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Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Sorry, I'm a writer...

So why are the words, "I'm a writer," so very hard to say?
When someone asks what I do, what are they actually asking?

Sometimes it can seem like a really empty question, something just to fill the airspace until a better topic leaps into existence. When I was raising four tiny children and would turn up at Mothers and Toddlers with only one side of my hair brushed and sick over the back of my tee shirt, nobody would have dared ask me that question. Occasionally, one exhausted mother would sigh over her breastfeeding infant and ask sadly, "What did you do...before?" By 'before' she would mean, before the world fell out of my bottom, before sleep became something reserved for teenagers and old people, before my stomach morphed into something that a bouncy castle owner would be thrilled with and definitely BC - before children. We would all reply from behind our hands, so that other mothers wouldn't hear and judge us for our lives BC. Tax inspector, law enforcement officer, accountant, business owner. We were all there, lined up around the room while our children surged around like a maniacal high tide. Our tiny creations would all be doing their own individual thing but we kidded ourselves that they were 'playing', even though it was just an excuse to stay sitting and enjoy the few moments of sanity before all hell broke loose again.

When the children go off to school, that seems to be the signal for Mother to get her backside in gear and start contributing to the household coffers. Never mind that the children are actually only absent for six hours a day at the most and it takes at least two of those to deal with the puppy everyone whinged for - and only Mum looks after.   It's around that time in a woman's life, that this knotty little question rears its ugly head again, tentatively aired in the playground at pick up time when you appear in your leggings and flip-flops to claim the child covered in glue, snot, tears or lunch (or in my case, often one of each.) 'What do you do?' So we invent glorified titles to disguise the fact that we leave all the cooking, cleaning and child rearing to someone else and really just sit on our fat bottoms all day, drinking coffee and watching daytime television. 'I'm a household engineer, a domestic technician, a taster for Cadbury's' and on it goes. Don't get me wrong, my husband has always been a capable hunter-gatherer and never put me under pressure to work, but it was socially expected that I would 'do my bit.' So I did.

My children are mainly all off nowadays, making their own mark on the world, doing useful things like degrees, apprenticeships and earning cash for their efforts. Occasionally they boomerang back for a while and go again. I do actually work part-time in an area which fulfils me hugely, taking care of artefacts in a public institution. No, I realise you now think that I work in an old peoples' home, but I can assure you, all wordplay aside, it involves old books, photos and documents of local importance. But I probably write for as many hours a week (if not more) than I go out to work. So what am I?

I recently shyly told someone who asked, that I was an author. "Should I know you?" she asked. I considered her question. Should she? How the heck do I know? "Probably not," I answered and rushed off to hang my really important washing out. Did I stress about lurking paparazzi photographing our family's socks and knickers dangling out in the open air and creating some spurious headline about my bra size? Don't be silly.

But it really is a conversation stopper at parties, no matter how you try to handle it.

"What do you do?"
"I'm a writer."
"Oh!" Stunned silence. "What do you write?"
"Sentences. Big ones."
The sound of clicking heels follows an awkward silence as said questioner runs off to talk to someone less frightening. After all, I could be making notes about their big behind or the heavy foundation covering their acne, or even his wife. Just kidding. We politely decline invites to those parties.

Seriously, what do other authors say? Because once you've dropped the A-bomb and it's out there in the ether, all the questioner seems to care about is how famous you are and whether your name is worth dropping in their next conversation with someone they want to impress.
"Are you any good?"
"Pretty crap really." Raised eyebrow and sympathy - name instantly forgotten.
"I'm brilliant." Thinks 'Big head, won't bother getting her books.' - Name instantly forgotten.

There really doesn't seem to be any answer to it. But the problem is that we are story tellers. Do people not realise the temptation they put us under not to spin them some fantastical line involving reading my own novels out loud to the queen to help her sleep, getting the prime minister to proof read my grammar or asking the aliens at the bottom of the garden for literary criticism? Gosh it's hard. Do they seriously not understand what that short pause before we actually begin speaking means? We're engaged in warfare against our inner selves and they made us do it!

"What do you do?"
"I'm an author."
"Nice, are you any good? Do you sell much?"
"Yes. What do you do?"
"I'm a doctor."
"Nice. Are you any good? Do you cure everyone who comes to see you? Oh, that's a shame."

It's so tempting...

#firstworldproblems #author #amwriting #critics #people #creativity #can'tthinkofanythingelse