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.