Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why I Never Tell Anyone I'm a Writer

Nobody has ever asked me what I do for a living when I look like I might actually be gainfully employed. Usually they ask the question when I look like I just spent three weeks crawling on my belly through a dense jungle far from civilization and modern hair products.

Years ago, right around the time when my parents were both very sick, I was so overwhelmed with all the things that needed to be done that good grooming fell by the wayside. Who had time? Raggedy jeans, ratty sweatshirts, old clogs. No makeup. My natural I-am-the-love-child-of-Bernadette-Peters-and-Don-King hair. My priorities had shifted and everything else fell by the wayside. This one particular day I had to stop by the bank and deposit a check. No way was I going inside looking so hideous. (I still had at least a little pride.) I figured I'd use the drive-through and nobody'd know I looked like I dressed in a Dumpster.

So there I was, sitting behind the wheel, waiting for the teller to shoot back my deposit slip when I hear her voice through the intercom: "Barbara?"

Me: Yes?
Her: Barbara Bretton?
Me: Yes. (It's on the deposit slip, lady. . . )
Her: The Barbara Bretton who wrote the "balloon" books for Harlequin?"
Me: Okay, shoot me now.

No, I didn't really say that but I thought it. The poor woman peered at me through the wall of glass and clearly wondered how it was I'd fallen on such tough times. And me? I started babbling things like, "I usually brush my hair and wear makeup but my parents are sick and I'm an only child and --"

Yeah. Please. Shoot me. I couldn't shut up. I was like a verbal train wreck. And the poor teller probably never read another one of my books ever again. I was that pitiful.

Well, as it turned out, I managed to top that miserable experience on New Year's Eve.

Remember the last time I posted back in December? I mentioned something about Goldisox and I having bad colds. No big deal, I said. A cold is a cold is a cold. Which is true as long as the cold in question isn't actually some freakish flu that laughed in the face of the flu shots we got back in November. We were flat-on-our-backs sick before Christmas, during Christmas, and after Christmas. The sounds of merriment in our home were limited to growls of "pass me the Kleenex" and "what do you mean we're out of juice, bread, milk, eggs, and the will to live?"

Cut to New Year's Eve. My nose is bright red and chapped. My eyes are watery and bloodshot. My hair's a disaster. I feel like hell, But damn it it's New Year's Eve and we're going to at least give the holiday season a chance before it slips away. Late afternoon I hit the shower, hoping that hot water and steam will make me feel more human.

I still don't know how or why it happened but I sneezed and seconds later noticed that the water swirling around my feet was a weird shade of pink. A nosebleed!? I had a nosebleed!?!?!? WTH?

Again, no big deal. You pinch your nose shut for ten minutes and end of story. Except ten minutes turned to fifteen then twenty then an hour and the blood was flowing faster than I could stop it. I called for Goldisox to come upstairs. "There's a lot of blood," I warned him. "Don't be shocked."

He was shocked. I didn't blame him. It looked like a crime scene in the bathroom and I looked like the victim. (The writerly side of my brain was taking notes the whole time. Trust me when I say blood spatter goes everywhere. I can't even begin to imagine how a murderer would cover his or her tracks against modern forensics.)

Him: You're going to the ER.
Me: Like hell I am.
Him: I'm taking you right now.
Me: Over my dead body.

It wasn't exactly Masterpiece Theatre around here. He was scared and angry. I was scared and . . . well, scared. I mean, it was only a bloody nose but suddenly it was so totally out of control that even I knew I had to do the adult thing and get myself some help.

Except I couldn't do it. Twenty-nine years earlier, just about to the day, I'd miscarried and ended up in (you guessed it) the ER. Two days later they told me I had cancer. So spending the holidays with medical types stirred up a lot of emotion I'd rather not deal with.

We argued for hours. We ran out of towels to absorb the blood. (Sorry for being so graphic but that's the way it was.) Finally I agreed with him and off we went to the ER with me wrapped in sheets and plastic.

I must say I looked adorable. A full head of frizz. PJ bottoms. Clogs. And a maroon sweater (maroon? was I nuts??) with a Santa Claus on the pocket.

And I brought some knitting. I laugh now at my optimism. What the hell was I thinking? I couldn't unpinch my nose long enough to knit a single stitch. But I brought it with me just the same.

Fortunately the ER was empty and I had everyone's full attention. It was no big deal. They could fix me up in no time flat. I wasn't going to face the humiliation of seeing the words "Cause of Death: nosebleed" on my death certificate. Not that I'd see it, you understand, but I swear it would ruin eternity for me.

Goldisox filled out the endless insurance forms while I was poked and prodded by various medical types. Then he went off to see someone in billing or some such while I sat alone in a cubicle with my blood-soaked garments, the slasher movie towels, and a totally embarrassing metal spit tray held under my small but dangerous nose. I challenge you to find a more pathetic fifty-eight year old woman anywhere on the planet.

The clerk from the front desk popped up. "You're a writer?"

I nodded. Please, God, take me now before this gets any worse.


I nodded again.

"What kind of books?"

"Romance," I manage through the wads of cotton and anaesthetic and humiliation, "and women's fiction."

She looks at me as if she can't believe her eyes. "You mean like those steamy books Danielle Steel writes?"

This isn't the time to tell her that Danielle doesn't consider herself a romance writer. I nod again.

"Have I read anything of yours?"

Now really. How on earth would I possibly know her lifetime reading list? I shrugged and gave her what I hoped was a sophisticated smile. Assuming, of course, you could look past the clogs, the PJs, the Santa sweater, and the blood.

"Hey, Marilyn!" she bellowed across the emergency room. "The bloody nose in 3A writes those romance books you love."

Remember how you felt when you first learned there was no Santa Claus? That was pretty much how poor Marilyn looked when she met her first real live romance writer. I tried to make it up to her by sending on a few signed books but the damage had been done.

And that's the story of how Goldisox and I ended up toasting the New Year in cubicle 3A with Patti and Marilyn and four bottles of Poland Spring.

Things can only get better, right?



Blogger JellyDonut said...

I suppose this is one of those things they say you will look back on and laugh at. They need a swift kick in the rear. I'm guessing (hoping) things turned out all right. At least you have a sense of humor about it. Why is it we always run into people we know on bad hair days?

2:23 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth L in Apex, NC said...

What a rotten way to spend any evening, much less New Year's Eve! Although I will tease you by saying this: you can't believe the ER nurses expect patients to look Good when they come in there, right? After all, it is the Emergency Room, not the Just-got-a-makeover room. Besides, when one's soul is beautiful, the shell it resides in is largely irrelevant.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

*makes mental note to treat bleeding writers met in the ER with utmost kindness and sensitivity*

8:18 AM  
Blogger varun said...

nice range!!Shawls and Scarves

8:33 AM  
Blogger Katminder said...

Oh, my dear, the troubles you must have seen. Is there a way to write that in a storyline? It's a tale of woe to be sure. I really have missed your postings! Its a proven fact, the worse you look, the one time you don't put on a bra, the single time you go to the store with your slippers on, that's the time your old boyfriend from high school shows up. Never fails!

8:34 AM  
Blogger WendyKnits said...

Does it make me a bad person that I was laughing out loud by the end of your blog post? I hope not.

But seriously, I hope you are feeling CONSIDERABLY better!

There's a gorgeous hunky young man who bought the condo next door to me. The only time I ever see him is when I'm wearing cat-hair-covered sweatpants, a MD S&W t-shirt, no make-up, messy ponytail, barefoot, with a sack of garbage in my hands.

Strangely, he never looks at me twice.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

Ah. So my MIL had company in the ER on New Year's Eve. Except hers was a gall bladder thing. She and her gall bladder have since parted ways, and she's doing just fine.

Welcome back--we missed you!

8:53 AM  
Blogger teabird said...

Oh dear!

I second the observation about what you're supposed to look like in the ER. It's not like people sail in there for high tea, for heaven's sake!

"Oh yes, dahling, have some of this delightful Darjeeling. Strawberry preserves on your scone? Perfect. It goes so well with your blood type." I mean, really.

I hope this year isn't too - utterly ridiculous -

9:56 AM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Unfortunately when people hear you're a published author (especially a romance author) they bring expectations with them and not all of those expectations are 1) flattering or 2) realistic. Of course I know the ER should be a guilt-free zone when it comes to appearance but when you're sitting there with a newly-dispensed tube of K-Y Jelly in your right hand (yes, you read right) and a bloody spit tray in your left . . .

And while I'm at it, why do I always bump into neighbors I've never met before when I'm wearing torn jeans, a Pebbles Flintstone ponytail, and a tar-and-paintstained shirt. The question (complete w/raised eyebrow) "You're The Writer?" strikes fear into my heart! The last time a neighbor asked that she followed up with a sympathetic smile and "I guess times are tough in publishing."

Clearly it's time to spruce up!

10:08 AM  
Blogger dobarah said...

I hope you are feeling much better...but I'm giggling with Wendy. This stuff always happens at times when we aren't dressed for the occasion...but then, what is the correct attire for the ER?

I loved my Casting Spells, and made socks to match the yarn on the front cover!

11:25 AM  
Blogger kshotz said...

I guess that's why some people refer to the ER as a "trauma unit."

Ugh! Sorry about what happened.

I'm sending "Casting Spells" as part of a gift package to my sock swap partner. I really enjoyed it!

(And I'm glad I didn't run into you at Target this morning when I ran in for a quick birthday card for my nephew. My hair is pulled back and I'm wearing 9 year old clogs even though it's snowing. Needless to say, I don't have any makeup on either. I'd like to think we would have simply smiled and nodded to one another!!)

Kim in IA

12:02 PM  
Blogger BeadKnitter said...

Life always seems to find a way to feed up humble pie--or in this case extreme embarrassment. I remember once going on about my knitting education, credentials as a professional knitter, etc, etc, only to find out later that the whole time I was talking to this person the hand knit sweater I was wearing was inside out. urgh.

Hang in there Barbaaa. I'm glad you're on the mend, and it's nice to have you back.

12:51 PM  
Blogger monica said...

What a way to bring in the New Year. Hopefully that will be the worst part of it and all be much better from there.

Glad to see you posting again.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Barbara, I laughed so hard that I nearly got a bloody nose. Obviously, I am a very bad person. I wouldn't have laughed if you had turned out to have a life-threatening disease, of course, but knowing you are fine, your story whacked my funny bone.

I just met a new neighbor while I was out walking our new, badly-behaved dog. She asked if I was "the writer" and I tried to be charming and articulate but I was terrified Brodie was going to knock her two young children flat on their backs. So the conversation was disjointed, to say the least.

She: What sort of books do you write?
Me: Romantic fiction. No, Brodie! Down, Brodie! Yes, you can pet the nice doggie, he's just trying to kiss you hello.
She: Do you have a new book out?
Me: Brodie, down!!! (wrestling him to the ground and standing on his leash). Well, my last book came out in late 2007.
She: Oh, that's new!
Me: Brodie, let go of my wrist!
At that point, I gave up and decided just to drop a bookmark off at her house with a note thanking her for her interest.

So I can empathize with you!

3:13 PM  
Blogger LisaB said...

Though I am sorry to hear you have had such an awful, sick holiday, I have to say I don't expect writers to look well made up; I expect them to look comfy for thinking and writing. I love that you brought your knitting, ever the optimist! Hope you are feeling much better.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Renna said...

Oh, my. If your books are half as entertaining as your account of the new year's of the nose bleed, I'm sure your books are very, very good!

I felt a little guilty laughing at your pain and humiliation, but it was so funny in the telling. ;-)

10:13 PM  
Blogger monica said...

Barbara just wanted to share with you some of the socks I have knit with the wonderful Box of Sox 2 I won in a contest last year.
Box of sox

10:42 PM  
Blogger madonnaearth said...

Boy am I glad I found this blog! You've just been added to my romance novel must read list! Not mocking your pain, but you're hilarious!

I can appreciate writers being real people. I prefer it that way. Definitely somebody you can have a conversation with.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Cindi Myers said...

Oh Barbara -- that was so hilarious -- but also my heart went out to you. I can relate. I hope you are both feeling much better now.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

OMG, I am so sorry that I am sitting here at my desk (where I get paid to work, not read blogs) trying very hard to hold back the laughter. I really don't think your story is funny, but the way you tell it sure is!

2:05 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Ooops, I meant to tell you that I hope you're all better now!

2:06 PM  
Blogger Rachael Herron said...

Oh, god, what a great story.... I'm so glad you're back! :)

4:48 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Delisi said...

Oh Barbara! How awful. At least I know they must have stopped the nosebleed eventually or you wouldn't have posted here. :-) Try to imagine it being the last disaster of your life, so they really had to pull out all the stops...

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh, Barbara, what a story! That was one significant nose bleed! Glad it turned out okay. I enjoyed reading about it and especially your humor.
But as a former ER RN, I'd bet anything Marylyn was just thrilled to meet nurses tend not to look at what's "outside" the body.
I did email to tell you....but I just loved CASTING SPELLS! Now I'm anxiously waiting for the next book in the series.

8:25 PM  

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