The garbage disposal was broken. The maintenance guy and I were sharing stories of growing up without garbage disposals. As a kid I carried my plate outside, walked to the side of the house, and scraped whatever was on my plate into the cow pasture. Mr. Maintenance asked me where I grew up. Florida. And he asked what my parents did.
“My parents divorced when I was little,” I said. “I was raised by my dad–a single dad in the 70s.”
Mr. Maintenance looks thoughtful. “I can see that,” he said. “That really makes sense to me because you carry yourself differently than most people.”
I laughed. Other people have asked me what country I was from, and when I’ve said I’m American, they’ve acted surprised. “You seem like you’re from somewhere else.”
A few times I’ve even had people say, “Your English is really good!”
“Well, it should be. I’m American.”
Once when I worked at Barnes & Noble a customer–who turned out to be French–said, “You don’t seem American to me.”
I’ve tried to figure out why some people say these things to me. Might be my name, which isn’t a typical American name. (Sometimes when people hear my first name, they say, “Funny. You don’t look Mexican.” Which proves to me they don’t know that many Mexicans, but still, I’m not Mexican.) Might be my height, but Americans aren’t known for being short, so that doesn’t seem to be it.
Many times in life I’ve felt I was missing some essential aspect of girlness. Not that I could tell you what that is. But I wasn’t one of those girls who got along better with guys either. I wasn’t a tomboy. I didn’t have mostly guy friends.
So when the maintenance guy said I carried myself differently, I wondered what that meant. When he and I had chatted other times–usually when I was walking the dogs–what was different? Maybe it’s that we are both Doctor Who fans. Or maybe it’s that I always stop to chat with the maintenance guys.
I’m probably never going to know.
But I wonder too, of course, when people read my work, what they will think about me. What assumptions will people make?
Wouldn’t someone like VS Naipul guess I was a woman writer? When you read a story without knowing the author’s name, what do you think you can guess about them? Gender? Politics? Ethnicity? Religion? The parent they were raised by?
Have you ever been startled to learn who a particular writer was? Really? A woman wrote this?