Outing My Inner Fraud

October 15, 2010 § 4 Comments

Yesterday, one of my worst fears was realized. It is a petty fear, one that has nothing to do with my family or with anything really important. It is a fear of the ego, but one that feels so very urgent. So very gripping. I have always been afraid that someday – any day – the world will realize what a fraud I really am. It’s like that dream, where I have no clothes on and the only thing I can hide behind are parking meters.

Recently, I wrote an article for the San Diego Reader on local food and where to get it. I’m a big fan of  local food and local farmers, and my piece “Local Harvest” was meant to support San Diego farmers and direct people towards their produce and milk, meat and eggs. I defined local as “in San Diego county.” I was given 1000 words, paid $300, and spent over 40 hours on it. I thought it was good. I talked to farmers and chefs and butchers. I asked everyone I spoke to where I could find local meat, and the answer was always the same. “You can get local cows but they’re sent up to Imperial Valley to be slaughtered.” Or, “You can get local eggs, but no local chickens.” I wrote in my article that local meat – truly local meat – was impossible to find.

Yesterday, my editor sent me a note. You need to write an apology on Twitter, he said. And he forwarded me a link to a blog that skewered me for saying there was no local meat in San Diego. The writer of the blog owns a small restaurant in San Diego and uses local produce, California meat, and he makes his own sausage. He – like me –  is a big proponent of local food.

On his blog he accused me of “screwing the factual pooch.” He said my article was a  shame “because there might be people in San Diego who are thinking about looking into eating better food or local food, who then read some phoned-in nonsense and erroneously decide there’s no point in even asking for good food.” He said I misquoted the people I spoke with.

I read it and felt a growing sense of horror. I’m on your side, I wanted to say. Did you even read my article?

Regardless, Jay, the mean blogger was on a roll. He took bits of my article, made fun of it, and soon he had 15 commenters talking about what an idiot I was. Each comment seemed less and less based on reality. Each commenter grew more and more militant about things that had never happened. This, I thought is why we are at war with Iraq for the 9/11 bombing committed by Saudi terrorists. One of the commenters was even someone I interviewed and praised in my piece. Maybe she didn’t read the article either?

My favorite comment was from someone named “Becky” who said I wasn’t a “real reporter.” You’re right, I wanted to tell her. I’m not a real anything. I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m trying to do some writing. I have a degree in biology, half a clue about parenting, 3 hours of paid childcare a week, and no idea how to do much at all except bake a pretty good pound cake. I wanted to cry, except the babysitter was leaving and my son wanted me to play with him.

Luckily for me, my husband shooed me off to yoga later that night, and on the way to class, I thought about how compassionate my editor was to me, how kind.  “Write another article,” he told me. “Call the cranky blogger and follow his leads. See what happens.” I was so relieved, I was so grateful, and then immediately I was so ashamed. I never let people off the hook. Although I don’t want to, I believe people need to pay for what they do. They need to atone. The fact that my editor let me off so quickly, without hesitation, showed me how I keep everyone on the hook, from George W. Bush for the war, to the lady at the dry cleaner for yelling at me for losing my ticket, to myself, for everything.

In yoga last night, Kathy, my instructor started off class talking about teachers. “Our teachers are everywhere,” she said. “The word Guru means to take away the darkness.” Deepak Chopra wrote something similar in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. “Our tormentors and our teachers are one and the same.” I thought of my editor. I thought of my son, who pushes me to my furthest limits. I thought of my husband. I thought of Jay, the mean blogger. I thought of Becky, who didn’t think I was a real reporter. What is real anyway?

The real reason I was online yesterday and had a babysitter was that I am taking some writing classes through UCLA Extension. Some of the people in my class think I am OK, or at least that is what they say. One side of my computer had my gmail account up, my editor’s email to me and Jay’s blog about my phoned-in nonsense and factual pooch. The other side of my computer had a window up to my online writing class. “I like your story,” someone said. “I think you’re brilliant,” was another comment.

In yoga class, as I lay in Savasana, I thought about my computer, those disparate messages on my screen. “Not a real reporter.” And “You’re brilliant.” “Screwing the factual pooch,” and “I love how you write.” Opposites, staring up at me. They both can’t be right, I thought. And they both can’t be wrong.

I did some coaching with Rolf Gates this summer and he often reminded me about a poem by Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

Rightdoing and Wrongdoing. Wasn’t that how the world worked? You’re right, I’m wrong. Black. White. None of it made any sense. I wasn’t brilliant. I didn’t screw the factual pooch. I wasn’t a real reporter. I wasn’t a fraud. I finally got – lying there on my back in a stinky, sweaty yoga studio – that in the end, it didn’t matter what people said. They would say I was great. They would say I sucked. Neither was right. Neither was wrong. In the end, all there is is the work. In the end, all there is is yourself. You show up. You do what matters. You do your best. You do what you can. Finally, I saw that the reactions – even the good ones I have built my entire life around – were meaningless. Reactions were only other people. Reactions were only their work.

To understand the magnitude of this is to know that my entire life has been based around pleasing people. My whole life has been a huge effort to make sure people don’t know that I am really a fake. That I am not who I pretend to be. And now I see that it just doesn’t matter. What matters is kindness. What matters is love. What matters is letting people off the hook.

I watch my children to whom all of this hard stuff comes easy. My sons fight about Thomas trains. About LEGO catalogs. About crayons. And yet, in the back seat of the car, three seconds later, they are holding hands. They are interlocking a finger. They are holding onto each other. They are showing me what a fraud I am and how, in the end, it doesn’t really matter very much.

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