Posted by: Sally Ingraham | January 23, 2008

What We Do

I had an interesting conversation with one of the guys I work with the other night. He had noticed the book I was reading (that giant Ursula Le Guin collection) and he started to tease me. Ever since finding out that I used to have a LOTR fixation, he manages to come up with an Elf related crack about once a shift. Seeing the book sent him off on a similar subject, and the upshot of it was his question, “So are you a science fiction writer too?”

I replied that I used to think I would be a fantasy writer, but now I wasn’t so sure. What was I going to do instead, he wanted to know, his tone still light. “I guess I’ll be a Reel Pizza worker,” I said.

The fellow went suddenly serious. “No, no,” he said. “You can’t say that. Don’t you still write? This is just a job, not what you DO!” He then proceeded to clarify his point, giving himself as an example and telling me about his struggle to admit to himself that he was, in fact, a musician.

I told him that I wasn’t able to come up with stories anymore, like I did when I was younger – fantastical, imaginative stories about other worlds and times. Now I take more pleasure in writing about my little day-to-day adventures – real life. I find myself, though, sitting in front of my computer and thinking “Where did my stories go? Why can’t I write something proper?”

He told me, in that same insistent, passionate tone that I shouldn’t think less of the writing I do now – the blog entries and journaling – or not take them seriously. They are serious. They are the development of my writing. They make me as much a ‘writer’ as the stories did.

“You can be whatever you want to be,” he said. “If you write, then you are a writer. If you run, call yourself a runner. If you take pictures then consider yourself a photographer. I don’t want to hear you call yourself a ‘Reel Pizza Worker’ if that means you have given up on being something else.”

This guy has worked at the theater for over seven years and is finally moving on to work at a bakery – and is on his final week at Reel Pizza, so he is pretty jaded and tired and ready for something else. I am not demeaning his words though. I think he made a really good point, and one that I needed to hear right now. I don’t want to think of myself as just anything, or have people know me only as someone who works at a movie theater, or a restaurant, or whatever else.

If people ask what I do, I need to have the courage and the audacity to say, “I am a writer and photographer.” It doesn’t matter if you’re published, or someone has bought your work, or not. You are what you are, and admitting it out loud is important. It forces you to actually believe it yourself, to actually be it. I needed to be reminded of that.

I am a writer and a photographer, an artist and a musician, a walker and a camper, a traveler and a reader. I am all those things long before I call myself a ‘worker’ at any place of employment, or for any employer besides myself. There, I’ve said it. Now it’s true!

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