Here in San Francisco, if someone tells you they’re a barista, you ask at which coffee shop. There’s a big difference between Starbucks and Ritual. If someone tells you they’re a software engineer, you ask at which company. Do they support a scrappy underdog startup or have they “sold out” to a behemoth like Google? I remember hiding the fact that I worked for Facebook quite often, having met many people who assume every Facebook engineer is, somehow, eating their soul. It’s easy for us humans to assign categories and draw conclusions, whether good or bad, from these categories.
Now I’m a writer, or I claim as much when people ask me what I do for a living (let’s ignore the fact that I don’t “make a living” from writing). When I tell someone that I’m a writer, they always ask what kind of writing I do. What category do I claim? Novels? News articles? Poetry?
What sort of writer am I? It’s a question that leads to a crisis, because I don’t know the answer. So far, I’ve enjoyed writing personal essays, research papers, short stories, flash fiction, biography, news articles, and these blog posts. When it comes to what has earned me the most money, I’m a personal essay writer, but I’ve earned so little that I’m not even going to tell you a ballpark figure. If instead we consider what opportunities I’ve spent the most money pursuing, then I’m a fiction writer. (Fiction is weird, I’ll talk more about this in another post.) But money is not a huge part of the picture at this stage.
So, what sort of writer am I? One who defies categorization, much to the dismay of those who ask about my work in polite conversation. There’s a painfully predictable confused reaction I receive after telling someone that I don’t know what sort of writer I am. I’m at a loss for what to say next, they have nothing else to ask, and I soon feel like conversational Jell-O: wobbly, difficult to grasp, and strangely flavored. I eagerly allow the topic to change to the weather, or their work, or the pandemic (we will have so much less to talk about when it’s over).
I think every long adventure reaches these directionless, in-between times when things are happening but nothing makes sense. I can’t draw any conclusions about how things are going, whether good or bad, so I guess I’ll keep exploring. But for now, you can call me a flashy bio-essay short story blogger journalist. And when I turn into conversational Jell-O, just ask me to tell you a story.
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