Ten years ago this month, I stopped working. By then I was a Senior Book Buyer for the wholesaler Baker & Taylor. My coworkers were wonderful and I received an education in the art and science of book buying and selling. I watched publishing change and keep changing. I was a single mom working full time and, now, as a married mother who does not report into an office every day, I can tell you: those years were harder.
“What do you do?” That’s now my least favorite question. I no longer have a title. I don’t have an easy answer.
Well, I’m a mom.
I work at home.
I don’t work outside the home.
I’m a writer.
I’m trying to be a writer.
(“Stay At Home Mom” is like nails on a chalkboard for me. In my ears it is patronizing and inaccurate. I have yet to come up with anything better.)
I deliver whatever answer I can manage apologetically, uncomfortably. Then I’m sorry for that, too. I feel, each time, as if I must explain myself, my lack of a “real” job.
And yet a job is often the least interesting thing about a person. What I want to know is:
Who are you?
What’s important to you?
What do you pour your heart and sweat into, regardless of whether you’re paid?
In the last ten years, I raised a remarkable child. I worked hard to lay a good foundation, and I work still, even as my son assumes control of his own life. I always thought raising a good human being was a gift to the future, as important as any contribution. I’m glad I took the time I needed to do it right.
In those years I also wrote and published a variety of short fiction, creative nonfiction, reviews, and multimedia work. I discovered a vibrant and supportive online community and took on volunteer editorial positions. I wrote what became my novel Not On Fire, Only Dying. I scribbled sentences even as the school bus rounded the corner. I remained grateful for this gift, this privilege of time. I worked all day, and then my son came home from school and I worked some more. Like every mom does.
What do I do? I’m a writer. Only now, at 47, my son halfway through high school, and my debut novel forthcoming, do I feel entitled to claim that. Although I always knew it. In my gut, ears, eyes. My voice might lower when I say it, but I’m not apologizing. I’m not uncomfortable.
I’m trying not to be uncomfortable. That’s also what I do. Just ask.