Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Apparently I Look Like an Idiot

I was at a local shop, buying a thing or trading a thing or sending a thing away to be repaired, whatever, and the man helping me asked what I did.

Not like, "What did you just do?"

Like, "What do you do?" Like, "What are you?"

I was going to give my usual answer: "I'm a stay-at-home mom." This is a great answer because it is true. But that day, in that shop, with that person I didn't know, I felt safe enough in my anonymity to say a different, also true, answer. "I'm a writer," I said. I wasn't trying to be pretentious or anything. I just kind of wanted to try it out in real life. I'd also just signed my book deal, so it felt like a little celebration, wearing my title in public like that.

He looked surprised. Pleasantly so, I thought. I felt great. "Wow!" he said. That felt great too. "That's really cool. I have a writer friend; his name is Pete Peterson." (Not his real name.)

"Oh cool," I said, nodding a lot. I generally do nod a lot. "That's cool." 

"He could probably give you some pointers," said the man. "He's really good. He could probably help you get started. Here, I'll write down his name for you." He did, on a yellow sticky note.

"Thanks," I said; I felt less great. A little silly. Like I had told a stranger what I wanted to be when I grew up. I took the note from the man and we finished up our business and I went on my way. When I got back to my car I looked up the name on the note and found Pete Peterson who could help me get started. Cool.

A few days later, I was at another place entirely. I found myself, randomly, in a conversation with a man who works in the literary world here in Saskatchewan. We were talking about a literary magazine we were both familiar with and I said something about sending some work there. At this point in the conversation, I knew who he was and what he did, but he hadn't asked me anything about myself. I was holding Scarlett, so he probably just assumed Stay-at-Home-Mom and I left it there this time, lest I subject myself to a repeat of the other day. 

To my comment, something like, "That's a gorgeous magazine; I sent a piece there once," he replied, "Oh, you know, just keep at it. You'll face a lot of rejection before you make it anywhere; take some classes, keep submitting, and maybe someday you'll make it!" It was a very nice sentiment, a very nice thing to say. But I felt like a little kid whose mother had taken her to see the policemen in real life, and one of them had come over and said, "Here's a sticker, little girl! Someday, you can be a policeman, like me!" 

But I smiled, nodded, said thank you. Said I hope so. Said It's a gorgeous magazine

I realized afterward that he hadn't ever even asked if the piece I sent there had been rejected or not; he just assumed it had and went straight to patting me on the head and telling me I could make it someday if I kept on trying. 

I'm not sure what I could be doing differently in order to be taken more seriously as a literary type. I suppose I could stop carrying children around. Wear my glasses in public. Stop blogging. 

It's a fine line, right? Like, I do need help. I do need community. I do need people who have been at this for longer than me to teach me stuff and help me get better at it. But I also really want people to take me seriously. To ask me questions about where I'm at instead of assuming I suck and have never succeeded at anything just because I'm a young woman with a baby on her hip (sometimes I put the baby down, it's true!). 

Anyway. All this to say that I have become very aware lately of my need for validation, my need to be taken seriously, my instantaneous Feeeeeeelings when someone talks down to me. I can see how, for many people, these needs and Feeeeeeelings translate into the need to constantly blast their accomplishments directly into the ears of anyone who will listen. I can see how, for others, it comes across in a pretentious or snooty way. And I can also see how it could just get all internalized and sit under your skin for the rest of your life, making you slightly puffy and terribly uncomfortable.

No thank you to all of that. I guess the only thing to do is keep existing, keep doing my best at stuff, and keep saying thank you to well-meaning people—and always remember, myself, to never judge the proverbial book by its cover.

8 comments:

  1. For what it's worth, you are one of my favourite writers and I'm super excited about the book.

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    1. Paul, you are so kind. Thank you.

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  2. You just keep on saying it. That you're a writer. That you sent in pieces here or there. That you are published.
    Since you say you have little self confidence about this, possibly the way you say it, sounds a little insecure, or you sound like you don't really take yourself seriously and so people don't take you seriously either.
    To be honest, when I started working as a freelance translator, I felt very self conscious about it and kept saying I worked as an employee, even though I'd quit that job. I thought I didn't have enough experience to define myself as translator.

    So you keep on saying it, if it were just to get comfortable with using the word, to start believing in what you say.

    And, as Paul said, for what it's worth, you are one of my favoroute writers too. And I know, just by reading how you write this blog, that your book must be really good.

    You're a writer. Better start believing it.


    stephanie

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    1. Thanks, Stephanie! I appreciate it. It's very hard to own a word that someone else hasn't given you first, you know? I keep thinking, well, when the next thing happens, THAT is when I'll be a writer. "When I've finished writing a whole book." "When I get an agent." "When I get a book deal." "When the book is actually published." This could go on forever! haha

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  3. You're one of my favorite writers, for the record. It's such a joy to read your work. Uhhhk. Boo sexism! Those interactions are not a reflection on your writing or even necessarily your confidence in your abilities as a writer.

    I had a similar experience recently with my nonprofit when an older influential man in the community launched into these "you know you really should..." lectures without first asking if we'd ever considered them. We had actually already made a strategic decision *not* to do them. He dropped those helpful nuggets of wisdom and then jetted right on out of there before we could actually have a conversation. I imagine he patted himself on the back on the way out for bestowing his helpful insight on two young women.

    I questioned myself for a brief moment afterwords before I realized that it did not cross his mind to even consider that we might already have the ability to make savvy choices and have already attained a certain degree of success in those very areas.

    We sighed and shook our heads for a minute, and then high-fived for knowing that our plans and reasoning were sound.

    The whole thing made us extra grateful for the truly supportive and engaged mentors we've been lucky enough to connect with. Here's hoping more of those positive and encouraging (non-condescendingly encouraging, that is!) voices come your way soon!

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    1. Thanks for this, Cheryl! You're amazing. That interaction is so...familiar. Haha. But you handled it so well, and I love your attitude about it. I love that you high-fived. :D

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  4. Come on, you know I adore you, so that doesn't need to be restated. But I hear ya: I've always had a need for reassurance in too many aspects of my life. I need to hear that I'm a good mother, a good wife, etc etc. If I don't hear it, I start to think it's not true.

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  5. I've been waiting for your book for like, a hundred years, and only writers have people ... other than their mom ... waiting patiently for them to finish books.

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Say anything you want. It doesn't even have to be relevant.