It's the question I dread most. You know. The get-acquainted conversational gambit: "What do you do?"
"I'm a writer," I mumble, and try to change the topic.
Too late. I've learned from sad experience what people always say next. And what I'd like (but don't dare) to say. Herewith, a sample.
I've always wanted to write but I'm too busy.
Between raising a pack of feral children and running a household, I've got lots of free time myself.
You could write a book about my life.
Trust me. I couldn't.
Is your book based on your own life?
I wouldn't admit it to my own mother, why should I tell you?
You write for children? How cute.
You're a pediatrician and you treat kids? How sweet.
I just read the new Grisham novel and it was garbage. I could write better than that.
Oh yeah? Try.
What's your novel about?
Open mouth, insert plot. Any plot. John Gardner said there are only two plots in the world anyway.
Do you write romances?
I bet you wouldn't ask that if I were a man.
A novel? Wow. Is it non-fiction?
What are you, a cultural illiterate?
I wrote a novel once. Would you like to read it?
Doc, I've got a swollen tendon. Could you take a look?'
You're the second writer I know. The other one works for Hallmark.
Who do I look like, Rodney Dangerfield?
Are they making a movie of your book?
Yes. It's a costume drama about the Druids, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Hank Azaria as high priestesses.
Aren't all writers alcoholic?
Of course. Aren't you meeting me at a cocktail party?
Aren't most writers crazy?
Sure. Why any sane person would willingly closet herself for years at a time doing lonely, vein-opening work with no guarantee of professional recognition or recompense is beyond me.
Next time my husband drags me on the rubber chicken circuit (oh all right, black tie business dinners), I'll try a new answer. They'll say, what do you do? I’ll smile maniacally, and in my most chipper voice I'll say, "I'm a part-time writer, but a full-time Mom." That's a guaranteed conversation killer.