Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Writer, What Else?


Terry here, with the topic for this week: In Lucy Worsley’s biography of Agatha Christie, we learned that Christie always wrote “married woman” in the “occupation” line on her passport. How did you navigate going public with being a writer? 

 It’s hard to imagine that the prolific and unendingly popular Agatha Christie identified her occupation as “married woman.” By that standard, I suppose Jane Austen was “unmarried woman.” Dick Francis was “retired jockey.” Wallace Stevens? “Insurance salesman.” No matter how many mystery novels Bill Clinton could write, he will always be “former POTUS.” 

 Can you imagine a male writer, even one who has never published, as dubbing himself “Married man” as occupation? 

Is it possible that Miss Christie wrote that tongue in cheek? 

I never had any qualms about dubbing myself “writer” in the line for “occupation.” That was after I had burned out from being a computer programmer/analyst. Long before I was published, I proudly wrote “writer,” because in fact that’s what occupied me. I suppose there was a time when I could have written “mothering a horrible child,” which at one time seemed to take up all my time, but I didn't.

 I even wonder why “occupation” is listed on passports. Is it to weed out spies? Assassins? Smugglers? (“Oh, thank goodness we asked for occupation on the passport form! This guy says he’s a smuggler. We’re going to have to have a chat with him.” Cue ominous music). Maybe it’s to trip up people. (Oh, God, I’m actually a spy, but I can’t remember what I put on my passport. Chef? Horse trainer? Philosopher?) 

At one time I read a ridiculous argument about whether a published writer should call herself “writer” or “author.” My thought? Who cares? The occupation of a writer is to write. From the time I was a kid, I always declared that someday I would be a writer, so making the leap to actually saying that was my occupation was never a problem. 

What was a problem is that it took years of writing before I was published. People I hadn’t seen for a while would say, “Still writing?” (Uncomfortable moment follows—for me, at least). Then the miserable, “yes.” Hoping fervently that there would be no more questions on the matter. I was actually grateful to the occasional person who would tell me confidentially that they had a great idea for a story, and that they’d be glad to share it with me. Anything to divert attention from the fact that yes, I was endlessly writing, with nothing more than several “close, but no cigar” moments to show for it. 

I even had one friend who said to me as kindly as possible that she didn’t think she could continue to strive at something that never brought any rewards. My husband said the same thing. Ouch. And yet, I continued to think of myself as a writer and call myself a writer. 

Will I ever write “retired?” I don’t think so. I picture myself with the doctor standing by my bedside pronouncing me dead and me muttering, “Not yet. I have another paragraph to write.”


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good advice, Terry. Never write 'retired' under occupation.

Susan C Shea said...

You are, indeed, a Writer!

Catriona McPherson said...

Love this!