Monday, November 15, 2010

The Good Thing About Too Little, Too Late

Happy Monday, everyone!

I'm back from my trip to DC where I helped decide how three million dollars worth of government funding was being spent (after reviewing about sixty million dollars worth of proposals). My ulterior motive for putting myself through this eye-melting chore was to possibly figure out a way to make this my permanent job.

The morning of the second day, we were greeted by one of the big wigs in the organization. He spoke eloquently about what they were trying to accomplish, and I thought to myself, he sure would be a good person to get to know.

Fast forward about ten hours, to where we are all having dinner at a local (and delicious) Vietnamese restaurant. I find myself sitting across the table from this big wig, and lo and behold I don't have anything to say to him along the lines of small talk.

I've never been good in these types of situations. After all, I work in a lab and spend the majority of my free time writing. I'm focused on drinking my ice water when he makes eye contact with me and says, "So, you write quite well."

I paused to let my red face fully develop. For a second I thought I might be able to pass this off as a science-related comment, but by his smile it was obvious that he had discovered my fiction.

I nodded.

He asked me to tell him about my awards.

I did, briefly. (Most of the people on my half of the table were now quieting down to listen.)

He asked me how many novels I had published.

I was happy to report that I had published none. This, at least, was a sign that I did spend at least some time working on science!

"But I've read several of your short stories, and they are quite strong," Mr. Big Wig said.

"Thanks. I try to fit them in when I can."

"I bring it up because--as most of my colleagues know, I'm sure--I am an aspiring writer myself."

Scrreeecchhh! Crrkrkkrkkrkk! Huh?

Yep. It turns out he had always wanted to get into fiction. We spent much of the evening talking about our favorite writers and how a novel could be completed in fifteen minute sessions even while one is writing a dissertation. We even got into details about revising to make sure your voice is consistent. And, yes, he had read some posts on The Literary Lab.

I have been spending the last few months trying my best to introduce my pen name and get my writing-related information off of the internet. Well, in this case, it turned out, the fiction writing helped to make a nice connection with my science colleagues.

So, huh.


  1. Thanks, Mary! It was quite a surprise!

  2. I know how big of a deal this was for you, and I just have to say that I think you need to be prouder of your fiction, even in your separate world of science. Fully embracing it like your big wig colleague has done can take you far. Now I want some Vietnamese food. :)

  3. That's fantastic. What's your pen name? I'd love some Vietnamese, too. How'd you like DC?

  4. Fan-freakin'-tastic, Pee Domey. :)

    For my own purposes the use of the pen name is not to keep the worlds entirely isolated, but to put up a sort of speed-bump. I'm not ashamed of either aspect of my life, but there are possible complications in either direction. Fortunately, most of those are going to be problems only for a casual perusal.

    It wouldn't take much digging for someone to link my pseudonym to my verinym (just made that up, on the fly, just like that).

    But, a casual and quick Google won't be enough to immediately surface the connection, and that's enough to keep my scientific cred okay, my legal standing okay, and my bosses happy in most cases.

    I don't shy away from telling people I write, because I don't want to miss those connections. I just want, for the moment, to have people not get instant search results for both my thesis and my fiction; for people doing a quick background Google to not see anything to question in my legal documentations; and for my bosses to have to have no immediate concerns about how I rep the company when vendors or other partners look through a page of Google results.

    I'm stoked that you got to have this experience, and I hope it encourages you that you don't need a firewall, just a speed bump.

    And also I'm starving this morning and some Vietnamese noodles sound really, really good right now.

  5. How wonderful! It's amazing how people can surprise us, and it sounds as if you both surprised each other. By the way, your short stories ARE strong and memorable. You're one of the lucky people with strengths in both art and science, and that's truly wonderful.

  6. How fantastic! (I like how you gave us an early clue when you described him as speaking eloquently.) Who knows how so many strands of our lives reach to what corners and how they all weave together?

  7. Way cool!

    I'm terrible at small talk, too. Especially when it turns to sports. I love to play, but have no patience to watch them on TV aside from OSU football. Last night at my son's basketball practice several fathers discussed their fantasy football teams, and I stayed very quiet. No other writers on the sidelines.

  8. Awesome. That's just awesome.

    I'm good enough at small talk, but I'd much prefer to talk about writing with someone. I can go on about that indefinitely. :)

  9. Wow, that's, that's ... pretty freaking amazing. Kudos and huzzahs, good sir. I'm rather jealous (in a good-natured way).

  10. Michelle, This is definitely a big deal for me. Half the time I feel like I can embrace it, and half the time I'm worried about what people will think if they knew about my fiction. The scariest part is the not knowing, so it actually helps when scientists bring it up to me.

    Lois, I was using Domey as a pen name. I still might, but I'm not sure. DC was great. This was my second time there, and I just love it. It's one of those places that feels like home to me.

    Nevets, that's an interesting way of thinking about it. I was also concerned about that idea of representing. Really, it applies most to the university. If I'm working at a university, I am just worried that my students will see all of the fiction writing first. That seems like a bad idea to me. But maybe (hopefully) I'm wrong.

  11. Tricia, Thanks for the compliment! It was almost ridiculous how things worked out at that dinner. I felt like I was on TV or something. Art and science are very much connected for me. I think the two help each other out very well.

    Yat-Yee, you're absolutely right. I think what I've learned is that trying to keep the science and writing separate may be just as harmful as I try to figure out my career.

    Rick, my strategy is to look snooty and above it all. Then people think I'm too cool for them, and that's why I'm not talking to them.

    Simon, yeah, I think most people regret bringing up writing with me. I just can't get myself to shut up about it, even when I want to.

    Loren, it was quite a random event. I do hope it happens more for all of us, though!

  12. Welcome back. Missed you. And hey, wow, that was something with the Big Wig, huh? Who knew. You never know who you're going to be rubbing elbows with.

  13. Very nice. I wouldn't mind hearing those words one day - especially the "quite strong" part; I'm a fan of using "strong" when other words might do. Heh.

  14. That's great! How great that he brought it up too!

  15. Oh my, this story had me first cringing and then laughing. Maybe it should be a lesson. I have been wondering if I should let my colleagues in grad school know I have a book out.

  16. See? You're a rock star. Like Bono. Or Chris Martin. And you know how I feel about those two (or you should by now :) Should you not like to be compared as a genius to either of those gentleman then feel free to substitute the rock god of your choice in their place (and that would be an interesting topic in and of itself.)

    We sure missed you around here.

    Welcome home.


  17. This is your birthday song...

    it isn't very long.

    hehehe. happy birthday. and, how cool is this experience? I love it when the different aspects of ourselves can share space in these moments.


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