Here we go again. Heathrow Customs.
Tired travelers line up like cattle and moooove my way to a counter to be asked, in the interest of national security: “Don’t you have a job? I see you left “Occupation” blank?”
“No. I’m unemployed.” The words form from practice but are still rough to articulate. Unemployed. I lack a noun.
“What are you doing here?” He doesn’t mean literally. “To live in a castle,” not accepted. Not appreciated.
I address the question he isn’t asking; ‘why should I let you into my country if you don’t work? You might be a terrorist and you will live off things I pay for with MY taxes? You bone-idle, terrorizing succubus.’ (This is all in his head, obviously).
“I live here. My husband has a job. We moved from the United States. We have visas. We just got here a few months ago. I am looking for work.” I can dance around the word unemployed pretty well by now. In the beginning, I emphasized the word just to make it sound like I had JUST stepped off the plane and had JUST started to unpack. But weeks became months and months became seasons. Now, I toss it casually. Like a crouton.
I considered adding “Ever since the fall of the Euro it is impossible to find work” but felt he’d see through my anti-federalism ass-kissing. “We love it here!” I threw him docile, cow eyes. He eyed me, then my Passport, then me. As if the answer to brand me as
1) a terrorist or
2) a harmless housewife, was written on one of these faces.
Me –passport – me – passport… Stamp! You’re in. Don’t fuck up. Go collect your luggage. You non-terrorist housewife!
Housewife. There’s a noun! Housewife is ok. Better than a terrorist. My mom was one (a housewife), my mother in-law, grandmother. But they have a noun I don’t: mother. I’m housewife AND not mother. Which in my book equals unemployed.
Adjective – unemployed – yes. Noun, no. I need a noun.
After the most-recent trip through the Customs corral, I had words with my husband. He filled in the occupation line with a splendid little noun that indicated:
1) contributor to economy,
2) not a terrorist
3) NOT house-husband.
I don’t begrudge him, his noun brought us here, land we love. But still, I felt like I was being slapped in the face each time, a world that wasn’t under my control. Noun, noun, NOUN.
I made a modest proposal to him: “From now on, I say I’m a writer.”
It was sort of true, I had aspirations. I was leaning in that direction, professionally. I was spending a lot of time doing it, at least. I was starting to call it a vocation. “I am sick of getting harassed for not being employed.”
My husband appropriately tore me apart: “You think you get harassed? Ellen, you do NOT get harassed. You’re feeling insecure. Also, you’re not technically a writer?” He inverted his tone, offering an opinion, asking for approval. He was very gentle when he talked about serious things.
And he was right, technically. Sprinkling words online like pixie dust doesn’t mean “writer.” I’m not published. Or famous. Or making money.
Just the other day, in a particular bout of low productivity, I made a PowerPoint presentation on books I needed to buy so I could learn how to write like a writer. Three steps removed from being an actual writer.
What makes one a “writer”?
Announcing it to people? I told the maintenance guys “Sure, you can come back tomorrow to work on the roof, I’ll be home. I work at home. I’m a writer.” Did that do it? No, because then they asked me what I write and I had no real answer. What about telling ones parents? Nothing is real until you tell your parents. They are the gate between real and imagined.
When I told my parents I was going to write they reminded me of a poetry contest I won in 4th grade “We always knew you could write.” In the same ‘even I don’t believe what I’m saying’ voice they used for “Your brother didn’t mean to break your tennis racket when he slammed it against the ground.” But they were ostensibly supportive, that’s how they are. What if I announced it, town crier-style? ‘I’m a write-er-er-er-er-r-r-r-r-r’! Its echo would bounce off vast empty spaces in the bleak world of No One Cares.
I agreed with my husband. I was not a writer. Not by UK Customs’ standards. “It’s just that if I say it, and someone else says it back, I’ll believe it.” “So it isn’t about Customs, is it?” “No.” “It’s about your insecurity being a writer. Let’s wait. Who knows what they’ll think if you put that on your form. You’d have to prove it, maybe.” And he was right. AGAIN. What if they think I’m a journalist? And ask for credentials? What if a chatty official asks, “Have I read anything you’ve written?” Which leads to “Don’t know. Why don’t you list everything you’ve ever read and we’ll see?,” Rounded out by my short stint in jail for wasting customs officer’s time.
I remain noun-less. I need a noun.
“You’ll get there, Ellen.” In his ‘I believe what I’m saying and I’ll say it again until you believe it’ voice. I love his different loving voices. Heathrow Customs aside, I have told people I want to write, even when I can’t.
I told a good friend, her reaction was mildly irritating; “You’d make a great writer. Do what you love. Besides, being a housewife is underrated these days. There is nothing wrong with it.” Huh? Housewife? That noun again. I wouldn’t mind being a housewife, I have respect for the profession, and certainly is a profession. Without holiday or sick leave or salary or usually gratitude. But that is not what I had said. I said W-R-I-T-E-R. Oh I get it. She thinks I’m going to cook and clean and bounce a kid on each hip and in between, write silly musings on marriage, bouncing kids and the endless machinations of the family pet. And that would be fine, some of the best blogs get inspiration from that very life-style.
But that is not me.
I don’t write about family pets.
I CERTAINLY don’t post photos of them.
Desperate for a noun, fearing “writer” would not take, I rummaged around and dug up a few old nouns, see if they still fit.
Hmmm…how about student? (I was once one). Lord no! Student was the worst. One poetry piece in 4th grade and then it was downhill like a toboggan run.
Government employee? (I dipped my toe in this water) Ha, not with the way the country is going, whom should I work for? And more importantly, how do I sleep at night?
Consultant? Yes, I flirted with this profession. And it ran like a Disney remake of Breaking Bad.
Long-distance hiker? True, a wonderful experience. That is now over and done and not ongoing.
No, nothing in my past would work. They are all things I did. I need something that shows who I am, what I am doing. I remain noun-less.
‘Ellen Vrana, *blank*’ for now. Or more like ‘Ellen Vrana, three steps removed from being a writer but moving in that general direction.’
Unless I’m at Heathrow. At Heathrow I’ll settle for “unemployed” which hopefully (trust Democracy) means a Not a Terrorist. Today, Not a Terrorist. That will appease Customs. Maybe “writer” will too some day.
But will it ever appease me? I hope so.
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