We’re having some local body elections in Auckland in a few weeks, a time to elect a new mayor and select those on the governing bodies that run our fair city. As part of this process we were sent a form to check our voter registration details to ensure our eligibility and ability to vote come the time. One line of information collected is a person’s occupation. For years I’ve been listed by the title of mother (or a variation of this), a title I deliberately chose as it reflected where most of my time and energy had been invested. It’s a worthy and important occupation that has been somewhat downgraded in status over recent years, but one to which I’ve been more than happy to be aligned.
Now, however, my children are growing up. Even my child with special needs doesn’t require as much intensive time as he once did. Instead, my focus has shifted to writing novels. I decided the time for change had come. My new job title thus seemed intuitive: novelist. I duly filled in the form and posted it off with a feeling that I had set a figurative stake in the ground. From now on, in answer to the question, “What do you do?” I would come back with the reply, “I’m a novelist.”
No sooner had I dispatched this little and insignificant form than things began to change. I’ve been giving tuition in English this year and over the last few months have gone from have two students to one to four…and shortly I will have five. A friend asked me to help her with a work project, looking at the communication strategy of the business she works for, and this has led to all sorts of writing. Over the last few weeks I’ve edited manuals, written website content, drafted new marketing material and even written some interview scripts for video. What happened to being a novelist?
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying some of the new challenges that have come my way, even if they are temporarily halting my selected career as a novelist. It’s meant that the book I have in production at the moment will have to wait just a bit longer. But along the way it occurred to me that there’s something more important than having what we do locked down. I also realised I’d already summed up this sentiment in my novel The Tender Conflict. Here’s what the character, Mark, says:
“It’s never about what we do that matters but who we are. People say the secret to success in life is money or prestige or fame, or the number of children we have. But one way or another most of that stuff evaporates. The bottom line is that we’re human beings, not human doings. It’s how we go about being and not what we spend our time doing that counts.”
Ultimately it’s who we are that matters more than what we do. Perhaps next time I get asked, “What do you do?” my answer should be, “I live…and try to make the most of each precious day.”