Last week one of my students came back from a job & internship fair with a dismal report: Upon entering the site a suit-clad woman jumped up and demanded to know, “Are you a SHARK!?” (I suppose that counts as whimsy in the world of biz.) My student’s honest repulsion at how the professional world/professionalism was depicted at the job fair reminded me of when, in a moment of stress, I bitchily let it slip to a third party that a colleague of mine was not tenure-line (I’m not tenure-line either, but the difference is I don’t care. And it’s public info anyway. So there. Yeah, I’m still defensive seventeen years later). When the colleague got wind of my indiscretion, he wigged and demanded that I be punished for my lack of professionalism. Nothing came of it, because at the end of the day, I do my thing pretty well. I am not necessarily unprofessional, but I am aprofessional, if the a- prefix means what I think it does. I should look it up some time.
Actually, that last part is a lie. I am often deliberately unprofessional. For example, I chew gum and blow bubbles at meetings so I don't speak up too much. The main thing I’ve learned about professionalism is that posers and bullies love it. And in the dark corner of the writing world that I inhabit, professionalism offers a comfortable domain for talent-challenged, anti intellectuals. Professional behavior is powerfully attractive; it is easy to produce and measure, and we all have a story about failure that resulted from a technicality. The thought that we are a checklist item away from success is intoxicating. Do you remember cracking open your first Writer’s Market? Suddenly being successful was merely a matter of research, routine, and tidiness. They still sell those things, you know.
I know that at 48 years old it is unseemly for me to be growling eat-the-rich-type slogans, but if I’m honest, the professional urge has sent me down too many blind alleys. The only successes I have ever enjoyed came from doing what I want to do when I want to do it.* Slapping on the pantyhose never got me anything except a uti.
I’m going on about this because with my novel coming out in October, I’m starting to feel the PU (professional urge), and it’s making me nervous. Gotta lose weight, gotta buy clothes, gotta dye my hair, gotta what else? Grace comes so easy to everyone else.
*It’s true that when I’m thinner people are nicer to me. So there’s that, I suppose. But when I’m thin I wear shorts and t-shirts, so not exactly profesh.