It happened again this weekend.
Frequent readers of this blog, I apologize for the repetition, but this gets me every single time I hear it. I was at a family gathering (an unusually large one--okay, it was a wedding) this weekend seated at a table with my own family plus a few people I don't really know very well, and a couple I've had an acquaintance with for many years, who are very nice.
Ugh. Not again.
Do people see a dentist they sort of know and ask, "So, still into the whole tooth thing?" Does the president go to state functions and have people ask, "Still at that whole leader-of-the-free-world gig, or have you moved on?" I've been married to an attorney for a quarter of a century, and never once have I heard someone ask her if she's finally decided that whole law thing was just a whim, and come to her senses?
Writing is my job. It's my job for many reasons, not the least of which is that I'd probably be bad at just about anything else. But it's my job, and it has been in one form or another since the late 1970s. But for some reason, people I meet at cocktail parties (the six or seven I've been at in my lifetime) or casual acquaintances seem to think that at some point I'll realize it's just a lark and move on to my true calling. They never tell me what that calling might be--if the pay is better, I'll give it some thought--but I'm guessing it's either the carpet business or neurosurgery.
You know; a real job.
The flip side of those who ask whether I've wised up and taken an honest position at Burger King are the ones who assume, once having discovered that I've had more than one book published, that I am therefore, and I'll use the precise words now, "rich and famous." The fact that they had to be told I've had more than one book published might have clued them in on the "famous" part, but believe me, "rich" is even more unlikely.
It's very difficult to write a book. (Hell, it's very difficult to write a coherent grocery list; forget a book!) It's at least equally difficult to find an agent who will represent your work, and then, add a degree of difficulty (it's the Olympics talking now--can you believe they invited George Michael but neither Ringo Starr nor Elton John?) for the final step, which is getting an editor interested in acquiring your work, and then the final final step, which is the editor convincing an editorial board that's a good idea. That's hard, all of it.
I'm not discounting the amazing good fortune I've had to get people to pay me for my writing. It still astonishes me, but please don't tell my publisher or the advances might go down. I think it's truly remarkable (as is evidenced by the fact that I'm remarking about it), and I am grateful for it every single day.
But there are a lot of us out there--writers who work hard and work well and tell good stories and just barely manage to get the work in front of readers. The assumption that we are all "rich and famous" borders on the hilarious. Particularly to anyone who has ever visited my home. Rich and famous? We're evidently hiding it well.
Re-reading that last section, it occurs to me that maybe I have chosen a profession (try and find it listed on any survey form) that offers very little chance of monetary success. Like that hadn't struck me ever before, right? It becomes more obvious every month a tuition payment is due.
But at 54, this is what I do, right? I mean, I wouldn't ever stop writing. People my age are starting to think about retirement, and I feel like I'm right on the brink of getting started. But maybe my life would be easier if I looked at it another way.
Is it too late to learn the carpet business?
P.S. For more of my take on the Olympics (spoiler alert: I barely discuss any sport), see here.