27 April 2010

"Are you what you are--or what?" --Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians

Last Friday, I met a novelist.

I was at a happy hour drinking free, bad Chardonnay*, and I was introduced to someone who described herself as a novelist. That's not something you hear every day. She might as well have said, "I'm a rodeo clown" because she got the same reaction.

Then, so many questions. No, she wasn't yet published. Yes, she was working as a temp to support herself while she wrote. Yes, she had recently completed her first novel and was in the process of revising it. No, she was not self-publishing; she was going for the real deal. And so on.

She could have said she was a temp. She could have said she was an aspiring novelist. Instead, she embraced the title of novelist.

When does a novelist become a novelist? When they start to write a book? When they finish a draft of a book? When they get published? When they get annihilated by a critic? Really, rodeo clown is a lot better defined.

I envied her ability to believe that she was a novelist. I did. At the same time, it was like speaking to a five-year-old that tells you, "I'm going to be President." You smile broadly and say, "That's great!" because who's to say they're not? Yet, a part of you--that smarmy, dream-killing part, who maybe has witnessed their attempts to work a room with armpit fart noises and found their efforts subdued and watery, at best--says, snidely, "Yeah, good luck with that."

Everybody has a dream of being something grand. At some point, most of us let those dreams go. But there is that small segment... 2% maybe? ... that continues to believe, to strive, to embrace the dream. Maybe they give themselves a time limit--"if I'm not on Broadway in seven years, I'll quit acting." But they go for it. And I salute them. Even as I cock my head funny at them.

Question du jour: Are dreams life's way of encouraging us or some twisted joke?

* You know how everything tastes better when it's free? Not even the fact that it was free could help the taste of this wine. So, sad.**

** Big surprise, I drank it anyway.***

*** Also, can somebody please kill the Chardonnay trend already? Bleah.


Kate said...

well, do I get to call myself a runner because I can run for 4 minutes straight? I dunno.

I'm a novelist. I like ANYTHING novel. Ha!

SilverMoon Dragon said...

Jeez, even when I had paying jobs as an extra, I never announced myself to strangers as an actress.

She should be scared of jinxing it - what if you had been a publisher? A publisher would react much the same way you did, and then, in the off chance you did agree to read her manuscript, you'd be predisposed to hating it, because, well, she's a nitwit.

Sure, dream big, but talk small... at least until you have something worth bragging about, sheesh!

Celia said...

I read one of those "how to write a novel" books, and it encourages you to tell pretty much everyone that you're a writer, to make it real for yourself.

I can see how it would be grating, though...at least she's actually already to the revising stage and not just through the first chapter.

Anonymous said...

For me, dreams are encouraging or inspiring. I'm a data analyst and an aspiring photographer. Photography is my happy place. Corporate office is where I go for pay checks. To fund photography equipment and travel, and I spend nearly every second taking photos on trips. I think with most careers, you've "made it" once you earn income...but a novelist is a little different because you have to do the work before the income.

Liebchen said...

I would say the dreams are something to shoot for. And if someone manages to hold on to that dream through adulthood, well, I might roll my eyes in private, but it's only because I'm jealous that they're still so optimistic.

the dogs' mother said...

Naw, I'd say aspiring novelist. Until I earn money for it - like I have writing articles - then I'm still aspiring.

The Bug said...

I think dreams are important, because, for example, my unmotivated self wouldn't ever get out of bed if I didn't have aspirations to eat & pay for high speed internet.

Pauline said...

I think dreams are life's way of encouraging us. Nobody grows up dreaming to one day work in HR or in a call center. We all need our dreams to keep us going while we work our real (ie. not fun) jobs.

Gilahi said...

I often tell people that I'm an artist who supplements his income by working 40 hours a week as a programmer.

And when does a person become a rodeo clown? When they arrive at the rodeo? When the put on the makeup and the big shoes? When they climb in the barrel? When they get gored by an angry bull?

That's it. From now on I'm telling people that I'm a rodeo clown who supplements his income by working 40 hours a week as a programmer.

Mike said...

So I guess I should stop telling people I'm a porn star?

Brutalism said...

There is no other kind of chardonnay...bleah!

My creative friends who "own" their dreams (like my friend who answers the question of what she does by saying that she's an actor rather than a fundraiser, which is her job that pays the bills), seem to be a lot more successful in their creative endeavors...maybe because in order to be successful you first have to see yourself in that role. Dunno. Interesting.

I am a billionaire. (Worth a try, eh?)

Cyndy said...

I plan to aspire until I expire.

repliderium.com said...

I write and a chunk of my monthly income is from writing however, until I can put "writer" in the occupation slot of my tax return, calling myself just sounds/feels pretentious.

Liz Mays said...

I'd like to think of dreams as encouragement. Nightmares must be the twisted jokes!

restaurant refugee said...

This reminds me of the title to a sermon my pastor delivered. I couldn't have been more than 15 or so. The sermon was "Name It and Claim it." It asked some of the same questions you raised. I too have that crushing pragmatist part of my self, but I also think that sometimes dreamers need to Name It and Claim It.

Unknown said...

I really don't see what the problem is. I'm a hot as millionaire heiress with great boobs. No? Whaddya mean, no?

Creams are a cruel, sick twisted way of life kicking you up the ass. And that's all.

Pauline said...

Dreams are incredibly important to one's well being. Definitely sustains us while we work our 'regular' (ie. boring and depressing) jobs.

Alice said...

i guess it's the same "fake it till you make it" mentality that we tell shy kids to embrace, or nervous friends on dates. ACT confident until you ARE confident. although acting like a novelist doesn't parlay QUITE so smoothly into suddently becoming one :-)

Toe said...

At least she had ambition and did actually write a novel, that's pretty cool.

lacochran said...

Kate: Ha! Good one!

SilverMoon Dragon: Don't want to invite the evil eye. *ptui*ptui*

Celia: Absolutely impressive. Hence the jealous snarkiness.

HKW, froggy: Good point. You don't even get an advance unless you've proven yourself.

Liebchen: Exactly.

The Bug: I have a weakness for those, too.

Pauline * 2: I suppose. Strange, isn't it? How much time we spend doing things we don't want to do...

Gilahi: When they climb in the barrel. Definitely.

Mike: Ha! Depends. Have you climbed in the barrel yet?

Brutalism: Go for it! And, you know what they say... remember the vertically challenged people.

Cyndy: I salute you.

repliderium.com: The Uncle Sam test. Gotcha.

blueviolet: Thanks for weighing in.

restaurant refugee: Name it and claim it. That's catchy.

Lori: You'll fit in just fine here.

Alice: Interesting analogy, even with it's limits.

Toe: That's VERY cool. I hope it's great and well received.