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Posts Tagged ‘pen pals’

Pen Pal Project

Birthday Angst: A Personal History

February 9, 2015

Dear Reva,

I love that photo of you in Jamaica. It looks like a Vanity Fair shoot of a Hollywood star at home. How do you manage to look so glamorous all the time?

Thanks, by the way, for the temporary tattoo. I still haven’t tried it. It is sitting, believe it or not, in my ‘to do’ file. The file is large. The tattoo keeps falling to the bottom, both figuratively and literally. Perhaps I need to move it as an action item onto my ‘to do’ list (that’s a promotion from the file). It could be #9 today, after going to the dentist, writing this letter, paying my Visa bill, learning how to use my new website, arranging for snow removal, finding an electrician to fix the light in C’s room, registering the kids for summer camp, and going to the post office. But I should probably find some time to write my book.

There, you see? This is why the tattoo lies neglected in the file. I wonder what else is in there. Hmm. I should probably check.

So…birthdays. The big decade markers have always thrown me, though I tend to freak out a year early, on the nines. At 19, for example, which came at the mid-point of Grade 13 (we had that in Ontario back in the dark ages), I despaired at my lack of accomplishment. Of course, I had been miserable for several years – there is nothing you could offer me in exchange for reliving high school, nothing – but my general misery was exacerbated by the sense that I had not accomplished enough before turning 20. I mentioned my high-achieving, perfectionistic tendencies, right?

At 29, I was agonizing over my career and my biological clock. I’d quit law and gone to work at the University of Toronto, but I was junior and uncertain about my professional choices, and was beginning to think about having a baby. I didn’t think I should change jobs again unless I committed to putting off pregnancy (I stayed at U of T and had a baby).

Thirty-nine, though … that was a doozy. I had two kids, and a very senior job, and a bunch of volunteer commitments. And I was entertaining at least once a week, and working on my marriage, and doing, I must say, an A+ job of all of it. And I was exhausted and burnt-out and beating back a nagging suspicion that I was living someone else’s life, except for the three hours on Sunday afternoons when I was writing the novel that eventually became The Hole in the Middle.

And as for 40 and 41, they were, I think, aftershocks of the trauma of 39, which didn’t resolve right away. It took a couple of years to quit my job after realizing that I hated it, and to muster enough confidence to call myself a writer. And, given how things turned out, I guess it’s fair to say that there were some marital issues brewing.

to do list, tattoo, to do file
My to do file, tattoo on top!

I love your idea that we should celebrate our achievements more often. I think you are absolutely right that high-performing women are usually ‘future thinkers’, which is to say that they are always focused on the next thing. I have a marvelous therapist who is trying to cure me of my future-thinking ways. I think I am incurable. Recently, as she shook her head in frustration, I said, “I’ll get there.” And she sighed and said, “Not there, Kate. Here. I want you to get here.” It makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Yours,

Kate

 

Link to Reva’s last letter: http://www.revaseth.com/penpalproject/think-need-celebrate/

Reva’s response to this letter: http://www.revaseth.com/penpalproject/reality-bites/

Pen Pal Project

Pen Pal Project: The First Letter

Dear Reva,

So here we are: pen pals. I’m delighted. I have so much to tell you.

Today is my birthday. I look younger than my age, people tell me, although generally not people who have seen my belly button. Belly buttons are remarkably revealing. Mine looks all of forty-three.

I am cautiously resigned to turning forty-three. This is an improvement, since I actively hated turning thirty-nine, forty, forty-one and forty-two. By rights, this birthday should have me kicking and screaming, since I find myself, unexpectedly and for the first time in my adult life, without a nest (I am surrounded by packing boxes) or a mate (my husband has flown).

But something quite magical has happened this past year: I’ve become a writer. It is no small thing. I’ve always wanted to be one. It turns out that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Once I figured that part out, amazing things began to happen, until I found myself with a bestselling book in Canada and a two-book deal in the U.S. A magical ride, with one small bump: I now have to write a second book, and second books are hard.

Second books are hard because of imposter syndrome. I know so many women who harbor the belief that they are one misstep away from catastrophe and humiliation, as if they got the invitation to the Success Banquet by accident and will, at any moment, be discovered and removed. They don’t feel that they belong at the table. They don’t think they’ve earned it. And consequently, they can’t imagine that they might be able to repeat the achievement that got them in the door in the first place.

Kate Hilton, Pen Pal, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, Book Club, Book ClubsWhy do you think that is?

This demon of self-doubt is remarkably powerful. We are so quick to own our failures. We are so nimble at identifying all the ways in which other people are more successful than we are. But we see through a flawed lens. I remember sitting at a parent council meeting once, and the woman next to me said: “I saw your son eating homemade pizza pitas at lunch yesterday. How do you do it?” And I said: “He was eating cold, leftover delivery pizza.” Isn’t that astonishing? Her lens of self-criticism showed her a perfect lunch that wasn’t even there.

Imposter syndrome is, of course, the province of the successful, of the high-achievers, of the perfectionists. That’s the irony. The demon speaks our language. If we were unsuccessful, we wouldn’t have to worry about being revealed as frauds.

Have you read Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please? You should. It is so bracingly honest. (Honesty is a topic I’ll return to in another letter, why it is that we spend so much energy lying to ourselves and to other people about who we are and what we want.) She talks about how she copes with her demon this way: “When the demon starts to slither my way and say bad shit about me I turn around and say, ‘Hey. Cool it. Amy is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.’ Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works.” How great is that? I’m going to try it.

Did I ever tell you that I write from an outline? Every scene is plotted and planned before I begin. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, this is a major way in which life differs from fiction. There’s no outline to follow, and you can’t see the plot twists coming. I think it’s going to be an interesting year.

Yours,

Kate

 

Here’s what Reva had to say in reply (about celebration, imposter syndrome, and having a new pen pal): http://www.revaseth.com/penpalproject/think-need-celebrate/