02 May 2012

"I have such doubts": or, why meryl streep gets me (but diana ross gets me better)

"Doubt can be a bond ..." 
Doubt ... it can be "a bond as powerful and sustaining as
certainty" (Doubt ) (Image: "Splatter Question" by Bensik Imeri)
One of my favorite movies is the 2008 film Doubt. Starring Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Meryl Streep, the film focuses on the conflict that arises when a Catholic school nun suspects an inappropriate relationship has developed between a troubled 12-year-old boy—the school’s first black student—and a priest. One of my favorite lines from the film comes right at the beginning of the film, when Father Flynn (Hoffman), during a liturgy, proclaims, “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.”

Thank God for quotes like this, because without them, I don’t think I could ever be a writer.

During this week’s My Name Is Not Bob (MNINB) Twitter Chat, the first question asked if we ever doubt ourselves as writers. For me, the answer is a resounding yes.

And here’s why.

the seed of doubt
This past week, I finally got an update on a chapbook competition I had entered a while ago. The press released their list of the top ten finalists … and I was nowhere on it. What made it even worse was that instead of an email letting me know this, I only stumbled upon the news by catching a glimpse of a Facebook update. I can still feel the sinking sensation in my stomach when I clicked the link and didn’t see my name. It was like someone had taken all the joyous butterflies in my stomach and sprayed them with pesticides. Not fun.

A few days later, on Monday of this week, I got an email from the same press letting me know they were not interested in the poems I had sent for their journal, either.

the seed blooms
Days and weeks like these … I can’t help but doubt myself as a writer. As a poet. As a human being. (Okay … I just wandered onto Hyperbole Avenue there for a sec.) I feel that tiny voice rise up that says, “You know, Khara … You started off in English Education. You could be teaching high school English right now. You didn’t have to put yourself through this.”

I know … I know …

“How can you call yourself a poet anyway?” it asks me. “What proof do you have? So a few people say they like your poems. Guess who’s not saying it?” And then it whispers: “The editors.”

Yeah … I know …

“You’ve got, what … Two, maybe three, publications to your name? And honestly, can you really count half of those? Does one acceptance letter out of, like, thirty rejections sound like a good qualification for a poet to you?”

And  THAT  is where my inner critic has finally crossed the line.

i'm a lion
I know my failures do not define me as a writer, as a poet. Even though they hurt, I don’t think of them as failures at all: I think of them as growth spurts. You know, that painful period when your teeth are coming in and your limbs stretch out and suddenly your shoes don’t fit and you’re finding curves and hair and bits of you you’ve never seen before? I can’t help but think that all these setbacks are just making me more and more like a lion cub. If I give up now I’ll die a lion cub; the hyenas will laugh as they pick and paw at my bones. But if I keep at it, despite the pain, despite the setbacks, despite that voice inside saying, “You’re no lion … you’re a kitty compared to all those other lions” … at some point, I’ll be a lion. 

But at the same time, I cannot deny that doubt both begins and ends this story, just as it begins and ends the movie Doubt. And though we cannot grow without them, as Sister Aloysius says in the film ... "I have such doubts."

"be a lion"
This got kind of heavy on me, but maybe for some of you out there experiencing the same level of doubt, you'll be encouraged to know that as much as we can all be Sister Aloysius sometimes, we can also be Father Flynn. Remember, in your doubt, you have formed a bond with the community of writers. We are, all of us, always doubting. Always wondering if we made the right choices. As long as we have pens, we will have doubts. But in the midst of that doubt, we are bound together, and together: we are lions.

Your Turn: Do you ever doubt yourself as a writer?


Want to stay connected? I invite you to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And sign up for free email updates from this blog in the top right corner of the page.


Read previous Personal Update Wednesday posts from Our Lost Jungle:


  1. I'm so full of self doubt that last night for the first time in my life, I thought, "I don't want to do this anymore." You're a good writer- this post is well written. I can barely write this comment. Yeah, I know this feeling will pass and is actuallly good for me. It makes me want to work harder. Good to know that all writers feel this way sometimes.

  2. Marie ... Oh, yeah. :)

    Caryl, thank you so much for your brave honesty here. I hope for you the season of doubt passes soon--but even in the midst of it, that you find new ways to flourish! It's definitely hard, but I like to think that if my doubts are my downs, there's nowhere to go but up once they're over (or at least quieted for a while)!

  3. Khara: Without a doubt, I can say that I feel passion in all your writing. I feel the surge from within building up as it rises until you finally capture it and express it in ways it never dreamed off. Even though certainty may be absurd according to Voltaire, I am certain that the many seeds you have sown will flourish and bloom.

    My definition with respect to being a writer is "If you can capture the heart of a reader, then you are a writer." Even if all I do is capture one heart at one moment in time, then my mandate as a writer is fulfilled. If the next day another reader or the same reader comes along and says "you have me", then I shout a resounding "YES!". The most powerful word I know off.

    Do I have hopes and dreams of reaching critical acclaim and becoming a household name? Of course, we are all human and within us the germ that strives to leave a legacy behind. Will I get there someday by writing? I have more doubts than certainty in that are. Will I eventually find that which ultimately will allow me to leave said legacy behind? Absolutely! Am I in a rush to dial in on the vehicle? No, not really. It will reveal itself in time. I just know I need to show up with my best self each and every day.

    To further acknowledge your profound professional impact on me, I left you a gift at my site. Do swing by and pick it up :)


    1. Meena, thank you so much! I'm truly humbled by your kind words, and the "gift" on your blog. (I think this is the second I've received, actually, I need to get on top of that!) Cheers!

  4. You, too?
    Khara, thought it was only me!
    Doubt seems to be an integral part of that struggle to be a writer. So glad you shared your thoughts on this matter. I think that it is always good to commiserate to gain perspective. (At least that's what I tell myself when doubt is raging after the last rejection.)
    Take care.:)

    1. Oh, yes ... the rejection monster loves to rear its ugly head and cast those long shadows of doubt on us poor writers. I hope that by sharing experiences it's at least bringing a little more light into that shadowy dark :)

  5. Self doubt rules me as a writer. In fact... I wrote a poem about it and I'm publishing it on my blog tomorrow. It has helped me a lot to see that I'm not the only one.

    I look to you and Meena for inspiration. I hope to one day be half as good as you two at writing poetry!

    1. Dana, I look forward to reading your poem tomorrow! Make sure you share a link with me (either here, or on Facebook) and I'll share it with my network!

  6. Awesome work, Khara. No need to doubt. You've got chops.

    1. Thank you so much, Kasie.

      A little while ago, when I was griping about rejections, my dad reminded me that Dr. Seuss had dozens of rejections before a yes. The Color Purple was rejected. The Wizard of Oz got rejected--Frank L. Baum apparently had so many rejections he kept a notebook called a "Record of Failure"! So at least for every doubt and every "no," I know I'm in good company!

  7. I love the movie, Doubt, also. And I really like the way you use its theme here. I was also touched by your tribute to your mother. I lost mine years ago, but I still think of her every day. The first year is hardest, with all the "first --- without her" events. I'll be thinking of you on Mother's Day.


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

Featured Post

Sankofa: The Power of Known History

I recently took on two challenges in the sphere of political and cultural advocacy: understanding the roots of our democracy and national l...