I went to the supermarket yesterday to buy dog food. My husband was waiting in the car and we wanted to get home for dinner and to feed the hungry dog a.s.a.p. I grabbed about 12 or 14 of those expensive little containers of wet dog food (my dog is finicky. don’t judge.) and I went to go check out. Now usually I go to the self checkout aisle, because I’m a control freak and sometimes feel socially awkward and just want to skip having to deal with a checkout person. But there was a regular checkout line wide open, nobody on it. I had a dozen+ little dog food containers that are a pain in the neck to scan. I never, ever do this, but… I walked up to the aisle and started loading my stuff on the conveyor. The checkout lady was chatting with another store employee. Neither one of them acknowledged my presence. I ahemed, and my checkout lady turned to me, with a big smile.
“Hi!” she said.
I said “hi” back.
She looked at my arm and said, “Oh, what’s your tat?”
I have a tattoo of a typewriter on my bicep. I said, “It’s a typewriter.”
She smiled a bigger smile and said, “Well, I bet you either own your own business or you’re a secretary!”
I didn’t quite know what to say. I forced a smile, silently wishing she’d STFU and just start ringing up my dog food. She stood waiting expectantly for me to reply. Should I tell her I’m a literary agent? Then I’d have to explain what that is. I always have to explain what that is to people in the non-publishing, non-writing world. “Lit agents are like Ari Gold, only for books.” Should I tell her that I love words, and books, and storytelling, and that I think typewriters are iconic and cool and a self expression for me? Why didn’t she just ring up the dog food?
I had to say something. I mean, she was waiting. And she was so nice. So even though I was cranky and impatient, I just said, “I’m a writer,” to which she immediately replied, “Oh! I could never write a book but I love to read! What do you write?”
I thought to myself, “Sweet lady, working the checkout line in my local supermarket, reading books in your spare time, so lovely and friendly: PLEASE RING UP MY DOG FOOD!” But I said, “I write books for children.” I smiled an uncomfortable smile.
She said, “Oh, that’s so cool!” and finally started ringing up the dog food.
When she was done, she said, “Let me know when your book comes out. I’d love to read it!”
Which again, was so nice. But for crying out loud, is that what people think? Anyone can write a book and then it just comes out?!
“Ok, thanks,” I said. And me and my dog food went to my waiting husband in the car.
What should I have done? Should I have just said, “I’m a literary agent”? I mean, I am a writer, too. Should I have explained to her how publishing works? How difficult it is to sell a manuscript, especially a picture book? Should I have let her know that even if I wrote a picture book, and sold it, it might take years for a publisher to find just the right illustrator, and for it to finally come out? Maybe I should have just gone with, “Yes. I’m a secretary.”