Duality Of Opinion

There was a fairly big brouhaha last week among my segment of the office.  An invitation was sent out for all research associates about a retreat (out of town, overnight) for us to discuss our research interests and how those interests relate to and fit within the other research done by our organization.  As I have absolutely no intention of making a career of this, do not have research interests that relate to anything done here, and really had no inclination to go, I declined.  So a few days pass.  Then I get an email from my boss wanting to know why I and my coworker had declined.  My friend had an actual conflict (doctor’s appointment or something).  I politely told my boss that as it was an invitation, I assumed it was optional.  She then proceeded to give me this long spiel about how it’s for the good of my career and how the big boss (who is hosting this shindig) wants to foster the next generation of research scientists.  I politely explained that I was not going to be the next generation of research scientist.  The long and the short of it is that I got accused of being “difficult” (God forbid I have a life outside the office that I find more important and appealing) and coerced into going.  I am not pleased.

So this morning, we were having an informal meeting about current project status and she asks my coworker and I who wants to work with her on running some analyses for one of our projects.  I pointed at my co-worker.  And my boss looks at me and says that that’s not a good attitude, don’t I want to make a career as a research scientist?

I sort of arched a brow.  “No.  I don’t.  I told you that last week when we were discussing that retreat.”

“Well what do you want to do?”

“I want to be a novelist.”

At which point she looked at me as if I just announced I want to be a professional belly dancer.  After a pause, she said, “The world needs more female scientists.”

So this is very firm confirmation that she didn’t hear a word I said last week.  That’s annoying on it’s own level, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

The whole thing got me thinking about the duality of opinion that exists about writers.  Society as a whole admires it’s bards.  This is a characteristic that dates back centuries.  Bards were/are the storytellers, the keepers of history and culture.  They were revered in many cultures.  Even today there is often this sort of awe or mystique associated with people’s reactions to writers.  But there’s one important caveat to that.  This is the reaction to published writers.

To those of us in the aspiring camp, people look with varying degrees of astonishment, derision, and questions about our sanity.  Writing books is not seen as a respectable profession to pursue.  It’s not a “sensible” profession, and that part is, I suppose, true.  There’s a lot of risk involved, no steady paycheck, no pre-paid benefits.  The same risks apply to owning your own business though, and people don’t look down on others who do that.  So what gives?

Some part of me thinks that it’s because those people who sneer or think we’re insane secretly wish that they had the guts.  The chutzpa to take that risk and do something rewarding and creative with their lives.  The prevailing attitude is that we should all play it safe, even if it means being unhappy.  So to those people, we who take the risk and succeed (notice my self-confidence) are both awe inspiring and the subject of much envy.  At least that’s my theory.  I think to make it in this business, you have to be a little arrogant and crazy.  Otherwise, you’ll never get out of the gate.

For more on the issue of risk and failure, check out Zoe Winters’ series of posts on the subject:

9 thoughts on “Duality Of Opinion

  1. So true.

    While I have told some people, for the most part, I haven’t mentioned my writing aspirations. I haven’t even told my family. I feel like if they know they will look at me like I’m crazy or disapprove of me making another questionable career move. I left a “sensible” job five years ago that most people, including my family, thought I was crazy to leave. I guess I don’t need to hear their opinions on the matter again. Also, I don’t want the pressure of them asking, “So when are you going to be done?”

    I left my “sensible” job because I was miserable. I wanted to be happy. Writing makes me happy. You’d think people would want that for me. But, I think most people have a hard time looking beyond what’s practical & safe.

    I applaud you for saying out loud to your boss what you consider your career aspirations!! Brilliant!

    …Come to think of it, I think today is the 5-year anniversary of when I left that horrid career behind, and I’ve never been happier.



  2. Bravo Alison! We’re not in a position financially where I could possibly quit either of my jobs to write, so I’ll have to plod along as I am, writing when I can. One of these days all the hard work will pay off! I don’t have aspirations of being rich or famous–I’m not likely to be the next Nora Roberts (though wouldn’t that be cool!), but I’d like to be able to write for a living–or at least be down to ONE job and writing to cover everything. My husband might wonder what happened to the woman he married if I actually got to do that, it would make such a change in my attitude!

  3. hehe thanks for the links!

    I agree with you definitely. I wonder where they think writers come from if no one ever “aspired” to it? If everyone listened to them there would be no books for them to read. It’s weird, like they don’t connect it.

    Something that annoys ME is her thing about “we need more female research scientists.”

    Who exactly is “we” and why do “we” need more “female” research scientists, and why does it fall to YOU to sacrifice your goals on the altar of someone else’s feminism?

    This kind of thing pisses me off. I’m not saying total male domination is good, but when we’re controlled by other women instead, isn’t that just as bad?

    Seriously some expressions of feminism severely piss me off. I don’t want to be abused or mistreated, but in general, I have no trouble with male leadership. If a woman can do a job just as well, certainly she should have a chance at it if that is what she wants, but the idea that women should do a job because we need more “females” doing it, is ludicrous, and not a real reason to pursue anything.

  4. I know where she’s coming from on it–because there’s a precedent that girls are somehow discouraged from math and science (and they used to be). But one thing that whole argument never seemed to take into account is–well, did it ever occur to them that a lot of women don’t actually LIKE math and science? That is has to do with preference, not ability? I was always an excellent student across all subjects. But I don’t like math and science. They bore me. I liked English and Psychology and History.

  5. exactly! Males and females are different and in general our brains are predisposed to different things. It’s frankly silly IMO to elevate math and science as empirically “smarter” subjects and therefore girls MUST love them and excel at them to be “equal”

    It’s like those weirdo parents who try go get girls to play with GI Joes and boys to play with Barbies. The girls inevitably try to set GI Joe and barbie up while the boys use barbies as ballistic missiles.

  6. hehe there is always going to be an exception lol. My point is that you can’t really make a child be gender neutral. Certain gender based tendencies will come out if they are there in the child. And they are there for most children. Though they don’t always express themselves in the same ways even if they are there. So…I’m not saying that by using barbie as target practice for your GI Joes made you unfeminine.

    Barbie is particularly bubble headed and need to be shot. 😛

  7. Do you know I once wrote a paper in my women’s studies class on the evils of Barbie? I was really a little tomboy. I didn’t start doing “girlie” things until college when I started dating a lot. I’m a lot more traditionally feminine now than I ever was growing up.

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