So I’m at a party, in line for the bathroom or staring out the window wondering what it would be like to be free and somehow I get talking to a stranger. We exchange pleasantries, place our palms together and grip firmly, and then as the banter inevitably dies down and we’re breathing out the tail end of our last haha, one of us reaches for the easiest conversation topic possible:
So…what do you do?
The “do” question is innocent, merely an attempt to understand the other person better, or maybe even form a connection, “Oh you do that? I do that too! Do you know her? I know her too! Wasn’t that one thing crazy!?” And so on and so forth.
But the question can be problematic. What if, for example, I currently spend most of my time making money doing something I hate? Should I put this forward as the best summary of my person, that I’m someone willing to subject themselves to mental torture day in and day out for a couple of bucks?
What if I’m unemployed, but doing everything from hiking the Sierra Nevada to creating a large-scale bronze sculpture Gumby, to compulsively poking people on facebook?
Or what if the things I do to make money are unrelated to how I define myself? What if they’re only a way to make money? What if, in theory, I make money by babysitting and working at a restaurant, but what I really want to do is write and be an incredibly successful author read and loved by the masses? What should my response be to the “what do you do?” question? I can’t tell the truth because the other person will have no idea what to do with me and try to leave and I’ll be forced to follow them. But if I say I’m a writer, I open up a whole other can of worms.
The first thing they ask is: what do you write?
I’ve been asked this God knows how many times and I still don’t have a good answer. My shortest response time is slightly over a minute. Somewhere, an Olympian just ran a quarter of a mile and I’m still fumbling around trying to explain what I write. I end up blabbing about the blog and humor writing and exploring different writing styles and it’s very boring for the other person and just plain stressful for me because then I’m like, “Oh my God. Am I even a writer? What are all those words I typed out yesterday? Why didn’t they fit into something I could describe to this guy without sounding like someone who might steal his wallet when he leans over to look at the event brochure on the coffee table?
So the next time someone asks me what I do, I’m going to assume they mean, “What would you do if you could do anything?” and I’m going to tell them I’m a writer, and then when they ask me what kind of writer I am, I’m going to ask them to spit in my mouth.
What, they’ll say.
Yeah, just go ahead and spit in my mouth and I’ll tell you what I write.
They won’t do it, I won’t have to figure out and then tell them what I write, and we’ll both leave the party with interesting stories. Win win.