I don’t want to become a Creative Writer because I usually suspect that being a Creative Writer is a lot like having a Pretty Face.
When I wake up at 7:24 instead of 7:00 like I always plan to, and my nearly empty journal falls out of my bed, and I look in the mirror at my vaguely pink eyes and that cowlick I have on the right side of my forehead, I do not feel Creative. I also do not feel like I have a Pretty Face. Mostly, I feel very tried, and frustrated that I am going to be exactly seven minutes late to work like I am on every Monday and Wednesday.
Men and people who were almost-men have told me that I have a Pretty Face. At the poetry things I have gone to, the presenters have called me some variant of Creative Writer. I smile with all of my teeth when they say it, because it is a compliment and I know that when I receive a compliment I am supposed to smile like this, a little crooked and a little coy and a lot humble, even though I know that I am only an occasionally creative writer with a face that is pretty in the right light with the right liquid eyeliner.
The trouble with Creative Writers is that their paper crowns start to make them recognizable to people. People recognize them and then they are forced to wave their pencils around like the conductors of a silent song with whatever rhythm is currently in style in the artistic world, and if they hit the wrong note, people tell them they don’t deserve that crown. That Creative Writer is a faker if I ever saw one, the people say. She pretends to be something special. If she wants to get to know you, she will probably tell you a poem instead of telling you what she means.
The trouble with Pretty Faces is that people get so angry at them that they get called fake, too, if they’re lucky. The first day that the Pretty Face shows up to her yoga class without makeup on, or with a friendly zit in the dimple on her chin, people do a lot of pointing. They point and snicker, because that is what we are supposed to do with pretenders. When the truth gets revealed, we like to publish headlines about it and jump up and down with our index fingers out, screaming that we knew it all along. We love to find out that other people’s good things are not real. I don’t know why that is, but I know it is true.
The people in charge rarely give you any power for your titles. The Creative Writer’s paper crown is usually one that she made for herself—you can tell because she gets really frustrated when it starts to sag, weighed down by an accidental cliché about boys’ tears or the rain. Paper disintegrates in water, did you know that? And the Pretty Face probably had a snaggletooth until she was thirteen, so she feels like a fraud even if no one has called her one this week.
I like reading stories and theories by writers who we all took a vote on and decided are definitely both authentically Creative and Important, even if we did not give them those titles until after they died and became noble corpses with hardly any face at all. Sometimes I think that we are incapable of calling anything important until it is gone. I like writing about them because writing about writers is a marvelous loophole—no one but other academics ever questions it, so the popular opinion stays on my side.
One time, a man at a bar in a yellow polo told me that my Face was not Pretty enough for me to laugh like such a tease. I wrote a poem about it and read it at a conference with a toothy mask on, people loved it, and then I decided I did not want that to be my livelihood.