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.
2 thoughts on ““What do you do?” On working, not working, and the power of one question.”
I struggle with this too. I’ve been a freelance writer and editor and newsletter designer since my oldest son was born. When asked, I say, “I’m a freelance writer.” Then the inquirer asks what I write, and I try to sum it up. I have shifted from a corporate assignment to work for non-profits and filled in with journalism gigs–and now, after spending a few years on a fiction MFA, the market has changed with the rise of the Internet and I’m having to find my feet again as far as work for pay. My heart is in the creative work. It’s great to work with you as an editor at Necessary Fiction, and I’m excited about your novel!
Thank you for sharing this – I can relate to “finding my feet again” as everything shifts, again. Maybe it is always shifting and we define ourselves as we go. I enjoy working with you too and really appreciate the support!
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