The other day I was at the zoo with my boys when another mom sat down next to me and started to regale me with unbidden tales of how time consuming her job as an accountant was. Then, she paused and asked the question any working mother should know better than to ask another working mother... "So, What do YOU do?"
ME: I'm a children's book writer and illustrator.
Zoo Mom: Oh, that must be EASY!
ME: (Finding myself incapable of pulling off any type of poker face- raised one eyebrow and said) Errr....
Zoo Mom: Um, I mean... FUN!
ME: Time to go boys!
I suppose I should have taken the time to politely explain to Zoo Mom a bit more about my work, I could have referred her to books and sites that would have given her a bit more insight into a career in the arts and publishing. But, I'm a working mom (which term is, in itself a redundancy), and quite frankly, I didn't have the time! So the most polite response I could muster was to excuse myself.
What surprised me most about her remark, was not the comment itself. I mean how many of us working in the arts have heard a myriad of variations of the same statement?
What surprised me was how completely it rankled me this time.
Maybe it's because she caught me on a day when I'm in the middle of some hair-pulling, mind-bending revisions for a picture book. Maybe it's because my morning double shot of espresso hadn't kicked in yet. Or maybe, it's because accounting is the career I use as a punchline for any joke that uses a job that is mundane and tedious. Who was she to call my job easy?!
And that got me thinking... (putting 2 and 2 together) hmm. I look at her career with as much of a bias as she does mine.
So if I had it to do over again I would have said...
ME: "Well, most of it really is a lot of fun. I get to work with amazingly creative people from the comfort of my own studio. I get to make stories that little people share snuggled up with their folks, and if I'm lucky they like them, and it spurs on a love of reading and that helps them become more intelligent and thoughtful grown-ups. At the end of each work day I get to look at a piece of paper and see words and pictures that didn't exist at the beginning of the day and say 'I made that'. I get to reread The Cat in the Hat and Where The Wild Things Are and call it research. I get to do what I love for a living, and that IS fun.
But, I also have to work hard. Forever honing my skills, I am constantly working on the next project, and the next, and the next ...hoping to find a market for it. Hoping the project into which I have poured a bit of my soul will be met with open arms and not rejection. But soldiering on either way. Working to promote and sell books to ensure they stay in print and generate income. There are no steady paychecks for freelance artists. No Company health coverage, no matching 401K funds. There's no one to cover for me when I call in sick. Balancing the needs of clients with the creative vision is like walking a tightrope. Performing without a net.
It isn't always easy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything."
If I had said that, she might not assume as much the next time she meets a working artist. And maybe if I had taken the time to ask her more about her work as an accountant, I would have acquired a greater appreciation for what she does.
And maybe I'd have learned how to balance my check book!