26 April 2006

a writer's life

Today I am a writer again, if only by force.

Years ago while living in Houston, I worked in my church’s Media Department as producer of a talk-radio show. How I fell into such an occupation and actually did well at it, I have never quite figured out. My job prior to that was managing an after-school program for an Episcopal elementary school, and before that I ran a computer lab for hormonal middle school kids. Sometimes I look back over my hodge-podge career and find it to be a strange string of endeavors, and also surprising that I’ve managed to avoid ever waiting tables.

One evening during my radio show stint, I attended a dinner party at my distinguished friend Mary-Catherine’s house. For a long time up until then, we had always called her Missy. Missy was a ballerina and read books on philosophy and comparative religion. Soon she began sculpting and traveling to exotic places and oozing with intellect, and that’s when she became: Mary-Catherine who gives dinner parties in her early twenties. This was a time when most of our friends survived on Chinese take-out from General Joe’s with a bottle of Mountain Dew.

Sitting around Mary-Catherine’s dining room table with our individual menus written in fancy script, we started talking about our dream occupations…what we would love to do if we could do anything in the world. When it came to my turn, the answer was easy: “I want to be a writer.” “Don’t you write now?” Mary-Catherine prompted, mentioning a couple of articles I had written and a book I helped edit. I guess I had never really thought about it before. “Well, yes, I write. But I am not a writer,” I said. “You’re a writer if you say you’re a writer,” Mary-Catherine insisted. “From now on, when people ask you what you do, I want you to tell them that you’re a writer.”

And that was it. From that day forward I was a writer. It had happened over Beef Wellington and baby carrots at eight o’clock on a Saturday. Looking back, I think I’d just never had the guts to believe I could actually be a writer, let alone say it out loud to other people.

It was several more years before I actually began writing on a semi-full-time basis, and there are some days now that I’m still sheepish about answering when people ask what I do. Many days, I just don’t feel like a writer, either because I’m not inspired to put anything on paper, or because I’m busy doing other things. Every day, without consciously dubbing myself as such, I know that I am a wife, cook, seamstress, decorator, dog-walker, and person who uses her computer a lot. But actual writer? It’s only on rare occasions, when I’m whittling away at an artist’s biography or editing an interview, that I wear the writer label as proudly as my favorite shirt.

This morning I opened my laptop and stared at a blank page. “I have nothing to write about,” I thought. It’s been a month since my last entry and still, nothing to say. The page glared at me irritably, as if shouting, “Just put something down already! I’m so bored.”

But still I had nothing to say and sat frozen, staring at an empty white page dependent on me to give it a life. Then I remembered the words of Mary-Catherine-sculptor-painter-dancer-philosopher-gourmet chef-and world traveler. “You’re a writer if you say you’re a writer.”

So I wrote the word Today... and became a writer again.