Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Questions I Hate Being Asked

As you might imagine based on my job as a cashier, I talk to lots of complete strangers on a daily basis.  This is unfortunate, because most people respond to meeting a new person by making small talk, and making small talk is the most painful act that can be committed with the English language.  (I don't know about other languages.  Maybe small talk is more eloquent and engaging in, say, Welsh or Greek.)

I wish people would ask each other original, thought-provoking questions when they first meet, such as, "Do you think a pterodactyl would win in a fight with an eagle?" or "Do you have a survival strategy in case of a zombie apocalypse?"  But no.  Small talk consists of repeating the same dull questions with everyone you meet.

Apparently, when someone sees a girl who appears to be between the ages of 18 and 42, the first thing they ask is, "Are you in school?"  I used to naively long for the day when I could proudly announce, "I graduated!"  But the conversation that follows is even worse now.  I immediately get a sympathetic look that roughly translates as, Oh, and you're still working as a cashier.  Probably wondering what horrible decision I made to bring such a fate upon myself, they now ask, "What did you major in?"

I resist the urge to crawl underneath the sales counter, unfold one of the largest paper bags, and shove it over my face, before finally answering, "crtv wrtng," hoping that if I say it really fast they won't realize I said "creative writing" and will instead assume I said "nuclear engineering" or "theoretical physics."

But they do understand my garbled response, and now a look of dawning comprehension crosses their face.

"And what do you plan to do with that?" they asked smugly, the same way you might catch a thirteen-year-old sneaking into an R-rated movie and say, "And where do you think you're going?"

I've tried every possible response to this question.  I've tried telling the truth and saying I write a blog.  They never know what a blog is, and when I try to explain the crude collection of sentences and occasionally-disturbing drawings that is this blog, their eyes just fill with even more pity.  I've tried saying I'm working on a novel, assuming "novel" is a more palatable word than "blog," but then they ask, "What's it about?" and I'm stuck trying to explain the definition of "dystopia" to a middle-aged man who has never heard of Ray Bradbury.

It doesn't matter what I say.  They aren't asking the question because they want an honest answer; the question is their way of saying, "I disapprove of your life choices and you should regret them."  Nothing I can ever say will satisfy them.  Except maybe this.







Then there are the people who assume that because I studied literature in college (creative writing was a concentration within the literature major), I can identify, from memory, every poem ever written.  They start rattling off some obscure poem that made an impression upon them during the one literature class they took their freshman year of college, as though the fact that they know a few lines from this one poem will make me exclaim, "Finally, someone I can talk to!  All these years, I've been waiting for a genius such as yourself to show up and quote some Keats to me!"


As much as I hate small talk, some of the worst questions come from people I actually know.  My close friends and family know I hate being asked how my writing is going, but plenty of well-meaning acquaintances innocently believe I'll feel special and appreciated if they ask, "How's your book going?" or more sadistically, "Is your book finished yet?"  That's all fine, until they act completely shocked to discover I still haven't finished writing my entire novel in the three weeks since we last spoke.

Some people go so far as to ask if they can read my unfinished manuscript.  That would be like me showing you guys a bunch of half-finished drawings and swearing they'll make sense eventually.


Actually, trying to read someone's unfinished manuscript would be even worse than that, because that was surprisingly fun.

This is why I want to spend the rest of my days in a blanket fort drawing cartoons and writing about how much I hate people.

15 comments:

  1. Hey I studied literature with a creative writing concentration too! YAY! Useless degrees are the best! They disprove all those idiots that say college is the key to success. Nice post Haley.

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    1. Useless degrees ARE the best. Way to go, us! Good point about disproving all the conventional wisdom about college. Maybe my whole life is really just one big ironic statement about higher education. Is it bad that I actually feel a little bit better now...?

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  2. Small talk really isn't any fun. I would just forget telling anyone anything about the truth. Start making stuff up. Sure, there may be that awkward moment when you say you are in school to be a marine biologist, and the person asking actually is a marine biologist and starts asking real questions you have no answer for, but how often could that really happen?

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    1. I've thought about that, and wanted to do it SO many times. I'm just such a bad liar. Hubs sort of does that, though. His job title is technically "design consultant," even though he's basically a furniture salesman, so whenever we meet new people he says he's a "design consultant" and their eyes glaze over and they change the subject.

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  3. Haley,

    I can only assume that you wrote this post a long time ago, because now you are a PUBLISHED ILLUSTRATOR with a book available online at Amazon AND Barnes and Noble! What I recommend is that you somehow attach pretty ribbon to the corners of the Herman the Cat book (you might have to hole-punch the corners or something) and make the book into a giant necklace and wear it everywhere. When people ask what you are up to, you can just point to it.

    (I hate to tell you, by the way, that when/ if you ever have kids, the small talk questions get WORSE. People say, "What do you do?" and if you say "I am a stay-at-home mom" then their eyes glaze over and you get the exact same look of pity...... this applies whether the baby is 6 weeks old or 6 years old, they just look at you as if being a mom is not actually "work." I used to say that I was "working harder than I ever did when I got a paycheck" but unless you are talking to another mommy-- who would never DARE ask such a question in the first place-- then it is Pity City. *sigh*)

    xxo
    MOV
    ps-- I think you are great! and you can always tell them you are a cashier because you are doing "research" on customer archetypes for your novel...... and that they might be in it if they are lucky

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    1. I actually DID start working on this before the book came out... and then I decided not to add it because I didn't want it to become a pat-on-the-back post. But I need to write a separate post about people's reactions to my saying I illustrated a children's book. Some of them have been pretty funny.

      I grew up watching my poor mother deal with exactly the sort of comments you're talking about. The worst was when I started college, and women who were MOM'S age and had just RETIRED started asking, "So when are you going back to work?" Like, "Oh, *I* deserve to retire, but you don't." I think "retired stay-at-home-mom" should be considered a perfectly legitimate status.

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  4. Small talk with dinosaurs! Why didn't I think of that?

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    1. Dinosaurs are AWESOME. Pterodactyls particularly were always my favorite.

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  5. Loving your cartoons! I will try and improve on my small talk in future just for you ;)

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  6. I hate it when people quote Shakespeare to me and expect me to know which play it's from. Yes, I majored in English. Yes, I read a bunch of Shakespeare. No, I did not memorize the lines from every play I've read, and No, I did not read every single play by Shakespeare. I hate it even more when I tell someone that The Hurricane is getting a Ph.D. in math and the person asks, But what's she going to DO with it? She's going to fucking do math (pardon my language), and that's more than you can say for yourself. A relative actually asked me, But at the end of the day, what will she have accomplished? She'll have accomplished earning a fucking big pile of fucking money because she's smarter than you'll ever fucking be, Miss Relative. And you, creative writing major, are going to be a success. I know it. I proclaim it. I am never wrong. I told The Hurricane to decide what her passion was and to go after it and the money would follow. I say the same thing to you. Mommy knows these things.

    Love,
    Janie (a.k.a. Mommy)

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    1. I have a deep, dark secret... *whispering*... I am really not much of a Shakespeare person. I mean, I appreciate the role he played in literary history, but beyond that, I just don't get all excited at the mention of "the eternal bard." I guess I'm a sacrilege in the world of literature majors.

      The Hurricane sounds like an awesome girl who is going to do lots of awesome fucking math. She is so lucky to have you supporting her. My mom's support has meant the world to me as I travel the arduous path of trying to become a published self-employed author. And your support means the world to me as well. You can never have too many moms on your side... even Internet-moms. :)

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  7. My "favourite" question is ...
    THEM: What did you study at university?
    ME: Literature
    THEM: So you want to be a teacher?
    ME: *facepalm*

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    1. It's funny you mention that, because I used to hear the teacher thing a lot while I was *in* school, but now I never get that anymore. So I guess that's one thing that has improved slightly with time. Yay...?

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  8. Tell them to go boil their heads. Idiots, I see you doing just fine as you are, big things will happen if you keep doing what you are so obviously born to do:)
    #atozchallenge
    maggie at expat brazil

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