Do you ever dream that you are a student at high school or university, and you discover you have showed up to school without your clothing and/or you have not prepared for an important exam or presentation? I think this is a classic "I am unprepared, unqualified, and in danger of being humiliated" dream. I dream it from time to time. The other version of this dream for me takes place at a floor hockey tournament. I find myself in the final game of the tournament, with absolutely no skills, stamina or understanding of the game. Often I am playing without a hockey stick. (Did I mention I have a life long aversion to participating in team sports?)
Yesterday, I thought that I was going to live that dream. Fortunately, it turned out to be not so bad after all. A few months ago, Barb Buxton, the Adult Services Librarian at the Port Moody Library, phoned me and invited me to participate in a panel discussion about how to get published. I told her that I thought she was asking the wrong person because none of my stories or poetry have been commercially published, not even one poem in a literary journal, let alone a book. I do have a recipe for B-Bars that was published in the CBC Squares and Bars Cookbook about 10 years ago, but I don't think that counts. I also have work in the 11 (soon 12) chapbooks published by the Shoreline Writers' Society, and my own self-published poetry collection, Swirl. Barb told me this would be okay. She was looking for someone local, and they needed a poet on the panel. I offered to help track down a local, published poet. She said she wanted me. I said yes.
The intervening months went by, and I heard from Irene Jakse, the Program and Services Coordinator at the library. Irene put me in touch with the panel moderator, Julie Ferguson. Julie introduced all 5 panelists to one-another via email, and an exchange of biographies. So I knew my fellow panelists: Joyce Gram is a lawyer, a contract writer for non-profits and a professional editor. Lois Peterson is a children's librarian who has published 7 books for young readers with Orca Press. Gaetan Royer is the former City Manager for Port Moody, now a Senior Planner for Metro Vancouver Region. He has published Time for Cities: Canadian Towns and Cities are Going Broke! Strategies for a Sustainable Future, and is working on his next book. He is also the recipient of the Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of his humanitarian work in the restoration of war-torn Sarajevo and Bosnia. David Russell is an actor, screen-writer and free-lance writer for newspaper and magazines. he has published two detective novels with Dundurn Publishers, and is working on his third. Our panel moderator was similarly accomplished. Julie Ferguson has published 15 non-fiction books in the past 17 years, writes travel articles, and coaches authors on their way to getting published. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.
I emailed Julie and told her that I felt that I was significantly under-qualified to be on the panel. I write mostly for the joy of it, and to facilitate my performance as a spoken word artist. I am not a book-maker like these other real authors! Audience members, seeking wisdom about how to get published, will surely be disappointed by anything I can tell them. Julie reassured me, it would be okay. I could bring my perspective, and it would be welcome and helpful. Okay, I said, if you say so. Still, I had grave doubts.
Thursday evening before the Saturday panel, I shared the stage with Rosemary Nowicki, performing poetry and stories for the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic fundraising evening. I was in my element, performing the pieces I had written and rehearsed. I was confident in my preparation and my ability to convey my message using the skills I have developed over many years of practising spoken word performance. The audience was appreciative, Friends and relatives were there too. I felt in my element, doing something that I felt confident doing. I knew why I said, "yes," to this.
But why, oh why? Why did I say "yes," to the library panel? When I woke up Saturday I thought, "I'm going to sit up there like a dumb nobody, and someone's going to ask me a question about submitting poetry for publication, and I'm going to say, "Well, I don't know. I have never done that!"
I got to the library early and met Julie and the other panelists. Barb and Irene were there too. Everyone was very kind and friendly. Two o'clock rolled around, and we began. And you know what? I did have something to say! The other authors answered the questions about literary agents, submitting queries to publishers, copyright issues, professional editing, etc. I talked about the importance of community, and the benefits of being part of a writing and critiquing group. I talked about Shoreline's process of collaborative chapbook writing, which is different from most anthology-making, I think. I encouraged writers to remember get out and meet and work with other writers in their community. I told them not to wait 3 years, like I did before I got the courage to attend a meeting of the Shoreline Writers. For 3 years, I told myself I was not a good enough writer to show my work to anybody but my children. Those were three years wasted!
Partway through the panel discussion, the light went on for me. I did have a role to play here, and I did have something to say. After the formal discussion, we had coffee and mingled for a while. I actually had a lineup of people waiting to speak to me about their own writing practice, and to ask me questions about how to become part of a writing group, and what happens at writing group meetings. I encouraged half a dozen people to come to our Shoreline meetings and also talked with some about other writing groups around the region, and online resources for finding groups and events.
I am glad that I trusted Barb and Julie, and had faith in myself. I feel like I was able to contribute something that helped the event and some of the people who attended. I am proud of myself for not hiding for another 3 years. I am getting better at jumping in. Before the panel began, I was chatting with Joyce Gram. We discovered that we have both recently joined choirs, something for which we both feel unqualified. I reflected that it took me 3 years to work up the courage to join a writing group, and one year to embolden myself to join a choir. I'm glad when Barb called I just said, "yes."
question: for what do you currently feel under-qualified?
mompoet - please consider saying, "yes!"