Yesterday was one of the proudest moments of my life. I sat in the office of my new allergist, completing information forms. I got to the blank for occupation. I hesitated, then with a surge of joy, put down “writer.” I cannot explain why it thrills me so much. Do I presume that I’ll write a great American novel, or even a great children’s book? No. Do I have aspirations of traveling the globe, sampling and reviewing wine, basking in the crumbling streetscape of Havana, writing about an Elvis-impersonator festival for the Oxford American? That would be nice, but not yet, if ever. Basically, if I were hired to write the ingredients of pork rinds on a plastic bag, I’d be happy to do so.
When I got out of the allergy doctor’s office, I immediately called my husband, my friend Ellen, and my dad to tell them how happy I was. That’s how happy I was, reporting my Pollyanna outburst to a few people who will go, “That’s great!” instead of “When are you going to do something really creative?” and bursting my bubble. Well, my husband did mention a screenplay. He wishes.
Long ago, my first library supervisor gave me a blank book as a gift, with the inscription, “Be a writer.” Other things intervened, like the necessity of health insurance, or just the sheer loveliness of books themselves, with their paper-and-glue intoxicating smell, and the devouring of other people’s words and ideas and images. My addiction to books led me to work in the library, and it was a thrill that lasted until the reality of collecting people’s fines, maneuvering drunks out the door, troubleshooting crashing computers, doing science projects for kids and parents who had no intention of doing it themselves, caught me full in the face. Unfortunately, to my own credit or discredit, I was good at customer service and remained in the job much longer than I should have.
Every year, I’d have some doctor’s office or cocktail party opportunity to tell people what I did for a living, and I never felt proud of it. I was tired of people’s assumptions that all librarians do is stalk around with buns in their hair, shushing people and stamping books with due dates, dull little drones in a quiet groove. I was sick of hearing people react to my colorful, eccentric wardrobe with, “You don’t look like a librarian.” Or even our library director’s backhanded compliment that I was “way too cute for the library” rubbed me the wrong way. My best friends and I started referring to the library as “the troll factory,” a disparaging moniker that it kinda deserves, but not really. My job was an embarrassing relative — I was somehow related to it but knew it was misunderstood, and I was quick to defend it. There are many smart, talented, energetic, dedicated people who devote their god-given brain cells to helping people find their ancestors, or get a bus pass, or research Florida Statutes, and bless their hearts. I do not mean to disparage them or their work. I’m just not doing it anymore. This concludes my digression.
Anyway, the only time I’ve ever felt alive, other than driving really fast or scoring a great vintage dress in a thrift store, is sitting at the keyboard just whipping up my thoughts and watching them froth on the page, or grooming them into a thesis statement with balletic precision. These days, I’m writing conference reports, or website content, and it feels like honest work, like I don’t have to cram my soul into a strait jacket for eight hours a day.
Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe I can only work in short bursts. Maybe I like being in my pajamas. Maybe I’m an introvert and don’t want to talk to people. Maybe I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m being a writer.