If you listen long enough, you can learn some interesting facts. Such as:
Just about everybody wants to own a restaurant, since it would be fun to cook and hang out with friends.
Just about everybody else would like to be a writer, since it’s easy and creative and fun.
Frankly, I think those are both two of the most delusional ideas I’ve ever heard. (Do you know the failure rates of restaurants? Do you know how much money writers don’t make?) Those dreams are right up there with the notion of having a baby so you’ll have someone to love you. Lovely in theory, deranged in practice.
I was recently in a conversation with a woman who suggested we get together and talk, since we were both writers. As it turned out, she had been writing for all of a week and said she loved writing since it was “so relaxing.” I got a little apoplectic at that point, but that’s just me.
But maybe I should have simply launched into a description of a writer’s life to deter her from continuing her new career into a second week. Maybe I should have told her how you end up spending a lot of time alone, so desperate for conversation you end up exchanging confidences with your cat or cornering some hapless plumber or other repairman to tell him about your most recent bout of rejection and consequent slump in self-esteem.
“I’m still talented, aren’t I?” you find yourself sobbing to the plumber, who would clearly rather be crawling under your house to extract the little rat colony that’s thriving under your floorboards and chewing on your dishwasher line than listening to your maudlin waterfall of self-pity. “I mean, it’s all subjective, right? Just because that one person hates my writing doesn’t mean it sucks. Does it?”
By this point, the plumber, who looks a little desperate and distraught, too, says he has an emergency sewer line break a few blocks away and much as he’d like to stay and chat with you more and listen to you howl, he has to investigate. He grabs the check the instant you write it and kind of runs to his van.
Which might make you feel bad, ordinarily, but you revert to worrying about the cat’s being gone for two weeks and what did he mean when he said he needed a little time to himself to “think about things”? And what did he mean when he referred to you as “extremely needy”?
Well, so I would have explained all of this to the woman who’d been writing for a week — how lonely and degrading and hopeless it can be. But the situation is a little murkier than that. Like all seriously neurotic human beings — which is to say like all writers — I harbor a secret, shameful fear. Namely: What if this woman is the real thing? What if she’s just pumped out a masterpiece in a month or so and movie rights are being auctioned.
“Writing is so relaxing!” she’ll tell the worshipful crowds who show up at her book signings, the respectful TV interviewers, the critics dumbstruck by her genius.
If this happens, I will try very hard not to be bitter. I will find it in myself to be magnanimous.
If I don’t show up at her book signing, it will be nothing personal. I’m still spending most of my time looking for my cat.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)