Monday, August 8, 2011

Human Doings

I hate the question "What do you do?"

The worst part is that I never quite know how to answer it. I'm always tempted to say something like this:

"Well, I do a lot of things. Usually I wake up late and make a pot of coffee. Sometimes I eat a bowl of instant oatmeal but usually I just wait for lunchtime to roll around and then I eat a sandwich. I write a lot of things. Songs, blogs, stories. Sometimes, I read books. Other times, I go out with my friends. Play pool at the pub down the street. I used to not know how to hold the cue but I'm getting so I can sink balls like some sort of amateur pool shark. Whenever I hear Pitbull on the radio in my car, I turn it up and sing along despite the fact that I pretend to not like hip hop. Once every two and a half years, I eat pop tarts on a whim and usually end up tearing off the edges because they are too crusty. I try hard to incorporate the word 'lanyard' into my everyday vocabulary. I partake in Solstice celebrations. I wear leopard-print pants when I need to feel like some sort of trashy rock and roll diva. I strive to live life as fully and as honestly as I can. meant what do I do to make money..."

Of course, I've never actually said all that to anyone. I usually just smile and say "I'm a musician." And then the conversation eventually ends and I leave the room feeling at least somewhat powerful.

Because, as my artsy neighbors often remind me, that is what I do. I just don't always make very much money from it.

That hasn't always been my standard answer, though. I used to awkwardly pause and mumble something about being unemployed or self-employed (which is almost the same thing sometimes). Then I would proceed to feel extremely self-concious and slightly dysfunctional, especially if I was talking to someone with an established career.

When I moved into the artist's community last fall, I immediately noticed that none of my neighbors indentified themselves by the place they work (or, in many cases, don't work). And the question was no longer "What do you do?" The question became "What sort of things do you make?"

Now that's a question I can deal with answering.


  1. The question "What do you do?" reminds me of the question that I often got asked in college: "What's your major?" Whenever I said I was an English major, I wouldn't get the same nod of approval that the pre-med students and the business students got. People would always just tilt their heads and say, "Oh. Um, what are you going to do with that?" I could never think of a good answer for them, because I wasn't entirely sure at the time.
    I like your neighbors' version of that question. I can imagine it leads to really interesting answers.

  2. I can totally relate - obviously. I tell people I work in a coffee shop (or that I'm a barista at a cafe if I really want to impress them) but immediately follow that up with..."but I have a degree in professional writing." Or "I used to work in publishing, but you know...the recession hit..."

    Now that I'm in a relationship people are asking me what my boyfriend does. I wish I had a simple answer for both of us.

    I would love it if someone would ask me what I make. "Um, lately I've been making fascinators - those feathered hats that the royals wear."

  3. I love that question way better. I'll tell people I'm a writer and they're like "no, really. What do you DO for like, a job?" A girl can't write? Just because I'm not a secretary or teacher or doctor doesn't mean it's any less valid.

  4. I loathe being asked what I do. It's such a meaningless small talk conversation. Who wants to talk about work on their time off? I actually wrote about this not too long ago. I feel like people use that question as a way to decide if you're worth talking to. Ugh.

    I'd rather be asked what I do for fun. Now that's something enjoyable to talk about!

  5. Neurotic Workaholic - I hated that question in college too! People sometimes had a hard time taking me seriously... I majored in film (for a while I was even trying to double major in film and English - double impracticality for the win!).

    Allison - I think next time someone asks what you do, you should totally talk about writing and making fascinators.

    GingerMandy - I feel your pain. I hate having to feel like I'm less valuable to society because I'm taking a more creative path. I wish the secretaries, teachers, and doctors of the world would realize that the world wouldn't be nearly as interesting without us writers and musicians. :)

    Tsaritsa - Yeah, I pretty much hate small talk, but the "What do you do?" question is absolutely the worst. I think I missed your post on it, I'll have to go look for it!

  6. It's totally the worst.

    Here's the post:

    I tied it in with my anxieties about growing up. I usually tell people I'm a jazz pianist or marine biologist.

  7. I must admit that I'm one of those annoying people who asks "what do you do?" but I'm also quite conscious of the fact that people deserve some follow up questions to that, so I always make an effort to try and understand what people actually do do with their lives.
    It kinda pisses me off when I say I'm a scientist and people automatically jump to this "oh, so you're smart then?"... booo to judging people!

  8. iii hate it so much. what i do for a JOB is really nothing to me. it's what i do OUTSIDE my job that makes me who i am. i have so many awesome hobbies and projects that i'm always working on and my goal is to, of course, someday make those my main source of income. but when i have to answer, "what do you do?" .. having to say "uh.. sit in a cubicle all flippin day and disintegrate?" makes me look super cool? not. so. then i have to EXPLAIN that i ALSO am an ARTIST and a BREWER and a WINE MAKER and and and WHY DON'T THESE MATTER?! ;]

  9. Even working in a full time job, I hate the question 'What do you do'. I often get the questions of "But I thought you studied to be a journalist, what are you doing in an office?" and I hate it, because it makes me feel like I've somehow failed at life.

    The truth is, I just couldn't find a damned job in journalism. It's a tough field to crack, especially if you don't have the financial ability to pick up and move wherever a job might be available.

    The fact that I work in an office doesn't somehow destroy my qualifications as a journalist, and I hate feeling belittled by that sentiment.


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