This is a question I’m not crazy about: “What do you do?”
Like most people, I do a lot of things. Every day. But I don’t have a title.
I could make something up. Something like “Mistress of Mystery and Empress of Really Cool Things.” But I’m bad at lying, so instead I usually say, “I write.”
And then they say, “Oh yeah? Where?”
And I could say, “On a train, sometimes, but usually at the table, or on the couch. There are also a lot of to-do lists on my phone.”
But I am not rude. So I try to remember where the last impressive place I got published was, and then, inevitably, it turns out that they don’t read that publication. The other day I met someone who had never heard of the Huffington Post. (That’s the place I mention when I can’t think of anything else quickly enough.) It wasn’t the first time.
Some of my friends have great titles. I have a feeling they get invited to cooler parties than me. I don’t get invited to that many parties.
Bear has a really impressive-sounding title. Which is why he doesn’t like to say it. He thinks it sounds braggy to use your impressive title. He thinks you should down-play it. He doesn’t see why it should matter.
If I could steal his title, I feel like I would rock it. I would practice saying it without grinning. I would get good.
I want a title, because I think that if I had one, I would trip over my words less. It would sound more like I’m doing the things that I’m already doing. It would sound more like those things are important. I would be able to stop making jokes about “when I publish that book…” that sound more like “oh god, please, I hope I get a book published one day! I really, really hope.”
I want a title because I think that people will respect me more if I have one. They will talk about me with each other after I leave, like this: “Kate is really impressive. She’s such a high achiever. I mean, she’s Mistress of Mystery and everything. Not everyone can do that. Let’s be honest, even Lady Gaga wouldn’t be able to do that, and she can wear the highest heels of anyone.”
“Oh my god, I know! I wish I was Kate! It’s like, you just know she’s doing impressive things all day long.”
“Yeah, exactly. You just know. From her title.”
I have a friend who practices emergency medicine. She was telling me a story about some guy with a bullet in his heart. She had to get it out. That’s not the point, I just wanted to share that with the world, because I mean, wow. Holy shit. But also, how nice, to be able to say “Doctor,” when someone asks. Everyone knows what that means. It means “Good, you’ve succeeded.” It means “You care about helping people, but you also make excellent money.” It means “You are so hardworking!” It means “Congratulations!!”
Writer=artist=no way to measure success until there’s a movie about you/you’re on TV a lot/your art is in MOMA/your book is on the NY Times’ bestseller list.
Writer-not-on-NYTimes’-bestseller-list= so, wait, what about New York Mag? Do you write for them? OK… then are you still going to school for something?
Or this is my other favorite: people who ask me how much money I make. Right away. When I talk about freelancing. When they ask where I write and I remember the name of a site they might have seen that I had a piece on four months ago. “Do they pay you for that? How much?”
I have never heard anyone ask Bear those questions. I am guessing no one has asked my doctor friend those questions. Or my friends with big titles in media. Or my PhD friends (they’re not supposed to be making any money anyway). Or my friends who teach school. Or are cooks at nice restaurants. Or my friends who are lawyers.
There is something about not having a title that attracts those questions.
But then sometimes I think that not having a title isn’t really that big of a deal. That it depends how I’m looking at my life. Who I’m talking to. If they’re asking me how much money I make or if they’re being normal. How I’m feeling that day.
And then sometimes I meet someone without a title who I automatically respect. I meet someone whose title is “Intern At Various Places” or “Currently Unemployed” or “Poet” or ”Mom” or “Good Friend” or “Waitress” or “Figuring It Out” who I want to emulate. And I realize that I am not thinking about their title at all. I am thinking about how excited they sound when they describe what they do with their days. I am thinking about how much they enjoy reading. Or how cool their sense of humor is. Or how happy they are. In the end, I am most impressed by people who seem to feel good about their lives.
And sometimes I meet someone whose title is “Vice President Of…” or “Director of…” or “Head of Marketing” or “Editor-in-Chief” or even “Famous Author,” and I forget them almost immediately, because they don’t seem very interesting. Or interested. Or because we didn’t have much in common.
It really depends.
I was sitting on my couch (where I often write, in case anyone was wondering) and listening to my doctor friend describe being a doctor, and I thought, “God, I’m glad there are people who want to do this with their lives. I’d probably throw up. A lot. I wonder if blood gets on her all the time. I wonder if any goo from, like, the intestines, gets on her. Oh my god, I hope that guy with the bullet in his heart was OK. I really hope he was OK. I will get really upset if it turns out he died, because that’s so friggin’ sad. He was only twenty-one. Why is there still so much gang violence? How can anyone deal with watching people die all the time?!”
I am glad that my friend has the title “Doctor.”
I am glad that Bear has his title, because the way he doesn’t use it very often constantly highlights the kind of person he is. And because I am proud of everything he’s accomplished, and because his work allows my work to happen all day long, instead of just in the evenings, when I’m already exhausted.
And I’m glad that my main title is “Writer,” because it’s accurate, without explanation. I am a person who writes things down.
If I really wanted, I could use the title I get from my long-term part time job, because that’s solid, even though it doesn’t describe what I do most days. I could probably give myself other titles, too. Like “Girl Who Is Good At Stuff” (I’m pretty good at a fair amount of stuff) or “Potential Many Things” (I have a lot of potential).
But I’d really rather not care about my title at all.
But I care anyway.
But not all the time.
Which is good.
Because it means there’s hope.
Or maybe I’ll get a book on the New York Times’ bestseller list. (That would be cool, universe. That would be so cool, if you could help me out with that. I’m not nagging. I’m just sayin’.)
Or maybe I’ll not care if I don’t get a book on the New York Times’ bestseller list, because maybe that won’t matter so much, because maybe I’ll be too busy Being Good At Other Things.
Or maybe I’ll just change my tone when someone asks.
“Actually, I’m a writer!” (YAY! I LOVE MY LIFE! I’M DOING WHAT I LOVE!)
Which is also true.
(me, as Mistress of Mystery. that’s why it’s blurry. because mystery is never clear. sometimes I miss my long hair. just a tiny bit. and only because of pictures I took of myself)
* * *
Do you have a title? Do you not and feel fine? Do you not and sometimes wish you had a really important sounding one?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in green.
P.S. Check out the new stuff in the cake gallery! And send me more cake pics!