Saturday, January 31, 2009

Job Title

I sat in the doctor’s office hesitating over a stack of forms. It wasn’t the health history section causing me such anguish. I whizzed through those questions, checking “no” next to every known medical calamity on the list. It was the place marked “occupation.” At first, I skipped it, but now I had finished the other pages and felt obligated to complete the entire packet as requested. I couldn’t bring myself to write housewife or homemaker or stay at home Mom or even worse, none. I finally scribbled domestic goddess and returned the clipboard to the nurse.

Later that week, a fellow domestic goddess and I decided to treat ourselves to a rare evening out. We gussied up and headed to a fancy restaurant. We sat at the bar and ordered two martinis. The conversation flowed.

“Name one thing you would change about yourself.” She asked.

I thought for a moment. “I wish I could bowl.”

She thought I was joking, so I explained that I had never been able to perform any sort of recreational sport very well. It had always bothered me.

“But you have so many other things you are good at!” She argued. “You are a good writer and a great public speaker. Who cares if you can bowl?”

“You don’t hang around with your friends and write. You play tennis. You ski. I am terrible at all of those things.” I explained. We sparred over the subject for awhile and then roped the bartender into settling the discussion.

“Okay.” I challenged him. “Would you rather be able to bowl a perfect game or speak in front of a large audience?”

“No question.” He answered. “I would rather be good at public speaking.”

Okay, maybe bowling wasn’t his thing. I changed it a little. “Would you rather be able to golf a perfect game or speak in front of a large audience?”

“Public speaking.” He laughed and changed the subject. “What do you do?”

I hesitated. “She’s a writer.” My friend answered.

Was that the truth? He asked me what I wrote and I explained that I had just started a book. Okay, that was true. I mentioned that I was still new to the area and trying to find a place to publish a few essays. That was true too. But was I really a writer? It’s not like writing was my job. To me, an occupation was something you got paid to do. On the other hand, I had been pretty occupied by my writing.

Lately words were spilling out everywhere. Entire paragraphs were forming in my head while I drove through the carpool line, cluttering my mind. I had been getting up at five A.M. just to let them out, my computer screen glowing in the predawn hours while my family was still sleeping. I signed up for a writing workshop. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you did hang around with your friends and write. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a hobby. So I started reading about writing. Turns out almost all of the real writers started just like me. They felt driven to put words on paper. Sometimes they got lucky enough to be paid for it. A female author from the seventies described her writing as “clawing her way out of the kitchen.” I am sure she was referring to the burgeoning women’s movement of her day, and yet something about her raw need seems familiar to me. I certainly feel like I am scrambling towards something.

I am still not sure I feel comfortable with the label, but I am trying it on for size. I’ll keep writing and submitting. I’ll peck away at my book. I’ll devour stories about other authors. Who knows? Maybe next year at my annual checkup, I will even have the courage to list writer as my occupation.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

My sister once referred to me as a writer and it threw me off too.