Panic at the Pitch
June 14, 2022 § 5 Comments
By Jodie Sadowsky
“El titulo è Panic at the Bus Stop.” The professore, a balding painter in black jeans, handed out sketchpads and pencils and watercolors.
My heart fluttered with panic at the art studio. I peeked at my classmates deftly sketching in the dusty classroom in Florence a few cobblestoned streets from the Duomo.
In keeping with the assignment, the out of proportion, Picasso-like passengers I created were unnerving. Thankfully, they were waiting for the bus, so I didn’t have to draw an actual bus.
I slid through that first week, relieved I hadn’t been found out as a complete novice. I dreaded every Thursday, comfortable only during lunch, which I spent with an oily hunk of focaccia. For our independent project, my flatmate sketched stills to stitch together for an animated short of the crucifixion. I picked something more practical: creating a logo for the city’s first Jewish deli. Late one afternoon, the professore leaned over my page, sighed at the cartoonish bagel boy holding a “Ciao! Bagel” banner, then erased everything between the rounds. He hastily redrew the eyes, mouth and hands I’d spent all day fashioning and I mumbled an embarrassed grazie.
By the end of the term, I settled on this: I was creative, but not artistic. So what? I thought, I can’t draw. I was smart and had good ideas. A year later, I headed to law school, a not-so-creative place where lots of people who like to read and write and think end up.
Now, after twenty years of lawyering and many mommy-and-me art classes later, I’m trying to write and publish for the first time. I’m haunted by my old view of myself as someone who is not artistic, and I’m terrified it’s true.
In writing workshops, I learned about “pitching” the idea of an essay, selling the notion of a piece instead of the work itself. This seems easier to learn—and teach—than the craft of essay writing. It’s an art form with a formula: lead with a catchy or timely headline, compliment the editor’s work or the publication, keep it short and get to the heart of the story.
Sometimes, the formula works. Still, as soon as I celebrate having a pitch accepted, the insecurity takes over. What have I promised? Have I shared a vision for something I can’t possibly pull off? I begin writing, with two rivers surging: one, a happy endorphin stream that celebrates the acceptance (“I’ve got this, it’s working. I’d doing IT!”) alongside a powerful stream of self-doubt (“I’ve fooled them. I’ve sold something I can’t deliver. I’ll be found it.”)
The drafts I’ve held onto the longest, the pieces I’m not submitting or even pitching, are about the ultimate imposter in my life. My biological father played the part of being my dad until I was six. He built a swing set in our backyard, set up a darkroom to print stunning black and white photographs of my sister and me and developed a hilarious repertoire of Sesame Street character impressions for bedtime stories. Then, diagnosed as a sociopath and mixed up with drugs and affairs and bad business dealings, he walked away without looking back. I know his leaving was about him, not me, and that my life turned out beautiful without him, but there’s an ugly undercurrent that doesn’t wane: I wasn’t enough.
After one essay I wrote was approved on a pitch, it took three months of slow correspondence and several rounds of edits to publish, each pause opening space for me to question my worth. The day the piece published I couldn’t look at it. I was certain I must have bamboozled the editor, that she felt bad I’d tried so hard and buried it on the website somewhere as a bit of charity. But there it was, under the Personal Essay banner, with a custom illustration to match. And there it was in the newsletter and on social media.
Soon, I shared it too. Writing—and putting my work out there—is an act of fortifying myself. I’m building a dam against those negative thoughts. I notice them, and given the endless articles a new writer can read on imposter syndrome (I liked this and this), I’m beginning to accept that this insecurity may never dissipate. I work through the edits (and the panic), opening myself to critique, to tracked changes and the abrasive rub of erasers. I’ve given up charcoal and watercolor, but I’m painting my thoughts into words, revealing myself, hoping each time that they are enough, and on my way to believing that finally, I’m enough.
Jodie Sadowsky lives in Connecticut with her high school prom-date husband and their three children. Jodie’s writing centers around her life’s biggest roles–daughter, sister, mother, partner, friend. Some of her work has been published online at The Kitchn, Tablet, and Cottage Life Magazine; the rest exists on her laptop, her notebooks and in her head. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.