At a friend’s barbecue the other afternoon, I was introduced to an acquaintance of his. This guy – I shall call him Rodney, as he was a bit of a plonker – wore a full suit and tie, despite the heat of the day. Sweating profusely, he explained that business never stops! You have to be ready at a moments notice to grab the next deal! You’ve gotta be in it to win it! Despite being at a lunchtime BBQ, lunch is for wimps!
It seemed we’d been transported to Wall Street.
“So, Curtiss, what do you do?” Grease glistened on his chin, his half eaten burger waved around as he articulated every word.
I still wasn’t quite sure he’d actually told me exactly what it was he did. But no matter.
“I’m a writer,” I replied, dodging his flying lunch.
He chewed another mouthful of meat, thoughtfully leaving his mouth open so I could admire his mastication expertise. “A writer,” he mused, as more grease coated his chin. “And what does that entail, exactly?”
“Well, I, umm, write stuff.” And there’s me thinking the word ‘writer’ gave it away slightly.
“Yes, yes, you write. But what do you DO?” The rest of the burger disappeared into the hole in his face. I was reminded of the Sarlacc in Return Of The Jedi.
Hmm, how to answer this. I gave it my best shot.
“What I do is try to help two stranded space traders after they crash landed on a distant and desolate planet. I wonder where a sweet looking old lady gets all the items she regularly donates to a local charity shop – and something tells me I don’t really want to know. I wait at an unfamiliar and strangely deserted train station with three other people, all of us unsure where we are or where we’re going.”
I was on a roll now, and I had at least managed to get him to close his mouth. I forged on. “I travel on a local bus, but when it takes a wrong turn I really don’t want to be where it’s going. I try to warn a big, loud mouthed, rude, ignorant, bigoted and sexist guy that if he doesn’t mend his ways it’ll only end up badly for him – he won’t listen, he always knows best. I have lunch with a retired and recently widowed schoolteacher – she’s on her way to a meeting with a CEO, and she’s fixated with a small box in her pocket.”
Rodney watched me, the way a scientist would watch a newly discovered and strange looking species. I carried on regardless. “A friend who has lost his son has invited me over to see his new remote control contraption – I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see it. I travel with a young boy and his fictional companion through a hostile land as he searches for his parents. I do my best to comfort and guide an author who finds himself trapped inside an imaginary world of his own making. I watch from afar as a young Jack sells his old cow for a handful of strange beans and a battered oil lamp – the genie in that lamp will confuse the boy no end as they rescue princesses and chase giants.”
I paused for breath, and then concluded my speech. “And at this very moment in time I’m listening to a teenage boy recount a tragedy which befell his younger brother, and the harrowing events that ensued in the following months.”
I fell silent. Rodney stared. Opened his mouth. A sliver of lettuce coloured one polished and capped tooth a bright green. “I beg your pardon?”
“Stories, Rodney. Those are all stories that I’m currently working on. You know, fiction.”
Understanding dawned in the suited and sweating Rodney’s eyes. “Ah, yes, stories! As you’re a writer!”
“Yes Rodney, stories. As I’m a writer.” He sees the light!
“Jolly good, yes, well done! But… what do you actually do?”
He doesn’t see the light.
I left the deal chasing Rodney munching on yet another burger as I went in search of a much needed drink.
Some days you just can’t win. Oh well.
So… what is it that you do?