The script is something like this:
Them: So, what do you do?
Me: I, er, write about politics and media on the internet.
Them: [quizzical look]
Me: I’m a blogger.
Them: [facial expression reflecting the thought “this guy must be a Total Fucking Loser”]
Them: Oh, uh… that’s interesting… Umm… you do that for a living?
Me: Yes, mostly.
Them: So, uh… how do you make money doing that?
Me: Advertising, mostly
Them: Oh, so, uh, that actually makes money?
Me: Yes, it isn’t bad.
Them: Oh. I see. [backs away slowly]
I’ve had dozens of these conversations and they almost always turn to money very quickly. People want to know if I’m as much of a loser as they think I am, and they only way I can convince them I’m not is if I convincingly claim that I actually make money doing what I do.
I get this all the time, especially from folks slightly older, to whom I must give off the impression I am subordinate in some way. I need to wear more metal spikes and finally get that forehead tattoo, I guess. Anything to stave off smugness and condescension, both of which inspire me to physical violence. (What IS that, incidentally, the idea that just because you knew someone when she was three, you can talk to her like she still is forever? My grandmother doesn’t talk to me that way and she changed my diapers, for God’s sakes.)
What I mean to say is it’s not just about, as Atrios says, them assuming you’re a loser. It’s that the only way we can assign value to an occupation of which we’ve not heard before, the only way we can understand it, is to find out how much it pays. I get this all the time, with varying levels of nastiness depending on who I’m talking to, when I say I’m a writer. “Oh, you can make money at that?” You’d never ask a teacher that, because you know what he does, why what he does matters. You’d never ask a stay at home mother that, either, though of course they’re in for their own load of Special with the “what do you do all day?” and other ignorant questions. You’d never ask a lawyer that, because everyone KNOWS why what they do matters, because Law and Order is on approximately 300 hours a day.
And depending on the level of nastiness, it’s also a subtle way of putting you in your place, youarty farty type with your glasses and your scarves. “Oh, you can make money at that?” meaning wow, I thought it was useless. I thought it was something people did for fun. It’s also just basic rudeness and people not knowing how to ask questions at parties, how to have conversations like grownups with strangers. One of the writer forums I frequent had a list once of the rude shit people say to you when you tell them you’re a writer, and a lot of them were things I’d heard:
“So when are you going to get a real job?”
“You know what you should write? Something like the DaVinci Code. Then you’ll be rich!”
“Have you written anything I’ve heard of?”
Lately there’s been a lot of “what’s your next project?” and people seem dissatisfied with the response, “I have no idea.”
Thing is, though, for every boorish dope out there who doesn’t know how to speak to anybody, there are geniunely interested and curious human beings who are only trying to be nice. It’s usually only around the holidays that the patience with even the latter starts to wear thin. That, and I really don’t like to talk about work itself. About what I’m working on, sure, about the subject, about politics or journalism or the story of the moment or the story I worked on last, sure, but the actual mechanics of writing? Whether I write about everything all at once or stop and start, how long it takes, if I smoke or drink during work, where the ideas come from? Nobody really wants to hear that stuff, not even other writers. The process isn’t the point. Neither is the paycheck. If it was, I’d have long ago been doing something socially redeeming, like working in a toll booth.