A few days ago, I met an old friend on the street who I hadn’t talked to in months. After a few pleasantries she asked, “So, where are you working?”
I’m still not used to that question, having recently retired from a regular teacher job and a career that I had remained dedicated to for over twenty -five years. “On my couch,” I replied.
She laughed, sort of, clearly unsure what I was talking about it, so to dissipate the immediate confusion I quickly added, “I’m writing now. Full-time. Fiction.”
The conversation continued as it often does: brief clarifying questions, embarrassing responses followed by a few words of encouragement, such as, “That’s great. People should do what they love.”
But what I keep remembering about this accidental exchange about “work” is my friend’s mildly skeptical lines around her squinty eyes and the hairline twitch of her upper lip, subtle gestures, that as a writer I train myself to notice, or perhaps as a tale-spinner, I have simply made up. What I really take away is the question that I am afraid I do have to face… am I simply a fraud?
It’s true, these days, I do my “work” perched mainly on soft cushions with a snoring dog competing with my laptop for thigh space. But is it true when I consider myself a writer? Or is what I do all day–at the expense of a dwindling pile of a meager home equity and a generous (but equally poor) benefactor–merely rigmarole, faldarol, and palaver? Am I merely a ragamuffin with a pen, trying to sell a few lies and tricks along the way?
Some days it sure can feel this way. Like the day when my kid came home off the school bus, saw me sitting genie style on the couch in my pajamas and exclaimed, “You’re still there?”
“Shhh,” I tell her. “I’m in the middle of a story.” Where else would I be?
She picks up a page or two off the rug, ones that my puppy had earlier pulled from my first draft piled on the ottoman, and remarks, as she holds the injured papers between my screen and my face and pokes, “This part doesn’t sound right. A teenager would never actually say that, unless it’s like the nineteen twenties.” Which it’s not.
My loose-limbed girl then mounts her scooter and rides down the driveway to meet friends at the brook, to hoot and holler the tension of the school day away.
What kind of mother am I? Still in my pajamas at three in the afternoon? There were days when a gorgeous snack plate would await her, cinnamon apples arranged in a delightful fan, blueberries fresh from bushes, cheese cut into cookie cutter hearts. I knew how to do that…call myself a mother.
Now she grabs a bag of Goldfish and scoots away and I return to my “work”…the job of communicating things that aren’t even true, and worse, seem to be poorly written, because…I’m writing now. Full-time. Fiction.