Let me begin by stating clearly: I have great respect for nannies. Being “Aunt Katie” for the last ten years has been one of the greatest joys of my life, and I love kids in general – I love their creativity, curiosity, innocence, and ability to get away with a level of bluntness that only ever seems to get me dis-invited from things… Kids are great; but I don’t love any kid enough to spend all day with him unless he shares some of my DNA, which brings us back to my first point: I have deep respect for nannies. Still, I am not one.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a complete breakdown. It was short – only about twenty minutes – but what it lacked in quantity it more than made up in quality. We’re talking full-on sobbing: curled up in a ball, tears streaming down, actual vocalized wails. My poor cat didn’t know whether she wanted more to comfort me or run from all the noise and convulsing, so she just kept walking in circles halfway between me and the door. Claire Danes, queen of the ugly cry, would have been proud.
Why was I reduced – albeit briefly – to such a sniveling pile of saline and mucus? Because I am not a nanny.
Earlier that day, I had swallowed my pride and reached out to a hundred or so friends and contacts for help. Times have been a little tough as I have been caught in this weird career vortex where one work source is fading out and another (better) one is perpetually delayed in its fruition. It was time to give the coffers a boost, so I spread the word about resuming my freelance editing work and asked for help with any leads. It is never easy for the overly prideful to admit she needs help, but even though it stung my ego to ask, much like after ripping off a Band-Aid I felt better once I had done it. I even managed to temper my embarrassment with a little pride that I hadn’t let pride get in my way. Have I mentioned that pride is my sin of choice?
Most of the responses I got back were along the lines of, “I will spread the word,” and, “I can’t help but I can buy you a drink!” A few people actually had leads – names of writers looking to self-publish a book or organizations in need of some proofreading or writing. Almost everyone I contacted responded to me in one of four ways: with loving support, respectful encouragement, professional engagement, or a complete lack of acknowledgment of my email (the most common, of course). On the up side, the experience confirmed that there are clearly some great people who make up my community of peers. On the down side, notice that I used the word “almost”.
One person called me right away, eager to help, and cheerfully offered to connect me with her writer friend, not for a specific editing job, not for any lead, but so I could move into his house for a week and take care of his kids while he was out of town. He needed a nanny, and it dissolved me to tears.
Look, I know it is dumb that I lost it just because of one misguided attempt to be helpful. My friend was clearly acting in good faith, with the best of intentions, and in the moment I was mortified that her kindness was met with such a negative reaction. Was this just my pride rearing its ugly head again? Was this the moment my tragic flaw would cause me to starve to death on a diet of principle? I felt guilty that this poor woman left the conversation feeling like she had insulted me (I am not proud of my reaction). But then, after all the gasping and sniveling subsided, I had a moment of clarity. The thing is, she did insult me.
I had sent out a professional missive, asking in a professional manner for assistance furthering my career as a professional writer and editor. This career is something I have tended, nurtured, and toiled over for more than a decade. It is not a fad; it is not a phase; it is not a hobby. Maybe if she had couched the offer, more like, “I know it’s not what you’re looking for, but in case it’s a matter of just really needing some money right now, I do know someone who needs someone…” Maybe then I wouldn’t have reacted so violently. But in jumping right in with, “Great news! Here’s some babysitting,” she not only assumed my goal was just to make money, but also completely denied the validity of my career.
Again, I know she didn’t mean to insult me, but then again, it is also not the first time something like this has happened to me. It is not even the first time it has happened with this particular person. For the entirety of my professional life, I have had to deal with supposedly nurturing people – friends, instructors, my former manager even – who respond to any request for help advancing my career with suggestions of assistant work and child care. They simply do not respect me as a writer. (I won’t even get into how none of them would respond to a man seeking career advancement with similar suggestions, unless that man were seeking a career as a “manny”.)
I have no idea if this form of disrespect happens more often because I am a woman – it probably does a little, but not nearly as much as would be trendy. I don’t know if it happens because my profession is a creative one, or because I look younger than I actually am (thanks again, Mom and Dad, for the great genes). I don’t know if it happens because of some vibe I am putting out there, some lack of seriousness, though in case it is I will do all I can in the future to act more like I mean it. What I do know is that, to quote one of my favorite songs (“Let Go” by Frou Frou), there really is “beauty in the breakdown.” Because in having such a completely, inappropriately hysterical reaction to my poor friend’s phone call, at least I know now that I take myself seriously. Everyone else can catch up in their own time.