A few girls refused to come into my dorm room. The Ouija board frightened them. A young man who lived in the dorm next door told me I was in danger because I had a Tarot card board. When I pointed out to him that my mom had painted the board and it was the last thing she gave me before she died (and about three months before this conversation), he insisted I get rid of the board anyway because “Satan was clever that way.”
A coworker said I was a lesbian because I took a class called–Women in Literature. The headmaster at a school in Bulgaria told the other teachers I was having an affair with a married man. He said this after I ignored his advances. A classmate in high school drew a picture of me sitting on a car dressed like a hooker. He passed it around the school. I don’t even know why. After that movie, Something about Amelia was on TV, kids at school would say to me, “So, what’s it like to live alone with your dad?”
Once in a while I ask my students what they think about writers and artists. Do they know any? No, my students say. What do they think creative people are like? I ask. They’re crazy. They’re depressed. They’re intelligent. They’re wild. They’re free. They drink, have affairs, and die early, my students reply.
How do you feel when you tell people you’re a writer? What kind of reactions do you get? How is being a writer now as a grown-up different than what you thought it would be when you first pinned your hopes on the page?
3 thoughts on “…and the prize for best costume goes to…”
Honestly, I never had any pre-conceived notions of how a writer should behave. My mom was a writer (unpublished, but very active in local groups) and while she was depressed and unstable and married lots of times, I never equated her hang-ups with the writer mentality, just upbringing. I read voraciously but for some reason never felt the need to find out about the authors of my favorite books. I guess because writing was such a deep part of me that it seemed normal and mundane.
Usually when I tell people I’m a writer they think it’s cool. Sometimes one’ll tell me he’s a writer, too, and I get all excited, but then he goes on to tell me the plot of his single book, the one he’s had planned for a couple of years but has not written. That’s deflating, because that person doesn’t understand what I mean when I call myself a writer.
I know these stories weren’t funny to you at the time, but they do have a sort of perversely amusing charm to them. 🙂
Just about no one I grew up with, I think, really had any idea what it meant to be a writer (or an artist, for that matter) — not in the sense that it connoted a lifestyle. Somebody who wrote well and regularly might (or might not) turn out to be a writer professionally, but “to be a writer” meant only that you performed the act of writing. Likewise painting, dancing, etc. This resulted directly, I think, from a small-town middle-class and mostly blue-collar environment. We’d hear about the crazy stunts and situations that actors and singers and writers and so on would get involved with, but those people were always at a great remove from us. We didn’t know anybody like that. Those were probably just the exceptionally strange ones — the newsworthy ones — the exceptions.
Only when I got in college did I start to meet (and more importantly, find myself talking to and actually liking) pen-wielding eccentrics leading unconventional lifestyles, wearing… interesting clothing, managing their diets along moral and ethical lines, and so on.
Writing’s a lot harder than I used to imagine. Writing well takes every scrap of attention. I would never have imagined I’d end up in Florida as a computer person, but, well, those are life things — not related at all, really, to writing.
Writing turned out to be harder than I thought when I was young. Well, harder to do well. When I was young, the words just poured out of me. And it is harder to succeed and get published than I thought it would be when I was young. And many more people have given up on writing than I thought would.
What do people think a writer is like? I can’t really answer that question. I’ve never looked at it from the outside. I am rarely in circles where people don’t have artistic ambitions and when I am, I have no idea what they think.
I do, however, refuse to buy in to that whole crazy artist thing. I don’t think an artist/writer has to be tortured, drunk, drug addicted, suicidal, or starving.