Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sex, Lies and Pap Smears

Name, rank and serial number. Sometimes I like to be boiled down like a Scantron bubble. A, B, C, or D, (and sometimes Y). Because I'm a fraud, I suppose, and a fraud likes nothing more than the legitimacy of multiple choice.


The other day I had my annual exam. It was a new doctor, so I sat in the waiting room and filled out the new patient questionnaire. Yes, no, this, that, last name, first, middle. I hesitated at filling in occupation. Because what am I, really? Unemployed? Lapsed Product Developer? Occupationally Agnostic? The pen hovered over the form briefly before I scribbled in: Writer. And then I handed the clipboard to the front desk and sat back down to read a very riveting article about casseroles in Family Circle.
What do you like? Huh? I looked up and there was one of the nurses whispering to me: What do you like? I thought it a strange question considering I had just filled out a form detailing my sexual history. Long walks on the beach? A little dirty talk? Huh? I must have looked really confused because she repeated herself a third time. What do you write? I saw on your questionnaire that you are a writer. Ah, write, right. Shit. Short stories, I whispered back. Fiction. Children's books. I felt as if I had been caught stealing something. Great! she said. I'm a screenwriter myself. She was wearing one of those square cotton smocks that nurses wear, the kind with a pattern of kittens tangled in yarn. Are you on Facebook? I nodded. I'll look you up! And then she went back behind the front desk to read more about the first day of my last period.
I wonder if Obama ever feels like a fraud. If Stephen Hawking maybe feels as if he is the 'um' in quantum theorum. I remember when I used to go to China for work, how the people in the factories would follow me around their showrooms, how I would stop to look at a frame or a fake flower and they would almost bump smack dab into me. Stop following me so closely, I wanted to say, I have no idea what I'm doing. Instead they would start chattering in Chinese excitedly if my fingers so much as braised a product when really, all I was trying to do was steady myself.
And then sometimes I feel as if I am standing beside me when I hear Zoey call me mommy. Me? You talking to me? I'm a mommy? It is absurd, this life of being who I am. Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. When I was little I would sit in the back seat of my dad's car and stare up at the tiny pin holes on the upholstered ceiling until my eyes went slack and the naugehyde seemed to float down in transparent layers. I would reach my hand up to try and touch the pin-holed phyllo of the ceiling, Susannah, Susannah, Susannah. If you stare long enough, think hard enough, say it enough times it all seems illusory.
Susannah Clay M, PhD. Dr. Susannah Clay M, M.D, DDS, STAT. The Honorable Miss Susannah Clay M., Esq., Jr., CPA. When I send away for catalogs I add a suffix if given the option. (Which may tell you more about why I am sometimes surprised to be a mother, not exactly mature but it's fun.) Who am I? What do I do? The truth does not fit on a line one inch long.____________
I should have written this--Occupation: I'm not really sure right now. Mother, wife, one of the legions of the unemployed. I spend my days on the internet blogging. Looking for jobs. Doing laundry. Thinking. Sometimes I nap. Yesterday I watched The City. You want to know my occupation? It is this: waiter. Not like in a restaurant, but in the world. Waiting for Something to Happen with an advanced degree in Watching. Not quite sure what, or why. Maybe this is it. This today of feeling like a fraud. Maybe that's what we all are. Doctors and lawyers and mothers and writers and physicists, dreamers and pretenders and
I would have written all of that in the margins of the form, and then I would have run out of room. Because that's what it is, anyway. Life--the pressing need to define yourself until you run out of time. Who the fuck cares what I think I am anyway? Susannah Clay M., Writer of Things. I could wear cotton smocks with kittens tangled in yarn, don a papal robe, tattoo your name on my neck. You could stare at me until I become transparent layers of pin-holed plastic floating toward you. 1, 2, 3, 4. Does it matter if you cannot reach your hand up and touch me? Because in the end, none of it matters, none of it changes the cellular makeup of my cervix.

19 comments:

Good Enough Woman said...

Another great post! Also my cousin (who is now known as GoodEnoughCousin) works in product development, so I get to hear about her regular trips to China (and India, and Thailand, and Vietnam). She is not a big fan of China.

PalagiGirl said...

Susannah, you ARE a writer. I am addicted to your words like an addict to crack! You make me smile, you make me cry. Your words move people! If your blog was a book, it would be dog eared and worn sitting on my nightstand. Fabulous post (as always), fabulous you.

Elizabeth said...

Well this post proves you're a writer, although you know that already.

Funny, when I gave up my "real job" after I was first published, I totally expected my life to change. I expected MYSELF to change somehow and turn into what I'd always pictured a writer to be (flowy scarves and waist-long hair and syrupy voice and huge hoop earrings and all.) And it actually shocked me that it never happened, I was still me in my sweatpants and tee-shirts and two-year-old Nikes, spending more time looking at blinking cursors than creating beauty. When people ask what I do, I still feel like I'm lying when I tell them I'm a writer, even though I've sold several hundred thousand books. Because behind that I'm really just this dowdy sweatpants-wearing girl, hiding behind a title.

So yeah, defining a person by her job (or lack of job) is completely meaningless. Same with women who define themselves with the word "mother." Even though jobs and motherhood take up huge amounts of our time, those are the parts of us that're put on top of the real us.

The problem is, people feel a need to compartmentalize, and we look at people differently if we know they're doctors or construction workers or writers or unemployed. And yeah, maybe you've changed what you do every weekday, but there's no reason to think of yourself any differently. It shouldn't matter what people think they see.

Rhonda Gail said...

Great post! you are certainly a writer!

Vanessa said...

I think many writers never think of themselves as writers, because we never think our work meassures up. I feel like a fraud almost every single day.
But you, my friend, are a writer of the highest class. It doesn't matter if you're getting paid or not. Soon enough it will all pay off.

arollerskatingjam said...

Yeah! Writer it is!

This post is one of my favorites, a clear example of why I read Petunia Face. Shimmering details and vivid characters.

Robin said...

Writer was definitely the right thing to put on the line. But I agree it is impossible/unrealistic to try and sum yourself up in one word. I am home with Micah voluntarily, but I always feel the need to tell people that I do a little contract work and teach 3 yoga classes a week. Like being a mom is not enough, which obviously it is - but I have a hard time defining myself that way. Having a baby, sure, great. Being a mother, woah, slow down there.

Great post!

Meril said...

Thank god those boxes are so small on the forms. Is it just me or does anyone think the OB nurse friending you on FB is a little odd? And yes, you are a writer. It pours out every day.

sarah said...

first time on your blog -- first post i read -- LOVE it. would not be surprised if you were my long lost twin. ;o)

jules said...

Funny, I recently did the opposite. With a very heavy heart, I deleted "writer" from my blog bio and put in "attorney." Blargh.

krista said...

do you have a nanny cam in my house? because, seriously? you just described a day in my life.
when i tell people i am a stay at home mother i feel like a fraud.
when i look in the mirror, i'm not at all sure this is what stay at home mothers are supposed to look like. and i feel like i should have at least filled out a questionnaire for someone to read and decide if i had the proper credentials.
then again, my cervix has always talked herself up to strangers.

JackeeG4glamorous said...

As a closet "waiter", take it from me, good things happen when you wait! Making the most of that waiting period, that's the kicker. We truly love that you blog bits and pieces of that time. You always provoke a thought, feeling or a smile from me!

Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

This post made me laugh and cry at the same time. I feel like a fraud 98% of the time, and the other 2% I'm kidding myself.

You're fantastic.

Chris said...

Well if YOU aren't a writer then I have no friggin' idea who is!

Anonymous said...

I must be dense. Are you preggers?

Petunia Face said...

Hi Anonymous--
No, I'm not pregnant! Just verbose.
xo,
S

Joy said...

You have no idea how much this post has lifted my spirit. I am a newly-wed, 6 hours short of a college degree, with no job. Trust me, I've tried. (Ever been told you were "not qualified" to work at Dollar General? It does nothing for the self-esteem, let me tell you) I've been putting "student" on everything, even though I'm not currently in school. Next time I'll just say I'm waiting on the world.

GRAVITY LETS YOU DOWN said...

Oh, I think you're definitely a writer. This is my first time looking at your blog (found you via A cup of Jo) and I've laughed, gotten weepy and nodded in agreement. I think it's the nature of art and artists. I am a photographer in the process of starting a portrait business. Some days I feel like I can't be stopped, other days I'm terrified people will think I know nothing or that I'm ripping them off. It's tough, but we (artists) persevere. Such sweet torture no? Anyway, buck up. Everything will be allright.

Never That Easy said...

This is something that I struggle with all the time - I think you did such a good job of explaining it all. I'm definitely a waiter too.