My New Narrative
“Hi, I’m Danielle. I work in new business and strategy,” I would say, balancing my tiny spear of swedish meatballs in one hand while I extended the other at a networking event. The person I was introducing myself to would nod, acknowledging my role, recognizing the large company I worked for. We’d sip cheap red wine and talk about our industry. I felt confident in my place in the world and in my “story” as a corporate executive.
I never introduced myself as a writer. It was a subplot to the “story of Danielle,” written into casual conversations about hobbies, somewhere between “brussels sprouts connoisseur” and “die-hard dog person.”
Two weeks ago, I attended a small business expo. This would be my first time introducing myself as a writer in a professional setting. I felt shaky, worried that as I uttered the words, someone might laugh. They might tilt their head, the way my dog Nala does when she hears a sound she doesn’t recognize. Would people recognize me as a writer when it was hard enough for me to recognize myself?
Fear pushed aside, I pulled my shoulders back and for several hours of networking, introduced myself as a writer. Generally speaking, I heard these three responses over the course of the event:
- “Ohhhhh, that’s interesting,” they’d say, eyes sweeping the horizon for an escape route, looking as though they’ve just swallowed a live chicken. As we continued our conversation in halting phrases, one of their body parts would begin to bounce or twitch. They’d see “someone they know” at the farthest corner of the room, and were gone so fast I was surprised they didn’t leave smoke trails.
- “That’s so cool, I write too! I’ve got a great idea for a book, it’s about this guy who’s a sloth keeper on a frozen planet…(fast forward several minutes) do you do any ghostwriting?” Their eyes bright and I’d smile, mentally taking inventory of my own partially edited manuscript, all my unwritten blogs posts, the deadline for an article, which I was now counting down in hours instead of days. Our conversation would pitter-patter back and forth until they realized I’m not really going to write their book for them and then they’re off to refill their drink.
- “Interesting. What kind of writing do you do and what are you currently working on?” A book person, I’d think to myself, thank you, Jesus. I’d list the different types of freelance projects I have in the works and mention I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.
“What type of manuscript? Fiction?” they’d ask.
“No, memoir actually,” I’d say.
Here is where the conversation would hit a pivotal moment and I’d watch them curiously, knowing our casual chatter would abruptly end or shift to a deeper level of dialogue.
If it started with an awkward silence, then I knew the rest of the conversation was going to flop around like a dying fish on a dock. They would avoid asking me any questions about my project or joke about how I’m neither old enough nor have the life experience to write a memoir. I’d laugh and ask them a question about their line of work, watching the worry lines between their eyebrows soften, and knew the conversation was not veering anywhere near writing again – not memoir, not freelance writing, not writing of any kind.
Those that were brave maintained eye contact and asked me what my memoir is about. So when I’d tell them it is a story about motherhood, about my journey through the fertility process while losing my mom to cancer, I’d carefully watch their face, high fiving them in my mind for hanging on for the ride. To a man (or woman), they’d smile and I’d let out the breath I was holding in. Then we’d talk about the challenge they’d had having kids or about how hard it is when your parents are aging, or about writing, or something else entirely. These were the folks that asked me for my business card and the ones I collected in return.
This was a chance for me to learn how to tell my new narrative. Without fear. Without judgment. And while it may take me some time to get used to it too, I like this new story and I’m excited to tell it.