Recently I had a (very minor) twitter storm to do with some Fun Palaces work and some inclusion/exclusion stuff and I found it hugely painful, personally and regarding our work.

Partly it was painful because I felt (and continue to feel, as do my colleagues and those we work with) that our work was being misrepresented and (apparently willfully) misinterpreted. Partly it was painful because when Fun Palaces Makers responded, they were told they just hadn’t understood. Partly it was painful because what was being debated wasn’t what I believe and beliefs were being ascribed to me that weren’t mine.

Largely it was painful because I spend a huge amount of my life feeling like I don’t belong. Imposter syndrome sounds small and silly and easily dismissed. I feel it as intense shame. I feel it as huge anxiety, a churning in the centre of my body, a rising heart rate and chilled hands. I feel it physically and emotionally and spiritually. It’s real.

I know I am not alone. I think we all need to talk about it more.

I feel it because I grew up in a working class family. I feel it because I am queer. I feel it because I am a woman. I feel it because I am a middle-aged woman and therefore always more likely to be ignored, spoken over, unseen and not given voice on stage or screen. I feel it because I was not only the first in my family to go to university but the first in my family to be able to stay at school long enough to pass the exams to do so. I feel it because the life I live now is UTTERLY different to the one in which I grew up. I feel it because my childhood was not secure. I feel it because my teens were both agonising and the place where I formed some of the best friendships of my life. I feel it because I understand my own mortality differently since having two cancers, especially since the second one more recently.

I feel it because the work I do with Fun Palaces was not planned, was not part of a strategy, was not something I ever expected or even chose to do – it has grown exponentially because of demand, because of enthusiasm, because people love and want and value what we can offer, but I wasn’t really ready for that demand and enthusiasm, and it all took off during the second cancer anyway. I feel it because we struggle every day to do this work with a tiny part-time team, underpaid and underfunded – and do it anyway, with virtually no back-up, because we believe in the inclusion we are supporting people to create for themselves. And because it works.

I feel it because I’m 54. I feel it because I’m not a mother in a culture that both believes we’re only ‘real’ women if we’re mothers and simultaneously denigrates anything that women do, so denigrates mothering. I feel it because, at 54 and working since I was 17, I have never had a ‘proper’ job – ie the validation of someone else giving me work I didn’t have to make for myself (let alone the validation of someone else giving me sick pay, holiday pay, compassionate leave!). I feel it because I have always struggled with my body image and I continue to do so, so putting myself up for public view is always scary. I feel it because I will probably never succeed in writing as well as the ideas in my head and my heart, and yet I keep trying anyway. I feel it because although I did go to university I got a rubbish degree because I spent the whole time making plays (the making plays was a FINE training for a writer btw, but def not an academic one). I feel it because I am not very ‘well-read’ – no, I’m not sure what that means any more either, but I know that I’ve now got to the stage where I never ever pretend to know a word’s meaning or to have read a book we all ‘ought’ to have read, and that’s a relief.

I feel it because Fun Palaces is often (now) invited to sit at the table with organisations that are funded for several or many millions a year, because they want to know how we do what we do, how we achieve the diversity and inclusion we achieve, and I always feel like Cinderella at that table. (I am Cinderella, most of the other people at those tables are on full-time salaries in full-time positions with long-established organisations and our funding is miniscule, our organisation tiny, compared to so many. They’re much nicer than the stepsisters though.) I feel it because my mum and dad didn’t know what to wear to posh events and so I didn’t either.

I feel it all the time. And I do the work anyway. The book events and the keynote speeches about Fun Palaces and the equality events and the radio programmes and the workshops (writing and theatre and impro and Fun Palaces) and the panels and hosting Stonewall’s Equality Dinner and Open Space and hold space and the big posh meetings and the small vital meetings and the terrifyingly shiny parties. All of it.

I feel it while I wonder do I have the right to feel this, when OF COURSE there are many other intersections that would single me out even more – I am not a woman of colour, I am not disabled. I have a great many of the privileges of life in the UK in 2017. I feel it while I tell myself it is daft to feel this. I feel it when I admit it is my truth. I feel it deeply and with great shame because I cannot make it go away.

I am trying to feel it anyway. Despite. In spite of. I am learning to feel my uncertainty and insecurity anyway, even if it is hard to feel this way. I am admitting that I can feel this way AND do what I do, be as out there as I am, be as strong as (some) other people see me (and I rarely feel). I have a dream that if I can be all of me – the scared and the brave me, the quiet and the big me, the strong me and the hiding me – all at the same time, then maybe I can be more useful, create more value.

What helps? Therapy, yoga every day, running some days, chanting, being honest about what is – to myself as much as to others.

I know I am not alone. I think we all need to talk about it more.
(Yes, it is scary pushing the ‘public’ button on this.)