The Ice Man's Horse
by Brian Plante
The comedian Flip Wilson (and I date myself here) used to tell a story that has stayed with me for many years. If memory serves, it goes something like this:
In the days before electric refrigerators, the ice man drove his horse-drawn wagon down the street, yelling, "Ice! Ice!" A woman opened a window above and called down to the ice man to bring her up a block for her icebox. While he hauled the ice upstairs, a passerby noticed the idle horse was muttering, "What a life!"
"Did you say something?" the startled passerby asked.
"Yeah," said the horse. "What a stinking life I have. The ice man makes me pull this heavy wagon five days a week, fourteen hours a day. Then on Saturday I have to pull a carriage through the park for the tourists. And on Sunday he makes me give pony rides to the kids."
"Holy mackerel," said the passerby, "does he know you can talk?"
"No," said the horse, "and don't you tell him either or he'll make me yell, 'Ice!'"
As you may have noticed, I'm usually a proponent of shameless self promotion, but there are times to hide your light under a bushel basket. Like at your day job, maybe. I've been with my current employer for nine years now, longer than I've been writing fiction, and in all that time I have only told a very few people at work of my extracurricular writing activities.
It's not that I'm ashamed of being a science fiction writer, it's just that there's a time and place for everything. I'm a computer professional, and many folks already have preconceived ideas about what kind of people write programs -- computer nerds, techno-geeks, propeller heads. I don't need to have "sci-fi nut" or "rocket-boy" added on top of that. To some people, telling them you write science fiction is tantamount to saying you've been abducted by aliens. Not exactly a great strategy for climbing the corporate ladder.
The people who read fiction for pleasure are a minority, and even many of those who do read look down on the SF/F/H genres as immature forms. I usually have no problem defending the worthiness of genre fiction, but my day job is not a proper forum for proselytizing. People at work don't really care to know about your personal relationship with your chosen deity, the pyramid-scheme consumer goods you sell from the trunk of your car, that priceless album of your kid's baby pictures, or how wonderfully your pet mynah bird can sing. Explaining your writing habit to non-reading coworkers is a lot like that, I think. I don't go out of my way to hide my involvement with fiction writing -- the relative obscurity of magazine short stories pretty much ensures that my secret is safe at work unless I choose to reveal it.
There are other reasons for keeping quiet about my writing. I worry if my boss knew I was a writer, would he be looking over my shoulder all the time to make sure that it was really a business memo I was typing away at? Would I still have free use of the office printers and copiers without everyone keeping too close an eye on me? Would the secretaries suddenly get stingy with paper clips?
Then there's the question of getting stuck with unwanted technical writing chores. Computer programmers have traditionally shunned this necessary evil and skimped on keeping the systems documentation complete and up to date. I'm already sorely time-challenged at my job and if they knew there was a writer in their midst, I could reasonably expect to be pressed into service for yet another career-backwater task. And then there's that employee newsletter that badly needs good writers and constantly pleads for volunteers.
Tell them I'm a writer? I don't think so. And don't you tell them either or they'll make me yell, "Ice!"
Copyright © 1998 Brian Plante, first appeared in The New Jersey Graveline March 1998.
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