Friday, March 20, 2015

Odd Things People Say to Writers

Look! Even pre-Internet, cats. (Image courtesy Graphics Fairy).
A few weeks ago a humor piece about what it'd be like if strangers spoke to everybody the way they often speak to writers was making the rounds, eliciting chuckles, sighs, and rueful self-recognition along the way.

It made me think of some of the odd things people have said to me over the years as I've pursued my freelance-writing career.

I present them here with no irritation, astonishment, bitterness, or desire to have my soul soothed, because by now I just think they're kind of funny. Everybody in every walk of life hears people say stuff that takes them aback (how many times a day does a doctor hear "but I read on the Internet that..."?).

Scene: college cafeteria, freshman year.
Me: Oh, hello [unnamed arrogant author who happily lay around on college lawn with nubile college roommate discussing her, um, writing]! Er, I was just wondering if I got into your writing class?
Author: Hmm? Oh. No, I'm sorry. You have a lot of enthusiasm, but little talent.

Scene: college, different professor's office, later in freshman year.
Me: Um, hello [frightening professor who went on a tear one day raging against people who described things as being "a dull black"] wrote on my paper that you wanted me to come in and see you?
Professor: Hmm? Let me see. [Takes paper. Reads uplifting comment that says "Please come and see me. You have unusual talent."]
Me: [Silent. Scared. Hopeful.]
Professor: [Hands paper back abruptly. Fixes me with glare over pince-nez. Sneers.] Soooooo. You've come to hear me sing your praises, then?
Me: Oh! No! No, not at all.
Professor: [Rambles on a really long time about something.]

Scene: Living room, right after opening parcel that contains new book I wrote as work-for-hire about the history of everyday objects.
Houseguest (angry young woman fresh out of college): This your new book?
Me: Yes.
Houseguest: It's all just schilling for corporations!! Listen to this! [Reads text aloud in mocking tone.]
Me: Well, sometimes companies did invent and make stuff that we buy, like Band-Aids and crayons...
Houseguest: [goes on to scorch teakettle left on untended stove and to borrow clothing without returning it.]

Scene: Same living room, years later. Family from down the street whom we thought would be New Friends asks to see some of my books.
Me: Here's some animal books I did for young kids.
Guy from Other Family: "All About Baboons"???
Me: Yeah, I know, the title's funny! Can't help it, "baboon" is just a funny word.
Guy from Other Family: [Reads aloud from book while wife and children snicker and sputter.]
Me: [Silent in clear knowledge that these people will not be New Friends.]

Scene: kid's soccer game.
Soccer dad: So what's your next book about?
Me: Birds.
Soccer dad: Oh. So you just go and steal other people's research and write it all down.

Scene: UW classroom, science class for elementary-school teachers.
Fellow student: So you write books?
Me: Yeah.
Fellow student: So what are you doing in this class? You're here to steal all our ideas, aren't you?
Me: [Silent, thinking, What is up with this stealing stuff? And, hey, don't flatter yourself, lady.]

Scene: elementary school cafeteria.
Other mom: So what's your next book about?
Me: Birds.
Other mom: Oh. How boring!

Scene: A friend's baby shower.
Guest: I hear you're a writer!
Me: Um, yeah. I work as a freelance writer.
Guest: I've written a book! It's a memoir! Let me go get it.
Me: [worriedly waiting as fellow guest runs out of house to her home to fetch manuscript.]
Guest: [dumps manuscript in lap.]  Here! Maybe you can just read some of it for now.
Me: [vast alarm as manuscript reveals itself to be long, rambling diary filled with complaints about the woman's husband and personal details.]

Scene: Multiple occasions, throughout life, whenever people winkle it out of you that you're a writer of books for children. (Note, however, that the vast majority of people say pleasant things. Sometimes I think people are stinkers, but at heart I think most people mean well, so I actually don't mind the common comment "Would I have read anything you've written?")

"I've always wanted to write a children's book, but I don't have time."

"Really? Do you think that you'll ever write a real book?"

"Well, it's not like you need a college education to do what you do."

"That must be easy."

"Well, that's nice. I have to work for a living."

"So you just write stuff with short words?"

"Did you ever have a real job?"