An interesting thing happened the other day. The kids and I decided to take the puppy for a walk around our new neighborhood. Dog walking is an excellent way to meet new people – if you are accompanied by a cute dog and two (equally cute) small children, you are generally not considered too much of a threat, even if you do speak with a funny accent – and we were hoping to get to know some of our new neighbors. Sure enough, not long after we started, we met a lady coming in the opposite direction down the sidewalk with a gorgeous yellow labrador. We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit while my daughter rapturously petted the labrador. The lady, whose name was Kathy, was very kind. She asked the kids all sorts of questions – what school they went to, what they liked to do, all that good stuff. And then suddenly she looked at me and said, “And what do you do?”
I blinked and said, “I’m a writer.” And then, half a second later, I added, “and an attorney.”
Kathy nodded briskly and on we went with the conversation.
It was only later, as I was thinking back to the exchange, that I began to wonder why I felt the need to add that I was an attorney. And then it struck me: even now, with A GOOD AMERICAN published and out in the world and doing just fine by all accounts, it still makes my toes curl to describe myself as a writer.
I’ve read many pieces over the years about what it means to be a “writer” – as if they are a wholly different species. Everyone has their own definition. Some prefer vaguely philosophical formulations, based upon how a person thinks, or views the world. Some impose more concrete criteria, such as whether a person is published, or earns sufficient money to quit their day job. Others have simpler ways of looking at it. One of my favorite articles (which everyone should read, by the way) is by J. C. Hutchins, railing hilariously (and truthfully) against the expression “aspiring writer”, a phrase he hates. As he puts it: “If you’re writing, then you’re a writer.”
I would agree wholeheartedly – except insofar as it applies to me. I’ve published five novels, for God’s sake, and yet still I hedge, qualify, apologize. The genesis of this raging inferiority complex lies, I suspect, in thirteen years of spousal (now ex-spousal) disdain for my writing and my writing career. But all that is behind me now, and it’s time to lay claim to what’s mine. So, here’s the plan: the next time someone asks me what I do, I’m going to look ’em in the eye, and tell them – proudly – that I’m a writer. And I’ll try to keep my toes straight.