear and, by doing so, getting back to who I am, the girl who existed before all this.

In Susanna Clarke’s fantasy novel Piranesi, a magician finds a portal into another world. The magician explains how he did it in a book-within-the-book:

Once you have found the door, it is always with you. You simply look for it and there it is. Finding it the first time is where the difficulty lies…what I eventually concluded was that it was necessary to cleanse one’s vision in order to see the door. To do this one must return to the place, the geographical location where one last believed the world to be fluid, responsive to oneself. In short one must return to the last place in which one had stood before the iron hand of modern rationality gripped one’s mind…The day I entered the garden was cold, rainy, grey.…I focused on my memory of being a child in that garden, of the last time when both the world and my mind had been unfettered…I no longer saw or felt the rain. I was standing in the clear, strong sunlight of early childhood. The colours of the roses were supernaturally bright.” - from Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, pg 152-153

When I first read those words, it felt like reading a spell to cast away the fear and step into another world. I have so few memories of my childhood, indeed for a long time I didn’t even know that lots of people have vivid childhood memories from before the age of 10. Clearly, something was stolen from me, particularly this memory of the the last time when both the world and my mind had been unfettered. And I think I am a writer now because through writing, which in and of itself is a kind of magic, a casting of spells, I can retrieve what was taken.

I dedicated my book, which came out last week, to “Little Zee.” To the me who had dreams and believed they could be true. To the me who would not have dreaded publishing her first book, but relished in the opportunity to connect, to grow, to learn, to heal. I believe she is the biggest reason why I am still alive, and why in spite of everything - imposter syndrome, anxiety, depression — I’ve been able to make this life of mine a reality. But really, the book is dedicated to the little one in every Black womxn, that truly carefree spirit unafraid to show up in the world exactly as they are.

I’ve been so afraid during the rollout of this book, indeed throughout my entire career. But writing and releasing that art into the world is ultimately an act of letting go, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. There are people who likely won’t respond or connect to my writing, who may find it trite or depressing or whatever and that’s OK. That’s honestly what I’ve been most afraid of, but now that I’m on the other side of that fear, I realize it is kind of besides the point.

I, you, need to continue to create anyway.

Tonight, I have an in-person event at The Strand where I’ll be in conversation Janet Mock, my literal fave. In the audience will be my friends, my partner, my family, and hopefully strangers for whom my work has resonated. I’m so anxious about acting awkward or saying the wrong thing or being overwhelmed. But I’m also excited as fuck to show up anyway, exactly as I am, in all my messiness and anxiousness and joy. I’m doing it for Little Zee. I know she’s proud of me, and that’s finally enough.

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