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.
I hope I meet you and you tell me to spit in your mouth… I’ll do it.. and then…?
And then I’ll tell you what I write.
Some friends of mine from the UK said no one ever asks that question there. Can you imagine? That’s our go-to question. Well, that and talking about the weather.
We’re simple folk. How do they fill up conversations with strangers? Wit?
I, too, hate the “what do you do?”. You mind if I borrow your response?
Please, take it.
lol now i know what to say
Dear god, yes. Just… Yes.
I’m disabled, so the “What do you do?” question becomes a black hole of awkwardness. My answers can range from “Stay at home.” to “I’m in between jobs.” to “Look out the window between the blinds and curse the daylight.” Of course, no one leaves these answers alone and presses for details, so I spend the next ten minutes giving the most awkward and convoluted explaination for how I am sick, what I used to do for money, how disability payments work and what I spend my time doing every day because every answer I give raises two more questions.
I have to say though, your solution is much more elegant than mine, which is “Don’t talk to people.”
I’m going to start making stuff up soon. Maybe that’s the best choice.
I suppose, If you’re in New York or L. A., you could tell people you’re a screenwriter who’s in between jobs or something. In mid-America, though, I think (some) people have about as much respect for an unpublished writer as they do for a paroled meth dealer. If I went to a cocktail party today, I could tell people “I’m a serial commenter on blogposts of people I’ve never read before.”
You write very well, by the way; hope you are published someday.
We both hope the same thing. Good luck to you as well.
You could do what David Sedaris does and clip news articles that are ridiculous, morbid, or ridiculously morbid, and lead with that. I’m not sure how many connections you might make…
Not a bad idea….
I feel the same way about people asking me about my job:
“Oh, what kind of things do you analyze?”
“How about we agree that you aren’t interested in my answer and we move onto the next question.”
I love it. Honestly, that kind of answer is in everybody’s best interest.
When asked, “what do you write?” I usually want to answer with, “Words.” I like asking them to spit in my mouth better. It’s more mean.
I shouldn’t say “more mean.” I should say it’s more surprising and more likely to induce scoffs.
I like it. Very truthful and to the point and a warning to back off. All the bases.
That was awesome. Thanks for the laugh. 🙂
Interesting blog. Although I love my current job, I wouldn’t want it to define who I am…
I just make up outrageous, obvious lies when people ask what I do.
Could be the best possible choice. They get to laugh, you get to not explain what you do, and then maybe steal their wallet.
I get that all the time: so you are an artist, what kind of an artist. Well, a visual artist and this could go on forever so why don’t you take a look? Tell them to go to your blog and see what you write about. I promise you they will be impressed and will laugh their heads off!.
That’s actually a good suggestion….I need business cards.
Ah, to be able to think this quickly!
Just another reason not to do drugs.
a – I think there’s potential for a new app product in here. You’ve clearly found a gap in the market. You enter random words and it makes them into a cohesive snappy one liner. Will probably sound like a translation from a chinese user manual, but will certainly get you out of a hole.
b – when they ask what kind of stuff, the short answer is: Good stuff.
c – what if they’re chewing gum? Think you’d better check that first.
The thing is I’d actually probably take their gum, but I like the new app idea. It’ll be called the Final Answer. Or something better.
I’ve had a notion for Chat App Lines for the last couple of years….
I’m with Dave, what if they say: OK open your mouth, coz I’m dying to know…
I’ll let you know. There would definitely be a blog post about that.
LOL! I am totally going to use the spit in my mouth thing so I don’t have to tell people that I may look like a regular secretary, but I’m also…not defined by that? Except that I am? So spit in my mouth, mkay?
People ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a professional liar and they look particularly beautiful/handsome. They get a story, I somebody walking away shaking their head. Priceless.
Like it. I generally say I’m a practising surrealist and then ask if they have any lettuce secreted about their person.
Great line. Meeting people is fun when you can use the same jokes again.
I do believe in faeries and I do love you.
Love you back!
Hit the nail on the head. Random conversationalists always make me dubious of my writing prowess! There’s no way I can ever just sum up “What I write” in a sentence. But that is a very interesting idea; just wait until you find that crazy person who actually cares enough about what you write to actually do it, haha.
Hopefully it’ll be a family member, not too distant of course.
Just one very small problem, raised by Don’t_Quote_Lily, someone somewhere is going to be so desperate to pick your brains about writing he/she will just spit in your mouth to find out what you write in order to see where your muse lies…
Should such a person exist, I would be more than happy to ingest their saliva.
Let’s hope you don’t encounter someone who spits into other people months for a living.
Haha, win win. Talk about an interesting (and somewhat disturbing) idea. So funny. 😉