Back when my daughter was in third grade she had a homework assignment. But unlike her other grade school worksheets, this one was real. A tax form. An elaborate story problem with multiplied decimals arranged like a 1040.
And it worked. Not only did she learn the lesson, she took it seriously. Like, really seriously. It was all she talked about for days.
She’d come home from school and drop her coat and bag on the floor. I’d tell her to put them away. “I can’t, Mom,” she’d reply. “I have to do my taxes.” In the evening after dinner I’d tell her to brush her teeth. “Not yet, Mom. I’m working on my taxes.” At night as it neared bedtime I’d tell her to get her pajamas on. “Just a second, Mom. I’m finishing my taxes.”
Every time, taxes. Enunciated with a wave of the hand. I’m sure the IRS noted it prominently on her permanent record.
Alan and I have a saying we use whenever we sense a whiff of pretentiousness:
“On my first trip to Iceland…”
(The inside joke being that I’ve only been once.)
But, back to taxes.
I’ve been working on finishing my book, tying up the seemingly endless pile of loose ends. Then this funny little memory came flooding back, unearthed from its dusty mental file cabinet.
What made me think of it?
I got a letter from the Library of Congress.
My LCCN number had arrived. The one that goes on the front page of a book in microscopic print. The one that makes it real. The one that comes from a website with a picture of a ceiling much more magnificent than yours.
I haven’t felt this pretentious since…
…since my first trip to Iceland.
Why did I feel so pretentious?? Maybe because it’s the Library of Congress. Maybe because they referred to it as my forthcoming book. Maybe because I suddenly felt like I wasn’t worthy of any of it.
A lot of artists struggle with what they call “imposter syndrome”. But, as I’ve been mulling over my own discomfort, I don’t think that’s an accurate term. You’re not an imposter if what you’re doing is real. My number is real. My trip to Iceland was real. Even my daughter’s taxes were real. They just felt inflated, in one way or another.
So then it’s not really about the thing; it’s about how we feel about it. Well, we can change our feelings. Embrace the discomfort. Own our place within the process. Drop our coat on the floor and do our taxes.
My daughter still does her taxes. The only difference now is that she turns them in to the IRS instead of her teacher. The taxes she did back in third grade helped make her comfortable with the process she uses today. It was all a learning experience. The ability to nod and say “Oh yeah, that’s how this goes.” With no discomfort and no pretentiousness.