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What the hell did I just say?Image courtesy of photostock/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What the hell did I just say?
Image courtesy of photostock/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer.

Around the age of six or seven, as soon as I got basic spelling down, I crafted a story about a half-man, half-pegasus creature named Beauty Mann. The extra “n” is a mystery to me now; at the time, I probably thought it gave him something special, as though a flying centaur needed bolstering in that department.

Beauty Mann wanted to leave the earth because it depressed him how violent and cruel we humans were. And yet, he alone could make it better through his beauty and kindness. The catch was that we humans had to prove to him that we deserved it in order for him to stay. So: we needed Beauty Mann’s love and kindness in order to be better, but he wasn’t willing to give it until we showed him we already had love and kindness. A conundrum, that. I can’t remember how I ended the story, but I’m sure it turned out well for us humans. I wrote this before someone had invented Fox News, so of course we were better then.

I shared the story with my teacher, who in turn shared it with the principal. The principal called me to the office to say how much he enjoyed the story, and could he hang it up in the hallway for a bit? A bit shy, I nodded, amazed that the story meant anything at all to anyone other than me. From then on, encouraged on by my parents, I wanted to be a writer. That determination has never wavered.

Fast-forward a decade plus, and there I am, getting a graduate degree in Writing. As I toiled away on a novel and a few screenplays, I fully believed that as soon as I graduated, I’d become my density: a paid creative writer. They hand you a degree and voilà, your vocation arrives wrapped in a bow atop a silk pillow. Right?

I wasn’t that naïve, of course, but I did believe that success would come much sooner. I had high school friends on their way to becoming doctors and lawyers and tech geeks. If they worked hard and put in the effort, they became the thing they’d studied for. For writers and other creative types, hard work is no promise that you’ll meet with success. Talent isn’t even as important as one might hope. One’s ability to be a working writer rests entirely on someone giving you a chance. On luck.

I do not come from wealth. I don’t even come from a middle class background. Once I saw how hard writing success was going to be, like the rest of the proletariat I had to find a job with a steady paycheck – one that was related to writing, for sure, but one that most likely would never live up to the carrot that dangled just beyond my reach. I had student loans to pay and cereal to buy.

So I found something. I actually enjoyed the work, even though I considered it temporary. The people were terrific, too. But I discovered very quickly something essential about myself: I did not fit well within corporate life.

There’s a smooth confidence in the business world. People speak corporate-ease to deliver unsavory news or to cover their lies. There’s a strong sense of hierarchy and leveling that often never reflects hard work, talent, or reality. Some people thrive on the competition inherent in business; not me. The politics are alarming, and woe to you if you refuse to play.

While in the corporate world, I always felt like a little girl wearing her mother’s business suit. It took an exceptional amount of energy to smooth down my normally straightforward talk into something shiny and acceptable, and it was draining. That’s not to say that I didn’t do a good job; I did. But it was never comfortable. I felt like an imposter.

Never did this become clearer to me than during a meeting with three of my colleagues one day. It was our weekly status meeting, where we typically went over what was on our to-do lists. This time, talk turned to a technology we were required but loathe to use. We complained. This system was outdated and clunky. Unproductive. When would it get changed?

I tried to find the phrase to describe how useless it was. But instead of the saying, It went the way of the dodo, my brain traversed to a deeper place. Without thinking, I blurted:

“It went the way of the dildo.”

There was a moment, before the embarrassment set in, when I tried to picture exactly what the way of the dildo could mean. Was it a dildo doing tai chi at sunset? Maybe it was a dildo, sitting cross-legged, dispensing wisdom to travelers who had come from afar. Possibly it was a dildo with a Fu Manchu, practicing karate. Or a dildo who could foretell the coming of the white buffalo. I don’t know, but this dildo seemed peaceful and mysterious.

A full moment passed before anyone said anything.

Even worse than the peccadillo itself was that I could not stop laughing. The kind of laughing that ends in tears, when you can’t speak for the hilarity of it. My colleagues, professionals that they were, smiled and stifled giggles but moved on from it, trying to shuffle papers and discuss the next topic. I couldn’t recover. Worse, I don’t think I wanted to.

Throughout the day, the dildo haunted me. I would burst into pink-cheeked laughter without provocation – by myself, in the cafeteria, when in conversations with different people.

I told friends about it.

Way of the dildo?!” one cried, gleeful. “Did you laugh long and hard?”

I was not professional about it. And it bothered me that professionalism seemed so far out of my reach. Why couldn’t I be more polished? Why couldn’t I hide my childish impulses? This concern did not stop me from laughing about it, though. I’m laughing now.

I don’t know why my brain pulled the word “dildo.” Perhaps many creative types are built this way. Your mind goes to strange places because that’s what you’ve taught it to do for your craft. If I had been a comedy writer, “way of the dildo” would have been heartily embraced. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold. But I was not and am not a comedy writer. I was and am a professional businesswoman. Dildo talk has no place on the job.

I’m a paid writer of sorts now, and I’m in a terrific workplace. I’d like to say that I’ve resolved this disconnect between my creative self and what the business world requires of me, that I’ve become a corporate master, smooth and assuring. I have not. I’m still uncomfortable with the politics, the competition. But I get by. Mainly because I’m older, and therefore take longer pauses before I speak.

I can tell you that I will never ever drop “dildo” in a business meeting again. But if someone else does, I can’t promise I won’t laugh.