“So, what do you do?”
And it has the simplest of answers.
“I’m a writer.”
And yet, I hesitate to say it. It makes me think of a conversation I had with a young man of the age when one believes they understand deep universal truths the rest of the world is too unenlightened to recognize. He was a poet, among other things, and I mentioned that I was as well. He scoffed at me. “Everyone who puts two rhyming words on a piece of paper thinks they’re a poet.” He also thought that writing on a computer was like sleeping with the enemy. I responded that while my computer may screw me over from time to time, I had never taken it to bed. But upon further analysis, perhaps I should consider it, since it’s more dependable than a quill, not to mention most men I’ve ever known, my husband excepted, and, by the way, my poems don’t rhyme, asshat. Okay, I didn’t call him an asshat. But it was implied.
But his attitude isn’t unusual. So when people ask me what I do, I hedge. “I’m a former management consultant.” Look of interest and admiration. She’s a player. She’s smart and ambitious, worth talking to. “I left the business to focus on my family.” Face freezes into a benign smile, registering fear of a long discussion about minivans and the plague of No Child Left Behind. Eyes drifting to other, more interesting conversation partners. “Now I write and play music. Just finished my first novel.” Skeptical smile. Select response while barely disguising disbelief. Options? Really, how nice, that’s great.
My answer. “I know, it sounds really pretentious.”
Most people laugh, a silent assent. My favorite response was, “It only sounds pretentious if you say you’re working on your second novel.” I started the second two weeks ago. Now what do I say?
A few years ago, I wrote an essay about running called What Is She Running From? –my only published work outside of the business sphere. In it, I describe the power of naming. People are reluctant to take on positive titles for themselves–they must be conferred by others. Even titles as simple as “loyal customer.” Once given, however, people own them and act accordingly. In that simple experiment, I called myself a runner (despite never having run a mile) to see how it would change my behavior. Almost ten years later, I’m still reaping the benefits.
So now my goal is to own it. I’m a writer. Let the eyerolling commence.
I cannot change the preconception that every bored housewife thinks they are a novelist-in-waiting, or that the industry is a spirit-killing, next-big-thing obsessed machine. The only thing I can change is me.
So I refuse to wait until the industry validates my new vocation by choosing to publish my work. I’m going rogue. I’m a writer. It’s expected.
Photograph by Charles Sanford