Thursday, November 15, 2012

Breaking the News: I Don't Have a Real Job



In 2007, I bought a new car. Not just new to me, but an actual, new, never-been-driven-except-by-a-couple-of-people car. To celebrate this purchase, I got myself a vanity license plate.

The message? I WRITE.

It was a big moment for me. I never used to declare to the world what I did for a living. When asked, I answered with a long, mumbly rambling: “I work as a classroom aide and I do a little writing on the side, which I sort of have been doing forever, and I do some freelance copyediting too...” But I was done with that. I had recommitted myself to writing. I WRITE: It’s what I do.

Shortly after I got the new tag, I pulled up to an ATM outside my bank. I had a lot to do: several checks to deposit, a withdrawal to make. I’d forgotten to endorse one of the checks, so I had to dig in my purse for a pen while the screen blinked impatiently at me. As I was doing this, someone pulled up behind me in line. A minute or two ticked by as I struggled to finish up my transaction, and finally, the guy behind me rolled down his window and shouted: “Hey, lady!”

I’m going as fast as I can, I muttered to myself, but called back, “Yes?”

“Whaddya write?”

I replied with a new mumbly rambling: “Oh, this and that. Articles about parenting. Sometimes a business profile. Oh, and there’s this book ... no, it’s not published, I’m still querying, that takes a while ... it’s nothing, really. Actually, I do freelance editing.”

Why is it so embarrassing to admit what we do? Maybe we’re afraid someone is going to say, “But what about your real job?” Or maybe: “Gee, must be nice not to have to go to work.” Or maybe we’re afraid that if we mention this dream above a whisper, it will be struck down by the Dreamkiller God wielding a wicked lightning bolt.

But here’s the truth: It’s not embarrassing. It is a real job. It’s important work. Yes, admitting to being a writer puts you out there on a limb. It unburdens your soul of a secret that you may have hoarded for years. Tell the truth, and some people will snort or shrug, but that’s their problem. I’m proud of being a writer.

People still smile when they see my license plate. Usually they say, “So, what do you write?”

Now I answer, “I write children’s books.” And I leave it at that.  
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Claire M. Caterer lives and writes in the sublime suburbs of Kansas City. In her debut novel, The Key & the Flame, three ordinary kids travel to a fantastical world where magic is outlawed and adventure awaits them at every turn. Look for it in April 2013 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. Connect with Claire at her blog or on her Facebook and Twitter pages.

11 comments:

  1. Yay for you living the dream! I love this line: "Or maybe we’re afraid that if we mention this dream above a whisper, it will be struck down by the Dreamkiller God wielding a wicked lightning bolt." Yeah, I'm kind of still there.

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    1. I hear you! But I promise, even the Dreamkiller God can't stop you. Not if you want it bad enough!

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  2. That reminds me of a story: My old car used to have a bumper sticker that said "Storytelling's not just for kids" (I was a professional storyteller at the time, for kids and grownups) and I actually had a person at a hiking trailhead see the sticker and demand that I tell her a story. I remember thinking, "This must be what doctors feel like at cocktail parties!"

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    1. That's hilarious! At least no one's ever asked me to write on the spot!

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  3. Trying to answer the "what do you do?" question has killed me over the years. So many times I wished my dream had been to be a fireman. Great post, Claire! :)

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    1. I don't know why it's so complicated, Jennifer, but I agree. "I'm a doctor," "I'm a fire(wo)man"--so easy! "I'm a writer" is loaded from the get-go.

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  4. Great post, Claire! I too enjoyed the "Dreamkiller God" line!
    I look forward to the day when I can say "writer" as my job. Right now, about 14 hours a day, I still need to say "teacher." The other hours I'm too tired for coherent speech, so it doesn't matter what I say ;)

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    1. "Teacher" is an awesome job title. And you're a writer too, which boggles my mind. I know how hard teachers work!

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  5. Greetings, earthling!! Shouldn’t be long, gotta run back to Heaven; however, in the meantime, take anything and everything you wanna from our wonderfull, plethora of thot to write the next great masterpeAce -if- I can but kiss your gorgeous, adorable feets and cuddle withe greatest, ex-mortal-girly EVER to arrive in Seventh Heaven. Think about it... Do it... Get back to me Upstairs …thewarningsecondcoming.com

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  6. Love that story! It's very cool that people stopped to ask about it, too.

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    1. I'm always surprised when people do, Nicole. My introverted self would rarely comment on a stranger's license plate or bumper sticker. But this is Kansas. I've also had people yell at me across a parking lot, asking why I'm wearing an ankle brace (I'd sprained it, and no, I didn't know this person from Adam).

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