December 17, 2009

Faking It

I find that a lot of life is faking it. Acting like you are something that you may not feel like you are. Isn’t that funny? Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not really an adult and only playing at being one? That your house, which you’ve put so much into, is like a house you visited when you were a child ~ unfamiliar, how could you actually own a house?

When I was in graduate school, I taught writing at various levels. When I walked into a classroom for the first time, I had never been taught to be a teacher. As part of the fellowship, I was required to teach a course, so I did. I acted like I was a teacher and I was in charge. It was the same in taking graduate classes. I felt like I was pretending. No matter how much I prepared, I didn’t feel prepared enough, so I’d fake it.

After a while, I learned that this is an essential skill in graduate school, as well as in life. I couldn’t possibly be as prepared as I felt I should be ~ there weren’t enough hours in the day. But I learned to gauge how prepared I needed to be. If it was material that I wouldn’t be tested on and everyone was discussing it (and therefore the burden wasn’t just on me), I could get by with skimming it once. If I was leading a class, I had to know the material inside and out, so I read and reread and took notes and did outside research.

And if I found myself in a situation where I was asked something I didn’t know, I could apply that old politician’s trick of redirecting the conversation: “You know? It’s interesting that you ask that. It reminds me of …” Then you can say whatever you want. Or, alternatively, you admit you don’t know it, especially if you’re teaching. Students have a nose for bullshit, and if you’re giving them a load, they’ll know it, so you say, “I’m not sure. I’ll get back to you on that.” What’s important in all this is that you come across as confident and self-assured. Life is performance art, so you have to perform.

I’m reminded of this as I’m reading books to my kids. It’s much more about the performance than it is about accuracy. The first time I read a book, I may not get the words right, but I skim along putting in feeling and intuiting voices and sound affects. The first time, it’s actually a little scary, like riding a bike ~ if you stop, you fall over. It’s actually very good practice for doing readings, I think, because it’s the same thing ~ you jump off the cliff and go with the currents while rapidly flapping your wings. Maybe those who’ve done it a lot can control it more than that, I don’t know.

The point I’m coming around to is that being “a writer” is this way too. Many people hesitate to call themselves writers because they’re not published. To me, a writer is someone who writes, and by this definition there are a lot of people who call themselves writers who are not actually writers, and many who don’t call themselves writers who are.

I wonder if the feeling that you’re faking it ever goes away? Or maybe it’s just me.

What I’m Reading Today: Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. What a great read! I’m immediately going to go out and buy his entire oeuvre. His work gives me the feeling I had when I was ten and discovered Joan Aiken or The Wind in the Willows. Thank you, Neil.

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