“Are You a Writer?”

1. “Are you a writer?”

I’m at a reading by the novelist Nicholas Baker. The man who asks this question (apropos of nothing) is in his fifties, trim and gray, and he leans forward earnestly, as if he has seen in me the possibility of some revelation.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes I am.” I’m still surprised when I hear myself answer this question in the affirmative.

“Oh!” His eyebrows rise with admiration. “What do you write about?”

“Parenthood, mostly.”

I can see the admiration drain out. “Oh,” he says.

I hasten to add, “But I write about other things as well.”

Too late. He turns away, hand going to his cheek, waiting for Nicholas Baker to appear.

2. “Are you a writer?”

The barista sweeping the floor isn’t asking me. She’s asking the long-haired bohemian with a serious mien who sits across from me.

He smiles. “No,” he says. “I work in a record store.”

“I thought you were a writer,” she says, leaning on the broom. “You look like a writer!”

They both laugh.

“I’m a writer,” I say.

They both look at me cautiously.

“Really?” I can see that the barista doesn’t believe me, even though I’m sitting at the table with a pen in hand and a stack of manuscripts. “What do you write about?”

“Fatherhood, most of the time. Books. Science. Politics.”

“Oh,” she says, her interest visually waning. “Well, you don’t look like a writer.”

“What do I look like?”

She thinks for a moment, eyes skyward, and then goes back to sweeping the floor.

“You look like a schoolteacher,” she says.

3. “Are you a writer?”

I’m on an airplane, and it’s the steward who asks me, a clean-cut, blonde, middle-aged Midwesterner.

“Yes, I am.”

“Ho boy!” he says. “I’ve got some great stories. You should write about one of them! This one time blah me and my father blah blah blah blah blah blah biggest fish I ever caught blah blah blah…”

I look past him, towards the emergency exit. Can I make it…?