As is often the case on days like that, if you want to be within yelling distance of the ocean, you’re probably going to be about twenty sand grains away from your neighbor’s blanket and umbrella. Luckily, the woman closest to me was incredibly considerate and friendly, too. We chatted here and there throughout the day and laughed together when the group behind us played their music so loud we thought it was coming out of a boom box from 1985.
At one point, I pulled out a notebook and started writing. After a few minutes, the woman asked me if I was working on a paper. And I froze.
I wasn’t expecting the question from a stranger and I knew I had to answer it one of two ways. Either I’d be evasive and not tell her what I was doing. Or I would, which for me, was much harder. If I told her that it wasn’t a paper, that it was in fact, fiction, I had a pretty good idea what the next question would be. It would go something like this: “Oh, are you an author?”
The answer shouldn’t be complicated, but to me it is. It’s the line between aspiring to be something and actually being it. When I wanted to be a teacher, the line was very clear. While I was student teaching, before I had a hired position, I was aspiring to be a teacher. The day I stepped foot in my own classroom, and was working for a salary, I was a teacher. Simple.
I don’t think it’s so cut and dry when you write, though. The line is fuzzier. Are you an author as soon as you start to write? Once you type the last word of a novel? Once you’re published? Once you make your first sale? Once you have multiple books out? Once you can support yourself with your book sales? Once you have a best seller? Somewhere in between?
Maybe it’s not so bad to always be an aspiring…whatever. If we’re always aspiring to be something, then we’re constantly trying to be better at it. When I was teaching, I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking of ways to make my lessons more engaging. Maybe I was really aspiring then, too, but didn’t recognize it.
In any event, I took the coward’s way out that day. I made a joke about being too old to be writing a paper and let the subject drop, not answering the woman. I kicked myself for hours afterwards. I mean, if you want to be an author…aspiring or not, you have to let people know you’ve actually written something, right?
For now, I’m going to chalk it up to a learning experience. Hopefully, next time I’ll have a better answer. There’s something to aspire to.