The picture of the minivan is because as I was writing this post I was reminded of a comment by my friend Libby when we both ended up falling head-over-heels in love with our minivans, in spite of the aging domesticity and soccer momitude they suggested. One day Libby told me, “You know what I think when people say they will never, ever drive a minivan and can’t believe that I do?”
“What?” I asked her.
“I just feel sorry for them,” she said. “Think of all they’re missing! It’s like people who talk about how they will NEVER read Harry Potter!” I could not stop laughing.
But this post is not to talk about the awesomeness of minivans or Harry Potter, although I do like both of those things. Rather, it’s to address the issue of feeling like we have to justify ourselves for our writing. It came about because of a question Karen asked in the comments of a recent blog entry of mine:
How do you justify what you do to someone who thinks that writing fiction (especially for children) isn’t serious work?
I gave my short answer to this question on Tuesday:
By which I mean, of course, that I don’t justify myself. Perhaps it is because I have worked in a long line of careers that people tend to look down their nose upon: public school teacher, stay-at-home mom. I’ve gotten used to being the one that kills the conversation when people ask, “What do you do?” and then you tell them and then you can see their eyes scanning the room frantically for someone else to talk with.
So I’ve learned that if I have to try to convince someone that what I do is worthwhile, it’s going to take far too long and be too frustrating for both of us. Frustrating for me, because I honestly believe that what I do is worthwhile no matter what anyone else thinks, and for them because they honestly don’t (or else they are being condescending, in which case it’s even more frustrating).
So then what do you do?
You answer with pride, you open the door, and you hope for the shift to take place.
My husband is an economist. For many years, this was also a party-killer. “You do what?” someone would say.
“I’m an economist,” he’d answer.
“Like for a job?” they’d ask, making sure.
“Yes,” he would say, his eyes alight with joy at his chosen profession (people, the man LOVES economics and math).
“I hated that class in college,” they’d say, and then try to escape.
But then the economy tanked, and all of a sudden people were interested in the economy and in talking to him. People on our street would call him for advice. It was great, but he loved economics either way.
So what changed? It became relevant to people. Suddenly they cared because economics mattered to them and they wanted to know why and how and all those good questions.
So I hope for that shift. Maybe I can be the one who causes it, by asking if they remember a book they loved as a child. Maybe I can ask if they have a child, or love a child, or believe that literacy matters, or have spent time in a school recently, or have ever been carried away in a story. If so, then things might change. And we can talk. But if they still aren’t convinced, I can walk away, because I know that these things matter, and someday (I firmly believe this) they will remember that too. I can try to remind people why books, and reading, and stories, are important, but in the end life will teach them or remind them of the truth.
Reading to young people and writing for young people are two of most important parts of my life, and I don’t have to justify that to anyone.