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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Just gonna stand there and watch me burn

A soccer mom buddy is reading the Franzen on her Kindle. I submitted a new project to 16 editors on Friday; they all wanted it for their Kindles. Friends, I can feel it. Just like the answering machine, the VCR, the cell phone, the IPod, and sanitary napkins with wings — innovation will win out. I noticed at B&N that you could get a Kindle cover from Lily Pulitzer, Coach, and Burberry. Now, that’s special.

Not having a Kindle is going to be considered pretentious, or precious, or perverse. I don’t want to defend not having a Kindle, so I will probably lie, like when someone on a plane or train asks me what I do: I say I’m an accountant. I don’t want to down load, I don’t want a designer case, I don’t want to choose my typeface. I don’t want to remember another charger and I don’t want to fiddle with the snake pit of wires under my bed. I don’t want (another) device in my bed. I don’t want to stop using the bookmark my daughter made when she was in the second grade or the makeshift bookmarks: movie stubs, clothing labels, envelopes. I don’t want to stop recording new vocabulary words in the backs of books. And I don’t want to stop  marking passages that sum up the whole fucking world or make me, for just a few seconds, not feel like such a fucking freak because in that brilliant string of words that I can see and touch I know I am not dead or beyond redemption.

Agh. We’ve had this conversation more than a few times. Eventually I’ll get a Kindle and I’ll swipe a credit card in my crack and my thumbprint will open the refrigerator door and a little robot will e-binge its brains out for me. So, instead, I’m curious, when people ask you what you do, what do you say, do you say: I’m a writer.

68 Responses

  1. I do say I’m a writer. I have a day job, too, and that also entails writing, so I’m pretty well covered by that label.

    There’s only one device I’d care to have in my bed, and hopefully it’s not an electronic one.

  2. I don’t. I can’t believe it’s real, what I’m writing. All these words were just waiting to be spoken. Writing feels precarious and fragile to me and I’m afraid to jinx myself with delusions of grandeur.

  3. I actually hate the Kindle itself. But I LOVE reading books on my Kindle for iPhone, and my Kindle for Mac. Go figure.

    • Me too. I already had the iPhone, so I didn’t have to add another device to my life. The Kindle app was free, and what tipped me over to try it was wanting to read the new(ish) translation of War & Peace that was getting so many raves, but not wanting to drag the book around with me — even in paperback, it weighs a ton. So I bought that, and then added free downloads of a bunch of other stuff I like: Dickens, Trollope, Henry James, etc. I mostly read from the iPhone when I’m on the subway, or otherwise out and about, and continue to read books at home. But I could see using the Kindle app more and more. Soon I’ll be taking an overseas trip and I expect I’ll use it a lot while I’m in Europe, instead of packing half a dozen books. If reading manuscripts was what I did for living, I’d REALLY want them in that form versus dragging them around in an overstuffed bag and ruining my shoulders.

  4. Betsy: It’s a thing of beauty the way you do that: you cast out — waaaaaay out — into the sea of collective consciousness with these jazzy riffs on Being and then you reel in, waaaaaay in, to the Question of The Day. I love it, as a reader and as a Being. Thank you. No wonder we can’t stop checking in every day.

    I used to LOVE answering the “What Do You Do” question when I was a Faberge expert at a famous auction house in New York City. Then I left that job and tried to write freelance, which meant that I had to get a job as a receptionist at a hedge fund in Manhattan (making 30% more there, answering phones, than I did when I was inspecting Frank Sinatra’s Russian works of art) and my Working Class Code of Ethics forced me to always grit my teeth and answer the “What Do You Do” question with “Receptionist” — I never tried to excuse myself by adding that I USED to be IMPORTANT. It was hard: I was single and over 40 and trying to find a husband. About the difference between being a Faberge expert and a receptionist, I could write a book.

    My current answer to The Question is “I write illustrated travel memoirs”. That shuts people up even more than “Receptionist” did. Good thing I’m married now or else I’d give a shit.

    • I used to love answering the “What do you do” question when I was a criminal defense paralegal. I felt so cool and noirish.

      Now, I’m a clerk. I give good clerk.

      No, those two answers were the answers to the question, “What do you do for your living?” They were not the answers to the question, “What do you do for your life?” Or, “How do you save your life?” The answer to those two variations on the same question is the same as it’s been since I was eleven years old: I write.

  5. I do tell people I’m a writer. But then I tell people about my circulatory problems when they ask why I’ve stopped walking again, as well.

    Has anyone noticed this double standard: I try to even things out by further inquiring “so what are you working on” when someone tells me what *they* do – regardless of what that is – but somehow they’re allowed to conclude, “You wouldn’t be interested in that.” WHY does that not work when we do it?!

  6. No. I say I’m a retired teacher.

  7. My answer to that question is: “My passion is writing…but right now I’m unemployed.” It’s difficult for me to even consider ever having a Kindle…being unemployed for longer than I care to mention…I don’t even have cable…I use a dial up phone for my computer work…I don’t have an ipod or any of the other modern inventions of communication and music. I have an antenna hooked up to my TV set and the only digital stations I get are channels 2, 4, 5 and 9. No Dancing With the Stars for me!!! Writing keeps me sane! 🙂

  8. I say:

    “I’m a joker
    I’m a smoker
    I’m a midnight toker
    I get my lovin on the run”

    Actually, I haven’t used that one yet. But that question “What do you do?” is so tedious. And the true answer is complicated and also tedious. Sometimes I say, “Well, not much of anything right now, but when I grow up I want to be an astronaut.”

    • I’ve missed that song and not even known it! One of the best lines in a song ever: really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree

      • Not to mention “cause I speak of the pompatus of love”, what the heck is that anyway ?

        Way too complicated to tell people what I do for my day job and not all that exciting really so I usually just make stuff up – hired killer, carny, tattoo artist, drug trial guinea pig

  9. I’m inconsistent. Sometimes I say I’m a writer. Other times I say I’m an unemployed association exec but what I do is write. I think it depends on the person I’m speaking to.

  10. And can I say this about e-book readers? I’d love to have one, so that at least some of my book acquisitions didn’t join a stack on the hall floor or get crammed into a shelf on top of others. Just a few quibbles: I can _read_ a book on a Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony Reader, or what have you just fine, but until I can turn down a page corner, or underline a passage, or festoon it with Post-it flags, or (best of all) write in the margin, it will never feel like it’s really my book I’m reading. If I can’t do any of that, I should be able to select text, copy it to a clipboard, and get it into my computer somehow, but I hear I can’t do that either. These things are primitive, I tell ya. I’m waiting.

    • Actually, the kindle lets you highlight and add notes to whatever you’re reading. all the highlighted portions and notes get stored in a separate text file that you can open on any computer.

      i’ve been using the kindle to proof later drafts of my novels. it works great to highlight typos or change words or rewrite sentences.

      as for the page corner bit, the kindle saves your place. unless you just have a thing about the page corners which has nothing to do with marking your place…

  11. Like Vivian said, I’m late for something but I had to check in with Betsy first. Thank you for that. I actually say I’m a writer because it’s safer than the other thing that I do.

  12. I say don’t ask, don’t tell

  13. When I’m writing, I say I’m a writer. When I’m not writing, I say I’m a bum. Both, lifelong ambitions.

  14. Ah, the ‘what do you do?’ question! Both of my jobs (day job and writing) take some explanation and generally inspire more questions from the other person. Thank god I love them both!

  15. I ask them if they know what the “shell game” is.
    If they answer no, I just smile and we move on.

    If they answer yes, I ask them to imagine 26 shells, each with a letter underneath. I rearrange those shells, and hopefully, in the ensuing confusion, I’m able to steal a couple of bucks…

    …and much like when they answer no, I just smile and we move on.

  16. John, in fact you can select text, make notations, etc., on your Kindle, and they reside on your dedicated section at Amazon where your books are archived — which is to say you can go there to collect all of your notes and cut & paste to your computer if you wish.

    I love my Kindle, and my iPad too. Like someone else mentioned, I always buy real books for areas in which I maintain a private library, and I buy digital versions of books I’m going to read once and move on — that could be a novel, or it could be some non-fiction work. I sometimes buy digital versions of books I already own and want to read again (or finally finish) without lugging around a 1000-page volume. I read Shogun when I was in my late teens, and have always wondered how it holds up to a more “mature” reader, so I have that boat anchor of a book on my Kindle now.

    When people ask, I don’t tell people what I “am” or “what I do” — I just tell them the general area I work in — college textbook publishing — and that’s usually the end of that line of questioning.

    • Thanks for explaining how I can capture text on a Kindle. I think what I read (text of a talk by Steven Berlin Johnson) may have said only that you can’t do that on an iPad. Ought to check all the readers regarding that point.

  17. I tell no one that I write, even though I can answer the inevitable question with a very small, unimpressive “yes.”

    Last week I felt compelled to mention “my novel” to the computer repair guy. What can I say. He was gorgeous, an elven prince. And kind enough to be respectful.

  18. Ebooks are my new best friends after moving thousands and thousands of “real” books. After that experience, I am going digital every chance I get. Some books I want to own in physical form—and I can curl up to my iPad as comfortably as any book anywhere, anytime (other than the 25 minutes it take a plane to reach altitude and descend).

    Do I say I am a writer? If I do i usually add that I somewhat specialize in Jungian psychology. Which registers a look of terror onto almost every questioner’s face. Like I am going to analyze them right one the spot and judge them accordingly?

    So if you think you might be judged for being a writer, please know that most folks are terribly, terribly afraid of being “known.”

    I as at a party once and a somewhat inebriated man came up to me and asked me if I was a writer as his friend had informed him.
    Before I answered, he asked a second question “Have you written anything I might have heard of?”

    I looked him up and down and determined that he had probably never read anything but captions of girlie magazines and responded with a nonplussed expression “Pretty sure that you have never heard of anything I have written, my articles do not come with pictures of naked women.”

    While he stood there trying to digest my response, I disappeared into the crowd. It was the one time I was glad that I had a comeback.

  19. Telling someone you’re a writer is like telling somone you’re unemployed. People really feel sorry for you.

    Scene at Barnes & Noble. Clerk frantically leading a customer around, finally sees another clerk and yells:
    “Hey, do ya know where they keep Shakespeare?”

  20. Betsy, love the bit about bookmarks.

    Depends on the person asking, but even then I usually say I’m trying to become a writer.

  21. I’m a verb, came dripping into the house last week and announced that to my son who was sitting on his ass tapping away on his laptop. I ran today but I could stop tomorrow which would make me someone who used to run so i can only self-identify as a runner so long as I’m actually out there doing my lop-sided shuffle my mean sister-in-law gets such a kick out of…and same thing with writing, I only feel like one when I’m upstairs on the red sofa laptop on my thighs making sentences….every other second of the day I am more characterized by the sense of guilt and failure I have over the fact that I’m not writing…people have pretty much stopped asking

  22. i say i’m a fucking writer. it’s on my business card, too.

  23. I am an afterthought. No one cares what I do.

  24. A writer, yes I am,
    but will not say so, no ma’am.
    I would not, could not, in a car.
    I would not, could not, in a bar.
    I will not say it on the street.
    I will not say it in a tweet.
    I will not say it here or there.
    I will not say it anywhere.
    I will not say that I write, me amore,
    until my book is in the corner store.

  25. I say I’m a writer, you bet.

    I am so resistant to the Kindle/Nook/etc. Can I bury my nose in an e-reader and be reminded of hot summer days at family camps when it wouldn’t stop raining?

    This I fear is my greatest concern about the transition.

  26. And I don’t want to stop marking passages that sum up the whole fucking world or make me, for just a few seconds, not feel like such a fucking freak because in that brilliant string of words that I can see and touch I know I am not dead or beyond redemption.

    This is so perfect. Sometimes I’d rather someone read my journals than borrow a book with my underlining and stars and various expressions of amazement that some invisible person found a way to write what I never imagined anyone understood and that I had only hoped might be true.

    That said, I think I’m going to have to get a Kindle just to prove to myself I’m not outdated. And how cool would it be when someone asks you what your book is about, instead of mumbling incoherently, you could press a button and let them see a cover or read a blurb or page.

  27. Re question of the day: No. Not until I get a steady paycheck or until a book’s been published.

    Re Betsy’s Kindle obsession/repulsion/distraction:
    Step 1; You are already there. I can feel it.
    Step 2; Download the free Kindle app for your Blackberry and try it out.

  28. Sometimes when people ask me, “What do you do?”, I answer, “The usual: eat, drink, breathe, piss, shit, fuck, sleep, and fart. Not always in that order.”

    People rarely find this amusing.

  29. Depends on whether or not I’m in the mood to answer the inevitable questions about WHAT I’m writing.

    Hard not to feel like a fraud saying it sometimes because I haven’t been published. For a while I decided that my pile of rejections letters surely must make it so but I go back and forth.

  30. I was raised by a grifter mom who spent her time behind the wheel of a car , driving us back and forth across the southwest. Books were my solace my teachers my guides. I carted stolen library books, left behind in motel paperbacks and junk store finds and read them in the backseat while she raved.

    Now I write. How could I not. When people ask me what I do I say ” I’m working on a book.” cause no matter the format that is what I make.

  31. Saying “I’m a writer” — feels like vomiting in my mouth. It’s nearly as bad as hearing someone say “I’m a writer.” Makes me want to throw things. It’s too loaded, that phrase. Has come to mean too much. Sounds stupid / pretentious / absurd. “I’m a writer.” Never inspires awe or interest in me. Just makes me think, “Oh, really? And I’m an astronaut.” I tell people what I actually do for a living. And fortunately, it isn’t writing. Or going to space.

  32. Report from the field re the free Amazon/Kindle app.
    Just did it myself this morning for android phone.
    16GB phone.

    – tried to download 2 free books off classics list. (Ben Franklin’s memoirs and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau)
    – both downloads unsuccessful. don’t know why.

  33. I’ve gotten even more secretive about being a writer, which I guess sucks for networking; but I just can’t handle explaining one more time why I don’t want to self-publish. People always think they’re the first to suggest it, and I feel rude saying that I want the marketing department behind me. I was to see my paperbacks in grocery stores (while they’re still there); and that I suspect self-publishing, for me, means selling two copies: one to me and one to my mom.

    • Oh my God, I KNOW! And now add to that the chorus the suggestions of dong an e-book and self-promoting it with that there internet. I leave the blogging to the Betsys thankyouverymuch.

      Fuck it. Let’s all just start leaving our novels in comments sections. Innovative, no?

      • And of course, I start thinking of a story about that: the search to assemble a book left as blog comments across the Internet. In the end, the guy assembling it realizes it had no greater meaning for him than the loss of his eyesight and the gain of a newly pale complexion. From there I think it would devolve into a zombie story…of course.

        The query process is refining my work, thickening my skin, helping me to write better. I shudder to think what you’d see if I self-published an earlier draft.

        I am blogging, but so far it’s mostly been a way to inch myself into the world, so I’m not the guy above.

    • I think you’ll get published. You’ve got a good tone. You’re jumping off the page with this short little bit right here.

  34. Let’s face it: with the development of writing five thousand years ago, we began our exile from the charmed campfire circle of oral transmission, where the story, the audience, and the teller were one. One thing led to another ,and here we are; the strands that connect us to the real things and people of the world grow more tenuous by the day. Maybe we should get beyond the “if” of getting the ass-book (or whatever Betsy calls it), and discuss the relative merits of the Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony Reader so we’re ready for the “when.”

  35. You’re so fucking funny, man. We can talk about this until the cows come home. To me, nothing matters except good writing. But I want it on paper.

  36. I squirm up my face and say “I’m a secretary” with a countenance squenched with embarrassment and discomfort — because all I can think is the “woulda-coulda-shoulda” been. Although I should realize that that matters to no one but me. And I try to KEEP myself from saying “I have two masters degrees, one from the Ivy League, and blah blah blah blah” because that to me would just make it worse. (As Vivian said, I see it as much worse if I try to build myself back up in explanation.)

    Anyone else just sees: YOU LIVE IN PARIS!

    I guess it was better when I only worked in the bookstore. Then it was just cool. As I’m still working there on weekends, I guess I could just revert to that and leave out the secretary bit. But then everyone at the little fête at the Ambassador’s Residence (you know, the lady from Hermes, Leslie Caron, etc.) would wonder how in the heck I got in the front door . . .

  37. I say I’m a lawyer and then, depending on my audience, sometimes I apologize. I’m not sure I could ever say I’m a writer without feeling pretentious, even if my novel (the one for which I sent you a query, Betsy, on August 9, just by way of making electronic conversation) is published. Everything you say about Kindle is true. Sometimes to entertain myself I respond to an invitation to do something “on line” by saying I don’t have a computer at home, then I watch the expression of incomprehension-mututing-to-horror, as though I’ve just confessed my house doesn’t have indoor plumbing. Is there still room for a neo-Luddite in the world? If so, sign me up. For example, this is the VERY FIRST TIME I’ve ever submitted a comment on a blog. Whew. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.

  38. I say I coach professional women’s basketball. That shuts everyone up.

  39. I say I’m a CPA. I hate talking about writing, unless it’s another writer. Even then, it’s a pain in the ass. No one knows how it works, everyone assumes it’s like in the movies, and no one gives a good Goddamn what I write. They will inevitably tell me about something they’ve read that I’m not interested in, or tell me how fascinating they are and I could totally write a book about their life.

    When I say I’m a CPA, they ask me a tax question and I tell them to call me, that my billing rate is $175/hour. Sometimes, they call, and hire me and pay me money. It’s so much easier and more profitable than having to explain publishing, then hoping they’ll buy my book so I can earn a 20 cent royalty.

    My husband is proud of me, or maybe he just wants some ego strokes in return for being a writing widower, so he spouts off to rank strangers that I’m a writer. I threatened to leave him if he did it again, but there we were in Vegas 2 days ago, at a fucking blackjack table, and he tells the dealer I’m a writer. I’m trying to add my cards in my head, which is hopeless because I’m a CPA and lost without a calculator, and the other players at the table are all, So, what do you write? I lost five hands in a row because I kept hitting when I shouldn’t, flustered and pissed off.

    I’m a CPA. That’s all.

  40. >I don’t want to stop marking passages that sum up the whole fucking world or make me, for just a few seconds, not feel like such a fucking freak because in that brilliant string of words that I can see and touch I know I am not dead or beyond redemption.<

    And that's one of those lines for me. (But hey, I read it on my monitor and can't mark it with a polite pencil mark off to the side. Yet, if there's a need, if the need survives, someone will make money fulfilling it.)

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