Monday, April 11, 2011

So What Do You Do? Part One

My "Office"

It's been nine months since I quit my job, converted my dining table into a writing desk, the wall in front of it a personal floor to ceiling white board, and began writing my novel. Continued writing, I should say, since I began writing it five years ago. But I began writing "full time" last July. Since then, my second least favorite question in the world has been "So, what do you do?", which ranks smack in the middle of "So when are you having kids?" (number three) and "So what's the book about?" (number one).

Question three is none of anyone's business (though if my parents or grandparents ask, it's right after this book) and question one just gets me tongue tied (I still haven't mastered the 30 second elevator pitch that should make a potential agent/publisher swoon and beg me for exclusive publishing rights). Question two is most manageable, in a least-of-the-evils kind of way. Interestingly, I've gone, in the last nine months, from saying "I'm uh...writing a book?" to "I'm a writer" with a bit more confidence- though I still brace myself for the inevitable follow up question (you know what it is) and babble a convoluted answer that makes the asker back away slowly.

When I first said I was quitting my job to write, many people heard "I'm married now so I don't have to work for a living". They imagined me sipping poolside margaritas, wearing a wide brimmed hat and ogling my pool boy's six pack from behind my Jackie O sunglasses (our complex does have a pool but the old man who cleans it keeps his shirt on). I was asked slyly if this writing thing was an excuse to stay in bed till noon. I smiled and let them think what they wanted.

This sign  hangs front and center in my "office". It has become my mantra and the key to being self-employed.

Granted my workday, which began at 9 back in July now starts closer to ten, depending on who posted what on Facebook, but begin it does. I've only taken two days "off", one for a cold and one because of a Gray's Anatomy marathon, which my boss forced me to conduct so I could get them out of the way and get back to work. My boss is a slave driver, but I trust her (also, she's a bit scary).

Now that I'm an expert on being a self-employed writer (self-employed, unemployed, whatever), let me share my wisdom with all of you.

1. Find the Perfect Work Space

The dining table-cum-office didn't last long, and after months of careful experimentation with coffee shops up and down the Bay, I have settled on the Red Rock Cafe in downtown Mountain View. This magical haven allows you to stay all day, for as much or as little as a half-caf extra-hot non-fat latte, and it's a Godsend.
On the second floor, the literal heart of Silicon Valley resides, and in the eye of the storm, surrounded by flip-flop-clad men and women discussing their start ups and smartly suited business people tapping their iPads for their clients, I waltz in  promptly between nine and ten, with my clunky HP laptop (it is the only one without the little glowy apple, gasp), adorned in a t-shirt from Target or a kurti from Karachi, depending on my mood, and take my place at the second to last table, facing the wall, close to an outlet, with plenty of natural light.

In the cradle of time between the end of my play list  (the group, Ba Cissoko, sing in an African language I don't understand, providing perfect drown-out music) and my finger hitting the replay button-I have yet to figure out how to set my iPod to repeat- I overhear techy-type conversations that I don't understand, though they are conducted in English. I'm often struck with the realization that I'm a complete outsider on the second floor in terms of what I'm doing there. But writing this, I also see that in another way, I fit right in with this crowd. I, too have a dream, a start up of sorts, and I too am here to develop it.

That got long. Now you know the answer to Irritating Question Number Four: Why don't you write short stories, Phi?

My Oasis: The Red Rock Cafe (that's my spot: second floor, second window!)