books, art, culture, and other things I love

Month: March, 2015

Writers and Impostor Syndrome

One of the many afflictions that writers endure is “imposter syndrome”–which is just as it sounds–the feeling that one is playing a part, rather than inhabiting an authentic persona. Last week, on a (lovely) weekend jaunt to NYC with an old friend, she made an offhanded comment about the fact that the two of us were writers.

I’ll admit that I had a moment of internal pause–me, a writer? Sure, my friend, who writes for a living qualified. But me? I had my doubts. When I considered it further, though, I realized that she was right. I write for work, I write to create, and I write to share my work with others. Which is what a writer does, right?

Interestingly enough, I first met the above-mentioned friend when we were both writers for our college newspaper. It is funny how I didn’t have a problem calling myself a writer then, but as time went on, it has become more difficult. (The irony being that my writing has likely improved and certainly progressed from writing polemic fraternity house exposés for my college paper!)

Writer Jazmine Hughes describes this phenomenon in her piece, “Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?” Hughes notes that even upon having a series of well-received publication credits under her belt (including one at The New Yorker!) she felt ill-equipped for her job editing The Hairpin.

The struggle is real.

So why do we have such a hard time adopting the descriptor? Is it that we feel we need to have a certain number of publications to our credit–or publication in a particular outlet to own the identity?

Last weekend, I heard a piece on NPR about a woman who was working as a waitress while she aspired to grow a career as a writer. Despite her ambitions, she struggled to produce any significant writing output. It wasn’t until a regular customer at her restaurant asked her what she “really did” that she mustered the courage to call herself a writer. And even though at that point she had only produced ten pages of continuous text, she took the step forward to inhabit that identity of WRITER. And you know what, it worked. Once she started calling herself a writer, she started thinking of herself that way. And soon after, another customer (himself a writer) put her on a writing schedule and she started working on what would be her first script. Which was eventually optioned by Columbia at the behest of Nora Ephron. Really. And changing her mindset in this way helped Diane Ruggiero-Wright (writer of the cult favorite Veronica Mars and the forthcoming iZombie) reach her dreams. Such an inspiring story! Listen to the podcast or read the transcript here.

There is no secret to success except hard work and getting something indefinable which we call ‘the breaks.’ In order for a writer to succeed, I suggest three things – read and write – and wait.
-Countee Cullen





Bookminded Recommends: Harry Connick Jr.

The first time I was introduced to Harry Connick Jr., I was a teenager. My friend S. had cassette tapes of the albums 20 (1987), the When Harry Met Sally (1989) soundtrack, and We Are In Love (1990), which she brought back after a trip to her father’s house in Pennsylvania. This was during our high-school self study of the ‘Great American Songbook’—inspired, no doubt by our choir director’s predilection for Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers, and Bernstein.

We favored female vocalists like Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone. We listened for hours to Mahalia Jackson—and even performed our own rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” one sleepy Sunday morning in our small Cape Cod town.

But Harry Connick Jr. also made the cut—fitting into our preference for vocal delivery that was never forced—i.e. not the overworked vibrato that punctuated the performances of many of our teenaged choir peers—and always original.

Over the years, my admiration for Connick’s talent and musicality never waned—and in fact, given his prodigious output of albums, I can chart the course of my adult life thus far alongside his musical soundtrack. Some albums hold a special place in my heart—like 1994’s She, Connick’s exploration of New Orleans funk music—which I played on my Discman walking back and forth to class. Or Songs I Heard (2001), a wonderful collection of classic songs from film and stage, that was on repeat during the first two years of my son’s life and is an album that we still listen to often as a family. When I was writing my dissertation, I loved to listen to Oh, My NOLA (2007) as I pecked away at my laptop. (In retrospect, it could have been the metaphor provided by “Working in the Coalmine” that I identified with!)

So given all of this, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see Connick perform at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall earlier this month. What a show he put on! In addition to his mastery of the piano, he also jammed on the trumpet—holding his own alongside Lucien Barbarin on the trombone. Though he covered many standards, like the Cole Porter classic “I Concentrate On You” popularized by Frank Sinatra, he also threw in some originals—like “City Beneath the Sea” from Star Turtle (1996) and even serenaded wife Jill (seated in the front row) with “One Fine Thing” from Every Man Should Know (2013). But perhaps my favorite moment of the evening was when Connick offered a joyful and nuanced rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”

What a talent and what a night! Although there is now a new generation of fans introduced to Connick through his success as a judge on American Idol, this is a musician and performer with a rich and varied archive of work that proves he has staying power—for sure.

Photos/videos were prohibited (and honestly, it made for a much more enjoyable concert experience, not having people waving their phones around obscuring the view) but I did sneak just this one toward the end. Note: HC is in the far left of the frame.

Photos/videos were prohibited (and honestly, it made for a much more enjoyable concert experience, not having people waving their phones around obscuring the view) but I did sneak just this one toward the end. Note: HC is in the far left of the frame. 😉

Culture Watch: The Intersection of Two Modern Masters.

“We would rather be ruined than changed/We would rather die in our dread/Than climb the cross of the moment/And let our illusions die.”

W.H. Auden’s The Age of Anxiety is not an easy read. As a cultural artifact (published in 1947, as the modernist moment is fading), it is fascinating as it exhibits the underpinnings of all modern literature: the competing sensibilities of loss and liberation. The very form of the poem, an eclogue, gestures toward this sense of loss as it holds on to this classical convention as if to center its subject–how to find meaning in a changing and increasingly industrialized world. That said, the choice of the eclogue, the domain of Virgil and all that is pastoral, is deliberate and disrupts and dislocates the images of metropolitan life we see in the text.  Set in a NYC bar and told through the conversations between four characters, Auden’s poem considers man’s quest for understanding at the dawn of a new era. The poem won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and inspired a musical composition by Leonard Bernstein, The Age of Anxiety, Symphony No. 2.

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a concert performance of Bernstein’s piece by Boston’s New Philharmonia Orchestra. In the first moments of the score, I was so moved by the plaintive sounds of the woodwind instruments, I felt my eyes well up. And that emotional connection continued throughout the whole piece. Just lovely. And the performance inspired me to reread the poem this week, which is a good thing. 

Here is the gorgeous concert stage in Newton’s First Baptist Church…as you might imagine, the acoustics are fantastic.

And here is my seven-year-old concert date, who gave the music two thumbs up!