I strut into the coffee shop, my laptop slung over my shoulder in a hand-me-down carrying case. I try to adopt a confident manner, like I do this sort of thing all the time, come to a wi-fi hot spot to do some writing.
I grab a cup of strong coffee, open my laptop and settle in comfortably. I'm here to work on my book. This is what writers do, right? Do I look like a writer? Should I be wearing spectacles, or a mock turtleneck? Should I have sheaths of paper scattered about, covered in furious little notations?
The coffee shop is full of families - Moms with their children trying to keep the wolf away from the door for an hour or so, taking the kids out to lunch. I feel this irrational compulsion to explain myself to them: I'm just faking it, I want to whisper. I've got kids at home. I'm a Mom, too.
Stop it, I admonish myself. You are a writer. Say it: I'm a writer. Louder! I'M A WRITER!
I remember having a crisis of confidence when I went back to work part-time, when my youngest was 14 months old. I felt like I was playing dress-up, putting on nylon stockings and a crisp ironed navy suit, taking the train into the city. I sat with the other commuters and felt like a kid on bring-your-daughter-to-work day.
I have no business being here, I thought. I'm too rusty. My brain has atrophied from four years of diaper changing and playdates. The version of me that was a Business Person seemed a million miles away. So I faked it for a while. I put a brave smile on my face. I changed my walk to something that looked more business-y to me. I wore silk scarves. I matched the bored, disinterested expressions of my fellow commuters, even though my stomach was full of butterflies.
Eventually, it felt more natural to me. I didn't have to steel myself each morning, tell myself that I could do this. I just did it.
In early recovery, I heard something that struck me. Someone was speaking about his misfortunes, the wreckage of his past that he was working through, sober. "I was thinking to myself, why me?" he said. "Then suddenly I thought, why NOT me? What makes me so special that I get a free pass out of misery?"
I completely identified with what he said. I had no trouble believing that any misery that came my way was well deserved.
I can come up with a million reasons why I can't do something. Sometimes I don't even have a good reason. It's just that I can't, I think.
Today I'm trying to use my powers for good instead of evil. Why can't I be a writer? Why can't I just go for it? And when the You-Can't Committee in my head speaks up in unison, I go to a coffee shop and pretend to be a writer. And you know what? It's a good start. I'm writing, aren't I?