“I could hardly be polite,” I told my husband after we were out on the street.
“I noticed,” he said.
All of which is a big deal for me, since I’m a Southern woman of a certain age and I’m so damned polite I can hardly breathe sometimes. I am perfectly capable of running into a tree and saying, “Excuse me!” or thanking a cop when he hands me a speeding ticket. But, please. I do have my limits.
A few minutes earlier, we’d met and had a casual conversation with another couple. You know — how many kids, where do you live, where are you from, what do you do. That kind of thing.
When the woman heard I was a writer, she was tickled hot pink. “I’ve just started writing, too!” she announced. “I love it! It’s so relaxing! I’m having the best time!”
It was one of those days when I wasn’t finding writing to be particularly relaxing and I wasn’t having the best time doing it (or not doing it, to be more precise). But that’s beside the point. The point was — looking into her glowing, pink-cheeked face — she saw us as complete peers (both writers!). Which, I suppose, was kind of sweet, but it did make me wonder what I’d been doing for the last 30 fucking years of my life, since it seemed to have been equaled by a good week of effort on her part.
“We need to get together and talk about it!” she enthused.
No, actually, we do not. I don’t think we have a great deal to talk about, since a) in the first place, I don’t particularly enjoy talking about writing and b) if I did, it probably wouldn’t be with her. Her guileless enthusiasm was already getting on my nerves.
My friend Elizabeth, who’s also a writer, swears she’s not going to put up with it any longer. The next time someone tells her, “Oh, I think I’m going to start writing, too!”, Elizabeth swears she’s going to reply that she plans to begin her new career as a neurosurgeon the next day.
Do Elizabeth and I sound churlish? Yes, we do. I know we do. But sometimes — just for a while, just till you regain your equilibrium and Southern good manners — you get pissed under these circumstances.
Don’t tell me — as I once heard in a yoga class — that everyone can write. No, everyone cannot write, but everyone thinks he or she can.
I propose a moratorium: You should have to write for five years before you consider yourself a writer or offer your opinions on writing. By then, you will have either quit writing or you will have gained a tremendous amount of humility (this is a profession that is quite effective at teaching you humility).
Anyway, why don’t we get together after that? We’ll have a lot more to talk about then.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Sometimes, but not often enough, bad things happen to people who are rude to writers