Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Definitive Moment

The Definitive Moment

Within minutes of meeting someone new - whether at a dinner party, in a café or in a business setting - one is inevitably asked, “So, what do you do?” I have fun pitching my answer in different ways, reflecting varied aspects of my life, to observe the responses I elicit. Although I am the same woman, with many elements to my life story, my choice of career at that moment usually determines how people treat me thereafter.

One way to predict with some certainty that the inquirer will glaze over and turn to converse with another is to say, “I am a housewife”. It is the best conversation-stopper I know. No one has actually asked me what brand of washing powder I prefer, but I can see that the few kind souls who do not immediately slide away from me simply do not know what to say next. It amuses me that there is an immediate assumption that – as a homemaker - I have no other interests, no other work and that I must, without doubt, be deadly dull.

The answer that seems to kindle the most interest is telling people that I work in the prisons. Both men and women say, “That must be fascinating!” or words to that effect, and begin to quiz me about my experiences and opinions. As it happens, my work in prisons is voluntary and of a Christian nature. If I tell people I am a missionary, however, without specifying the prison part, some may be intrigued and ask for detail, while others become decidedly uncomfortable.

The most sensational answer I have ever been able to give, was when I lived in King’s Cross in London, some years ago. While sipping a spritzer at a cocktail party, I would declare: “I work in a Red Light Area.” Responses would vary from outright laughter, through vague embarrassment, to immediate pursed-lipped judgment. While some intrepid souls ventured to inquire exactly what this work entailed, others would immediately assume I was a street-woman. This assumption was especially funny if I was with friends who already knew that I was involved in social work with the prostitutes, alcoholics and runaways of the notorious area.

Even when I have been involved in work as respectable as school teaching, I have found that people’s responses vary depending on which of my subjects I revealed to them. Mentioning that I was a High School Maths teacher immediately afforded me more kudos than when I said that my subject was what used to be called Religious Instruction.

A few days ago, sitting in a local café, I was concentrating hard as I self-edited my most recent travel article, when a man sitting near to me inquired, “So what do you do?” I hesitated briefly, flashed him a warm smile and boldly declared: “I am a Travel Writer”. It had a certain sound to it! I found myself becoming interested in myself as I said it. Yes. Thoughts of thrilling trips made across the world to fascinating, foreign fields sashayed into my mind. Travel Writers must be the sort of people with whom one wants to spend time. Who would not want to engage in deep conversation with a Travel Writer? I eagerly anticipated dropping the clichéd, nonchalant response: “Someone has to do it”.

So, could somebody please tell me, how many articles one must have published to be able to say, with confidence and integrity: “I am a Travel Writer”. After trying on many careers and related introductions for size, I think I could be more than happy introducing myself as such for a while.

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Gillian Mclaren Travel and Science Writer