Admit it! You’re a writer!

31 Jan

“We should probably mingle,” my husband suggests. I know he’s right, but inside my stomach flip-flops. I hate mingling.
“Soandso Alumnus,” a man says, sticking his hand out to shake mine. “I’m sure I graduated from Saint Francis before you were born.” He chuckles and elbows his friend. I didn’t think people really did that: elbow someone when they think they’re funny. He did.
“Beth Arnstein,” I tell him, shaking his hand and keeping a firm wrist.
“What do you do, Beth?” he asks. I take a swig of my wine. Here we go.
“I used to be a teacher,” I say first, stalling. I have the urge to lie. To tell him I’m something vague like a consultant or something that he’d never ask about like a doula. Instead, I tell the truth.
“I write children’s books.” I grimace inside and wait for the question I know is coming next.
“Are you published?” he asks.
I explain that I’m not, but I have this manuscript with that publisher and I should hear back in a few weeks. Blah. Blah. As he moves on to grill my husband, I empty my wine glass in record time. I can feel the hives creeping up my neck. I should have stuck with doula.

When do you have a hard time admitting that you’re a writer?

1 Comment

Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Admitting You Write


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One response to “Admit it! You’re a writer!

  1. Mary

    February 1, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    The only time I have a hard time admitting that I am a writer is when someone gives me a new journal to use. I feel particular angst if the pages aren’t lined and if I can’t find a pencil. (I would hate to besmirch a brand new journal with ink. Gasp. What if I make a mistake? What if I can’t withstand the whole 180 degrees = a straight line pressure? What if I don’t write every day? What if I do and I’m forced to reflect on the fact that I accomplished nothing today save for broiling an awesome tuna melt?)

    I assure you, though, that you are in excellent company on the party scene. English teachers will tell you that admitting to be an English teacher makes fellow cocktail party goers suddenly stop talking. As if the teacher is going to parse the speaker’s statements and grade them for grammar and diction! Lawyers, doctors, mechanics, designers are all expected to make off the cuff “diagnoses” once they admit what they do for a living.

    I’ve always had a hard time talking about what I do for a living. Sometimes, the challenge has been in clarifying misconceptions: When I was at CASA, people thought I was building homes for Spanish-speakers — not even close. Other times, I’ve had trouble explaining why, as a lawyer, I edit a non-law journal for a nonprofit. And still other times, the challenge has been calmly bracing myself for the shockingly impolite responses to my chosen career path.

    When I was a career counselor and ran into alums, (which given Pittsburgh’s small downtown area, happened literally and often), they would ask who I worked for and then they would back away slowly as I were a harbinger of doom. Other times, at cocktail parties, for example, I became the equivalent of a doctor diagnosing some rash on a fellow party goer. “I HATE my job. Do you know of any openings?” Once these folks had too many glasses of wine, they would ask if I was in my job because I couldn’t hack it as a lawyer.

    Now that I am an editor, I run into all three challenges: I get the dubious distinction of having to explain what my organization does, what I do for it, and why (in god’s name) a lawyer would engage in such a job — all in a 5 second verbal hiccup cum introduction. In fact, I LOVE writing. I LOVE editing. I get paid for researching issues and for playing with the English language. I get to look at language through the lens of our authors, many of whom are not native English speakers. I’ve arrived!

    The great thing about being a writer is that it gives you plenty of practice developing creative responses to problem situations. So you could tell people that you were gravely injured when you rescued a small child/puppy from a burning building/bear attack and your injuries forced you into very premature retirement from teaching. Your occupational therapist prescribed fine motor skill exercises and you have found that attending cocktail parties and writing scathing exposes about the attendees speeds motor skill recovery. Or, as a writer, you can speak from the heart. You could proudly tell anyone who asks that you are blessed with the opportunity to balance motherhood with entrepreneurship. Or that you are blessed with the courage to share yourself with the world. Or that writing is FUN and that you’ve arrived!


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