Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It's Like Wearing the Corset ...

“Fake it till you make it!”

The little piece of wisdom above has become a facile mantra for a society increaingly occupied by the hectic schedule of life as we’ve constructed it, and particularly by professional frustration and ambition in an economy not well laid out for most of us to find the types and levels of comfort we’ve also set as a general expectation.

The fake-it mantra goes along with the “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” maxim (and there is a whole blog post in that one, considering how resolutely “casual” so many workplaces have become …), and various other positive-professional mottoes we try to post in our brains and daily behavior in order to attain – basically – whatever it is that passes for financial success, as compared to where we stand right now.

“Fake it till you make it”, though, has applications and effects apart from the financial, and the older I get the more surprised I am – and pleased – at how very well it works.

There are days at both the office job that provides me regular paychecks, and at the unpaid job I maintain as an unpublished (but persistently aspiring) author, when really it’s all just a game.  And that’s not a bad thing.  It can make The Game easier, actually, to make it *play*.  Life’s no fun if you never play – and, sometimes, play helps you do life a bit better.

If I’m not feeling satisfied or motivated or even competent at the paying gig, I’ll make a point of popping in the boss’s office with a drive-by handful of “I’ve done this and this and this for you” comments – or questions “do you need hard copies/lunch reservations/documentation for X-meeting” – and the effect is usually strongest on myself.  It’s like I won the role of Moneypenny in some play – and saying the lines and getting the responses makes me feel like I’m playing it well.

So I get to *feel*, “Okay, I am not a fraud.”

And I also basically remind myself, “Hey.  *I am not a fraud.*”

I’ve been doing administrative/secretarial work for close to thirty years now, pretty much to the exclusion of any other professional work.  It’s something I enjoy, and/but changing jobs as often as I have, it’s never something I feel I know completely – which is a good thing. 
One of the important parts of changing jobs is overtly playing the part of a competent professional.

Being able to do a job and demonstrating that I can do it, I have found, are vastly different things:  and the latter is the wiser course.

It’s a bit like feedback from a boss; if you hear “thank you” or “can we widget this, thus” now and then, fairly consistently, it makes all the difference in knowing where you stand.  Performance reviews don’t do that, never have, and never will – but the smallest acknowledgement of daily to-do’s coming along regularly provides good bearings.  And that works both ways (the corporate-speak phrase “managing up” comes to mind, though without the passive-aggressive intent).  Feedback of the “A, B, and C are done/need something to get X done/changed the way Y is done” variety keeps ‘em aware you’re there and functioning.

I know an author who spent something like a week wearing a corset and cooking medieval recipes out of turnips, in order to get a feel for her period.  We can hardly replicate “what it was really like” – but method writing like that makes sense.  It’s the same at a job.  When I wear the rold of Moneypenny, I realize that not only can I walk in those shoes, but I can project that to others, and that’s a useful reminder/demonstration/feedback on all sides.

It also encourages others to TREAT me like Moneypenny – or like an author.

I approach an awful lot of my life with some form of calibrated appearance in mind.  This isn’t affectation nor artificiality (it may be manipulation, though …).  It’s just an actor’s heightened way of going into any scene.  I dress for my job, or for time spent with my mom and stepfather, or for some specific group of friends (… or for the Conference, yes) – I behave in one venue in a way I would not in others.

“I contain multitudes” …

Many of us do this without really thinking about it all that much.  Many can’t release themselves from a single self-image (when I see women on TV who wear $600, 7-inch high heels for every conceivable occasion, heavy makeup at all times, and false eyelashes even in the middle of the day, I pity them the stultifying consistency of such “glamour”, since it cannot be special, maintained at all times; likewise men who cannot get beyond khakis and polo shirts no matter where they go bewilder me with self-imposed homogeneity).

So we all play roles.  I need multiple roles, in order for any one of them to seem worthwhile or fun – being a slovenly hausfrau all day on a Saturday makes the odd Saturday night out with friends so much more fun, as does the pampering self-transformation from slovenly comfort to arch impracticality.  I need time with family and time as an employee and time as a friend, and time ALONE, just laughing at my dog and cat.  I need the demanding and yet transformative rituals of my day – getting up and getting dressed, as much as coming home, and getting dressed *down*.

It took me a long time to really believe I was a “real” author – not a laughable fraud.  This is true of a terribly large percentage of writers, and the way the industry is configured, unfortunately, encourages this, at least in traditional publishing.  Yet this isn’t on purpose – the more agents and editors I’ve met, the more delightful I’m aware that they are.  These are people who get to make a living not only doing something they love – reading – but they also get to act as conduits to bring new things they love to a whole audience.

I almost can’t imagine what that’s like.

But it’s certainly true that many of the editors and agents and designers and all the newer facilitators in a publishing world no longer strictly fashioned as a paradigm of “gatekeepers” (agents) and “keymasters” (publishing houses) SAY that this is what they love about what they do.  There is an undercurrent of glee – “I found something wonderful! I must have it! I must share it!” – and a very emotional kind of satisfaction in most interviews I read when I research agents, but also when I find articles and blogs and so on by cover designers and book doctors and editors who work outside publishing houses, helping authors to craft not only good work, but marketable work.  There is a mutual drive for satisfaction I’ve never seen in other areas of my own admittedly limited life, but it’s pretty wonderful.  The blogs I follow avidly all share this with a depth and clarity that is infectious:  they keep ME going, by telling me and ten thousand others, “you should KEEP GOING.”

This really isn’t faking it till you make it, of course.

But we all still have to fake so much.  We have to put on our Editorial Boots and kick the hell out of our manuscripts and plays and poems.  We have to put on the Authorial Jacket (with or without the little suede elbow patches; as your preference or genre or predilections dictate) and brave the autumnal blasts of rejection and revision and education until we’re tempered.  We have to wear a Marketing Hat, too – and live a bit online, and reach out, and plan, and consider, and be ready to Be Told, when it comes to supporting our work.

THIS is undoubtedly faking it, for most of us.

•    Faking like we have time in the week,
•    Faking like we are not scared out of our minds,
•    Faking like we really feel like we know what we’re doing,
•    Faking like it’s not annoying to have to do all this stuff without pay,
•    Faking like the friends and family around us who
     (a) overestimate the likelihood we’re going to Become the Next Bestseller, or
     (b) bitterly, ignorantly UNDERestimate it
     … are not discouraging beyond toleration,
•    Faking like there is anything at all about writing, other than the doing of it – all alone, at a wonderful desk or curled up with a beloved furbaby – that we can stand at all.

Faking it and knowing the fakery isn’t so much a lie as a *reminder* either works better and better as I get a bit older, or I am just finally getting, at my advanced age, just how well it always would have worked.

What’s your costume, what is the swashbuckling role you play … ?

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