You’ll Have to Believe You Are Good Enough

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alia-joy-the-pilgrimage3

I.

Every year when the sun climbs into the blue horizon and sets over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a gathering of poets and prophets, writers and artists gather. I have always wanted to go. My browser sits open to their website, and I skim over the details. It claims to be equal parts spiritual retreat, artist workshop, and festival. It is the conference I have most wanted to attend since I started this online journey of sharing my words and baring bits of my soul in this strange world of writing. I look at the price tag and close my browser.

I convince myself it’s impossible. Time away from my children, the cost involved, and the travel is too much. Maybe some day.

In some ways, it is that New Mexico was home to me for so many years. My childhood memories collect at the throat of the Sandias, I still smell the smoky chili skins charred black and green like the back of a whiptail lizard sunning himself in the foothills under the hot desert sun.

I remember the taste of cocoa, it’s tiny dehydrated marshmallows bouncing on the top of my styrofoam cup, powdery cocoa clumping up as I stir and I sit wrapped in a cocoon in the back of our Landcruiser, watching the sun ascend and the heavens open up to a sea of hot air balloons. I remember Mr. Peanut, always the gentleman with his top hat and spectacles, looking down impassively with a sham of a smile from his space in the heavens, just like the face of God.

I remember the Village Inn with its cracked vinyl booths and spotty lighting. The pots of coffee that would go stale as I piled the ashtray with lipstick-stained cigarette butts and wrote my pain with my trusted Bic pen, its cap chewed down and mangled. New Mexico is the place the ink first found paper and I’d scratch out words trying to find myself, find meaning, find God.

I didn’t know I was writing prayers. Lamentations, Psalms, maybe even Proverbs. The praise would come later.

Writing gave me a place to unravel my mad mind. I could make sense of the tangled syllables only when they swept across my page. To see the letters arrange themselves into words and the words into sentences and the sentences into meaning, was like performing magic. To make the words obey was like casting spells, never knowing which ones would turn on you.

New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment.

As teens, we used to joke it was the land of entrapment because so few of us got out. I got out but lost the magic somewhere along the way. I dropped out of high school and got my GED on the first try. At 17, I couldn’t imagine there was more to learn pent up in a classroom, stuffed in a desk doing the assigned reading and essay assignments I could’ve aced in elementary school. I resented filling in bubbles on standardized tests and lining up to be measured. I wanted to be free.

I got a job and worked. I moved out. My pen got quieter as my world got busier. I didn’t have time to worry about God or finding myself; I had bills to pay.

II.

“But you’re smart and you’ve done well,” she says reassuringly.

“I know, but, y’know. I don’t have any credentials. I mean, I’ve never had any, like,  formal writing classes,” I say in a voice draped in an apology.

We’re talking about pitching articles and I admit that I never have. I’ve been writing for four years on the web and never have I really pitched an article, submitted an unsolicited guest post, or sought out a place to feature my words without first being asked, without waiting for an invitation.

I waited for someone to tell me, You’re good enough.

“What would I even say in the bio I submit? Writes her feelings on the internet? I don’t have anything to put on a real writing query.” I reply. I don’t think I am making excuses. I think I am being realistic. I am not setting my sights on things I can’t accomplish. I am taking things one step at a time. But I am afraid.

I am afraid of being in over my head. Of my words showing up and embarrassing me. I am afraid of pronouncing something wrong because I’ve only ever seen it in the pages of my books. I don’t often travel in circles where these words are needed.

 I had to google what an MFA in writing was after a voxer conversation with a friend. If you are uninitiated like me, it means Master of Fine Arts. It’s the thing you get when you do all the school and know all the things about creative writing. It’s what I don’t have.

I came by writing the way someone takes to doggy paddling or instinctively rolling to their back when thrown in the deep end. It was a lifeline holding me up from the endless abyss. Bobbing my way back up to the surface, arms and legs kicking frantically to stay afloat. Sometimes when I write, it feels like one big gulp of air before being tugged back under the waves. I haven’t trained for smooth strokes and all the parts working in tandem to slice through with barely a ripple.

I write like a woman drowning. I write with a desperation to know and be known, to understand God, to see glory. I write to breathe again.

III.

My husband is a laborer. He paints houses in eggshell white and custard semi-gloss. He’s labored for 18 years in backbreaking work. His hands are never fully clean no matter how much he takes a scrub brush to them. They are stained with his work. The rims and ridges of his nail beds have ribbonlike stains the color of an Albuquerque plateu. We are blue collar and we live a simple life. I’m not ashamed of it until I am.

I see people who’ve chosen to live among the poor and are applauded for their noble choices. It’s one thing to choose to be among the poor, it’s another to not have enough to keep the electricity on or worry your paycheck isn’t enough to make rent again this month. There’s no nobility in that.

I’ve lived so much of my life with scarcity as a constance companion. You learn to set your sights lower. Always lower. You underline the portions of the Bible that talk about contentment and suffering and you hope for the payoff one day. But really, you’re not so much hoping for character and perseverance as you are for another ten bucks so you can buy some top ramen and toilet paper.

And when you have the luxury of free time and wifi, an open Scrivener page on your MacBook to write on, and a latte on your desk, you know that you are no longer in that place. You know you are afforded a voice. An opportunity to be known and seen and understood.  People will listen now. Only now, you don’t know what there is to see, and who there is to know. Now you wonder about those college degrees and those fancy words you’re not sure how to say and you worry about your missing teeth and smiling too big or crying too hard. You worry no one will understand you at all. Because you fit and don’t fit and fancy words don’t make up the differences.

But what you worry most is that maybe you will put it off. You will fool them all into thinking you have something to say, you’re scared to death that the doors will open for you and you will have to show up. You won’t have any more excuses. You can’t hang back and mumble about timing or cost or the inability to make it happen.

You will make the pilgrimage home, back to the red dust and scorched land, back to the place where your story first lost its voice and you’ll find it again. The magic of true words, the land of enchantment. And when you find them, you’ll have to write down the story that set you free.

You’ll have to believe you are good enough.

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Alia Joy
I’m the daughter of both a book lover and a storyteller and in that I was destined to be a writer. I collect words at http://aliajoy.com, dance to the good songs, and believe even the most broken stories have a redeemer. I live in Central Oregon with my husband, my tiny Asian mother, my three kids, a bunny, and a bunch of chickens. Sushi is my love language and I balance my cynical idealism with humor and awkward pauses.
Alia Joy
Alia Joy

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  • Christina S

    wow. Your gift of writing is so amazing. Thank you for your honest words. I can find myself in them. The fear of not being good enough.The fear to fool people into thinking I have something to say, the fear in the moment I have to show up and look at people who came just to hear my words and to think: “Who am I? Without real qualification. WIthout an MFA (didn`t know what that is!:-)). Just me. My thoughts. My little story.” And suddenly the words, passing through the hands of Jesus, become food to others. Like your words became food to me, on a cold, rainy morning, sitting in front of my computer in Germany, fearful to start writing because I think it won`t be good enoug. THANK YOU for sharing the magic of true words. Soulfood.

    • Alia_Joy

      So I wasn’t the only one who had to google MFA! Most of the time, I feel ok about my words, good even. But there are times when the doubts gather like storm clouds and I just feel so small and insignificant and I’m so afraid that I won’t measure up. I still feel like I’m just playing at all this and someday everyone will know that I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s an impossible standard and one that lives primarily in my head, I know this, but still, it’s one I return to again and again as I pen my story. I’m glad I’m not alone in this. We writers are a rare and difficult bunch.

  • I feel as if I should have outgrown all the things that I’m identifying with in your story, but when the word “writer” sticks in my throat, when I feel as if my story is not significant enough to share, when I procrastinate about moving in a definite direction I know that I’ve been listening to myself too much instead of talking back.

    The Power, the Love, and the Sound Mind don’t come naturally to me, but (thanks be to God) they are a gift.

    • Alia_Joy

      Right? It sounds so silly to be scared of our own worth, our own words. Especially when we believe God has gifted us with them. It’s so easy to doubt what we have to fight for.

  • You speak for more of us than you know, friend. It’s just that you do it with a raw finesse that few of us can begin to gather …

    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you, friend. For being here with me in the doubts and the hope.

  • “You worry no one will understand you at all. Because you fit and don’t fit and fancy words don’t make up the differences.” Our experiences are different, but I feel every word of this to my core. I fit, but I don’t fit too. But, I think this quality of otherness is where good art is born.

    Money and an MFA can never buy talent or hard work, both of which you have in abundance. I so admire (covet?!) the way you spin words, your vulnerability, and the voice and space you’ve cultivated for yourself as a writer.

    You are more than good enough. And someday I hope I write half as well as you do!

    • Alia_Joy

      Uggh, this made me cry. Thank you for your kindness and your life-giving words. I talked recently with a friend about accepting compliments graciously even when we’re doubtful we’re worthy of it. She simply says, “I receive that.” It is part acknowledgement, part thanks, part battle to believe it, part prophecy. Anyway, I guess I should say, I receive that. Thank you.

  • “But what you worry most is that maybe you will put it off. You will fool them all into thinking you have something to say, you’re scared to death that the doors will open for you and you will have to show up. You won’t have any more excuses.” THIS. I was just saying the same thing to a friend the other night. I’m afraid of success, I’m afraid of not showing up and missing out, I’m afraid I’ll succeed and then have to keep proving myself over and over again. But I’m telling myself to bring what I’ve got to the altar, and let it be.

    • Alia_Joy

      Oh yes! Proving myself over and over and with writing the standard and finish line is so subjective. You can feel like you’ve done enough and written good things and the next minute you’re questioning everything you put down. I know faithfulness is the goal and most days I even feel that’s true. But somedays when I sit down to write, all the fears come back and I realize maybe it’s not so much fear of failure as it is being heard and saying it all wrong.

  • Rebecca Jones

    I went to Christian school, way before home school. I graduated but it was not accredited enough to get me into journalism at a local college. I had a chance to go for an early childhood develoment but writing was just me. I understand the fear of failure, of success, it’s the root of all evil, that causes some to love money. But loving Jesus, He blesses, gives power to get wealth to establish His covenant. He’s the real Master of Fine Arts, and if you hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have known you didn’t have one, and you wouldn’t know I didn’t either. I’m sure it’s a course we could both ace, Alia. I encourage you to pursue this gift, it is literally a part of your soul and surpasses your struggles. Prayers and blessings, I hope your mother is doing well.

    • Alia_Joy

      She is doing much better, thanks. I do feel like writing is part of my soul, maybe that’s why I continue to struggle with it. 😉 Still, writing it down helps me to process why it’s been so hard to move forward with some of my dreams.

  • Oh, I so understand this feeling of needing letters behind a name to call yourself a writer! Self-doubt is a malady I think all writers struggle with to find a remedy for, however the medicine is already within us, isn’t it? We just have to believe. God says we are enough no matter our status, our education, our life circumstance. I write these words for myself too and in just a few minutes I’ll be doing homework for another writer’s course! I know I also need to take the leap to start submitting! Thanks for your encouraging story!

    • Alia_Joy

      It does seem like the further down the writing journey I get, the worse it gets because you realize there’s so much more you don’t know. I’ve said before the better I get at writing, the harder it gets. So maybe that’s some of it too. Writers are their own worst critics. Maybe all artists are in some ways. Good for you for doing the work and yes, that leap to submitting. I’m facing down mine this month. Thanks for reading and sharing here, Lynn.

  • Oh we writers are so full of doubts and wonderings about our writings. But isn’t this partly normal. We are putting ourselves and thoughts into our writings. Stringing words together to communicate a thought that someone may not get, or may criticize, or revel and rejoice in. And then one word may have so many different meanings, and a string of words can be interpreted a myriad of different ways. And then readers bring their own life experiences, hopes and doubts, feelings, and biases to the reading of our words. Help! It seems to me a writer who doesn’t agonize and worry over her words at least some of the time, if not most of the time, is probably dead. So keep writing and embrace your humanness.
    I hope you get to attend your conference one day.

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  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Thank you. I am holding your words close, letting them swirl around my heart. I’m savouring them for they are sweet and refreshing and life giving.

    You have a God-given gift … that is all the credentials or permission you need, Lovely!

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  • Alexandria

    This is gift. Thank you.