On Probably Never Being a Writer

When I open my laptop to set it on my knees, perched upon metal bleachers, back pressed against the wall, its metal is cold with the winter of South Dakota seeping through its keys and bones. I’ve left it in my car much of the day, flitting in and out of appointments and meetings and errands and my keyboard feels foreign now, to accustomed fingers, keys worn down in proclivity to use. E, mostly. I, because everything I write is about what I know. Backspace, too. See above.

It is late February, the year that I decided to claim the moniker of writer, but only 60 days in, so I do so haltingly and uncertain. In varying studies I’ve read that it takes 30 days to make a habit (that may have been O Magazine, not a peer reviewed study but nevertheless, sanctioned and blessed by Oprah) or 90 times of repetition and if either is true than I am still unable to put “writer” on any business card or add to my neglected LinkedIn profile because I have maybe written 20 times, in earnest, in these 60 days. Most of my life I’ve wrestled with the quantity vs. quality argument and with the habitual mentions from others of “you do so much,” I suppose I have mostly settled with myself that I will do much but not always particularly well. My “day job” is in marketing — graphic design and web design, particularly or specifically creating logos for mom and pop shops or campaigns for middleamerican businesses with minimal budgets. I suppose, portfolio to portfolio, my work rivals any artist in my state but I also live in the frozen wasteland of South Dakota and my competition is mostly slower than I am, impermeably stuck in this ice beside me, or has long left for greener pastures anywhere but here. When people ask me, “What do you do?” as people do because people are predictable and rather boring in their early attempts to get to know one another or avoid any real knowing at all, I often answer, “Nothing very well,” which throws them for a loop and causes uncomfortable giggles and a slow retreat towards anyone who looks more amenable to small talk or sane or something. The truth is that I struggle to lay claim to any title or name — always happy to pass the acclaim to someone I see as more deserving or less deserving but more concerned with what they deserved or with being acclaimed.

Claiming the title of “writer,” will take more time than claiming, “digital artist,” or “marketing specialist,” or “nothing very well.” Writing, like many things, is linked almost entirely to production. When one says, “I am a nurse,” no one expects you to lay proof of lives saved or needles stuck or infusions given or sutures placed. Follow up questions may be asked, of course, but mostly in wide-eyed awe at the day to day trauma and drama alongside the slow drip of drugs or almost imperceptible gains in recovery that a nurse must witness. To claim “Writer,” though, is to be asked, “What have you written?” Never, “What do you love to write about?” but a proof-laden demand— “Where have I seen your work?”

Graphic design is similar, or at least it is in a small town where every mom and pop store is owned by your neighbor’s daughter’s best friend from elementary school and, even 80,000 strong, every business name is known — the campaigns seen and over-done in a small market where flashing billboards line the highways, land taken from its Native People and sold to the highest advertiser. I am asked to bring a portfolio to a contract acquisition meeting. I do not — and instead cite projects I know they’ve seen and reference “not wasting paper,” which seems a little edgy and progressive in a red state but not unreasonably so. When I get the contract I still hesitate to put my name on my work — the artist is most critical of her own efforts, after all. There are statewide awards I am encouraged to apply for — but upon research they are all pay-to-play and I am not many things but I am cheap enough to never be someone who writes checks in order to receive accolades.

What I’m trying to say is that the road to “being a writer” is a long stretch down a snowy patch of South Dakota gravel. What I’m trying to say is that, when I completely wear off any perceivable sign of the “E” on my keyboard I may be close to staking my claim. I wander, sometimes, like a gold thirsty miner, towards the stream of “writing,” but I am wary to stick my toe in — much less take off my clothes and dive naked into the depths, uninhibited and exposed. What I’m trying to say is that I hope someday someone asks me “what do you love to write about?” and means it. What I’m trying to say is that if you gathered all the love letters I’ve written over all the lifetimes I’ve lived than I am a writer. What I’m trying to say is that I haven’t written any love letters in this last 60 days.

I’m sitting, on the bleachers, watching my son backstroke to catch his breath, with my back pressed against the back wall imagining my posture improving to catch my breath. My keyboard has warmed beneath my fingers. Someday, but not today, I think I’ll write for a bit.