Elena Bowes

New York-London travel & design writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Perfection is so over-rated

April 20th, 2019

It’s a big year for me. Not only is it my 30th reunion of the Columbia Journalism School, but my daughter is getting married. At both events I will be required to speak in public in front of lots of people looking at me expecting me to say something interesting or witty or both. This is not a scenario that fills me with joy. Dread might be a better word.

When I was in college I wanted to be an actress. I was cast as the narrator for a play at school. On the night of the performance, my mouth failed me. So did my memory. I’m still in recovery.

That’s me(bottom left with bad hair) 30 years ago at the J-School when I dreamt of becoming People Magazine’s star royal reporter covering Princess Diana.

Next Friday, about 146 hours and ten minutes, from now,  – I will be giving a welcoming talk to hundreds of illustrious J-School alum at the afternoon tea.

What do I say?

Hello everyone: We have quite a stellar group of alumnae here today. We have reporters, editors and columnists from the The New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg, Reuters, NPR, the New Yorker. We have Pulitzer prize winners,  award-winning documentary makers, best-selling authors. And most notably we have a blogger based in this newsworthy, action-packed city who likes to write about her boyfriend and her pugs, a memoirist in real-time.

At the moment I am on a family holiday in St Bart’s. The birds are tweeting, the sun is shining,  I am fretting. I show my aunt Victoria the list of who is coming to the reunion, she scrolls down my computer  screen and mumbles,

So many people are coming. Jesus!”

This is not helpful.

I am now experiencing serious bouts of insecurity and self-doubt. Why didn’t I take that public speaking course I have been talking about ever since I was the mute narrator?? Because I am a total loser who never follows through on anything, obviously.

I notice everything others can do that I can’t, even things that never mattered to me, like recalling obscure historical facts.

Do you know how St Bart’s got its name, my uncle Eddie asks me while nibbling on a croissant?


Christopher Columbus discovered this island in 1493 after leaving America. He named it after his brother Bartolomo.

My aunt pipes in with a totally unrelated fact. I guess after 37 years of marriage, why bother even pretending that you’re listening to your husband. That’s the happy couple below.

Did you know that Idi Amin had 48 children? Victoria asks. He ate people.

Hopefully, none of his children, I say.

He kept human body parts in his freezer, she says while pouring maple syrup on her hot cereal.

Columbus discovered St Bart’s. Idi Amin had 48 children and stored human flesh in his freezer. And I knew none of this.  I know nothing. There’s no way I can give that  speech..

I read my heroine Nora Ephron’s essay on Maintenance. I typically love reading Nora Ephron. Not now. All I can think when I read “Maintenance” is “And I call myself a writer?!”

My aunt says I suffer from imposter syndrome- I google it. Turns out, I am a classic Imposter.

Imposter Syndrome is when a person doubts his accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.  A few of the symptoms: A lack of self-confidence, anxiety, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy, dwelling on past mistakes, in other words –  me in a nutshell.

Why don’t you secretly email all the alum and tell them that the tea has been cancelled? suggests my daughter Kate. Or say that your appendix burst on the subway, it was really messy, appendix bits everywhere and you needed to go home and take a shower and so sadly, can’t give the talk.

No, I tell Kate, I may be an Imposter, but I’m not a liar.

I find salvation in an episode of the fantastic podcast Happy Place, where British TV presenter Fearne Cotton interviews former addict, celebrity and general super smart person Russell Brand about how he has found peace and contentment after a life-long battle with addictions and anxiety.

What other people think of me is none of my business, says Brand. Get rid of the mind chatter, self-loathing and stop being so hard on myself.

Russell’s right. No more compare and despair. I am who I am. Take it or leave it. I don’t like watching Shakespearean plays. I will never read Moby Dick. And I don’t like carrot  juice. That’s me. I’m feeling better already. I can do this. I am embracing the flawed  Elena.

This talk – now in 145 hours and 47  minutes – to my fellow flawed human beings,  is going to be a breeze, especially when I imagine them all naked with chickenpox.


April 2019