As a hypochondriac who routinely self diagnoses, I am the thorn in every RNs’ side, the longest, worrisome, needless 15-minute appointment of every primary care physicians’ day. I admit, reluctantly, that my newest ailment isn’t new at all but has resulted in a sort of paralysis of creativity, i.e. this weeks-long blogging hiatus. At the root of my occasional inertia is a perpetual fear that I simply pilfer ideas from the greats and the so-so’s, that I am a hack and that ultimately I will amount to nothing – except, until just recently, I didn’t realize it had a name or that anyone else was as neurotic as I. ’Imposter Syndrome,’ it’s called, and I distinctly recall exhibiting symptoms soon after changing my college major from astrophysics to sociology. Suddenly forced to find my own voice, to be relevant, I had to devour tomes of French political theory and dabble in virtually every style of contemporary dance, before feeling confident enough to embark on a project of my own.
I came across this term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ a few days ago on my aimless lunch-hour jaunt to the bookstore. Perched on top of misplaced travel guides was Austin Kleon’s pithy little pop-advice book Steal Like an Artist, which finally gave a name to my peculiar affliction. Some cyber-sleuthing confirmed that Kleon probably didn’t coin the term himself, nevertheless my discovery of the Big S felt therapeutic because for the second time in a week I found a reference to the funk I’ve been in. It was while reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer just days earlier when I discovered that Van Norden - Miller’s Casanova/misogynist friend - also suffered from the Syndrome, and I couldn’t help but reflect on my naive, 19-year-old self when Miller describes him:
As soon as he gets an idea he begins to question it. He
remembers that Dostoevski used it, or Hamsun, or somebody else.
“I’m not saying that I want to be better than them, but I want to
be different,” he explains. And so, instead of tackling his book,
he reads one author after another in order to make absolutely
certain that he is not going to tread on their private property.
And the more he reads the more disdainful he becomes. None of them
are satisfying; none of them arrive at that degree of perfection
which he has imposed on himself. And forgetting completely that he
has not written as much as a chapter he talks about them
condescendingly, quite as though there existed a shelf of books
bearing his name, books which everyone is familiar with and the
titles of which it is therefore superfluous to mention.
Today, on the cusp of much-needed travel abroad and self-examination, I am both ashamed and proud to admit that I am not the ‘undefiled’ font of all critical genius. Fact is, when you consider just how much labor and energy, how many hands and resources, go into a bowl of soup, it instantly seems absurd to attribute a single thought, a life or a legacy to any one person. And to all you Van Norden acolytes, you’re spinning your wheels to expect your contributions to any field will annihilate everything that came before it or relieve the rest of us of any follow-up tinkering. This is not to argue that originality is a myth or out of reach, but certainly no one can claim that physics stopped with Einstein, Curie or Schrödinger, or literature with Hemingway, Miller or Garcia Marquez. However, flip the coin, and you’re wrong to downplay their kick-ass work that energizes creative thinking today. So with a slightly less inflated ego, I’m back in black with trimmed blinders. Now that this malady’s in remission, let’s hope I can avoid ‘Paris Syndrome.’