So, What Do You Do?
I got that question today. The dreaded, “So, what do you do?” I can usually see it coming, there’s a specific way people go about saying it. It starts on a high note, the first word is often a little longer than the rest of them, but it is always after the same thing. Sometimes it’s, “What do you do for a living” Or, “What do you do for work?” But it’s always after the same thing, “Who are you, what do you do, and are you worthy of my attention?”
Regardless of the question, my answer usually starts out the same, with me fumbling around, trying to come up with something to say that doesn’t make me sound like a loser. I rarely have a reply. Depending on the person, it’s either, “I just work from home,” or, “Computer work,” or when I’m particularly brain dead, “I just do my own thing.”
The problem is, those kinds of answers often lead to more questions so I’ve started spewing out a more specific reply, like, “I’m trying to write.”
How pathetic is that? And it doesn’t even make sense. “I’m trying to write,” like I just learned how to make letters and am attempting to put them together into words. Like, I missed out on school entirely as am now trying to make up for it by learning to write cursive letters and string them together in some legible fashion. I might as well tell them, I’m trying to lift up this piano but it is too heavy (because obviously people can’t lift up pianos. Therefore, obviously, people can’t write, right? See my fucked up logic? This is the kind of logic I must battle against every single time I go to my computer).
I’m trying to write just sounds pathetic and even a little bit lazy, because if you’re trying to do something, you’re not actually doing it, are you? I might as well just say, “I’m too goddamn pathetic to get out of bed and I try to make it to my desk and jot down a few words but I can’t think of anything useful to say or my storylines don’t seem to want to proceed in a linear fashion so I really just sit on my ass reading magazines and watching soap operas all day.”
That’s what, “I’m trying to write,” sounds like.
Even though, some days, “I’m trying to write,” is the truest statement I could give them. I am trying to write despite the messy house and the non-instructional days and the sick kids and the busy schedules and the towers of laundry, and, well, despite the fact that lately I just think I’m wasting my time. Wasting my time because nothing seems to want to come out right and when it does it hardly seems to make a dent in the word count required to come up with a novel worth pitching, not to mention the time it takes to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite enough to make it even worth pitching, if you can get someone to even read your pitch and like it and pick that one out of the other thousands they get in a week, and, despite the fact that I won’t know if my novel is worth selling to an agent until I’ve put in months and years of unpaid time in which I work away at it but receive no recognition or reinforcement to let me know I’m not wasting my time which brings me right back to, “What the hell DO I do?”
(Now, you’re probably thinking, “Well, of course she can’t sell her novel, not when she writes long sentences like that,” but I did it on purpose. Yes, I broke grammatical rules to illustrate the ongoing war inside my head.)
I don’t know. Honestly, I have no answer.
It used to be, up until a week ago, even though I feel like I rarely accomplish anything in my day, I could still check off the employed box on forms because technically I am and have been employed by my husband’s company (I would say it’s ours because legally it’s half mine but we both know that is on paper only as I just happen to be part owner because I am his wife and legally I own half of what he owns so my name might as well be on it but there’s not really anything I do to enhance or improve said company) because I take a wage for bookkeeping. So for the past few years I’ve given myself all kinds of acceptable titles under the employment category such as, Office Manager, Secretary, Bookkeeper, Support Staff, Motivational Speaker (he might disagree, but that is something I have been known to do when he’s attempting to make one decision or another). But now his own company has sold and he is now an employee of the new company, which leaves me, unemployed, in the legal sense if it hadn’t already been in the personal sense of the word.
So what am I? There is no box on forms to check off that says, “Temporarily Umemployed Until My Far Reaching Dreams Are Achieved,” or, “Free Thinker Who Refuses to Accept Just Any Job or Any Paycheck in Sacrifice of Her Dreams,” or, “Idiot Who’s Too Lazy to get a Real Job so she’s Procrastinating on this Writing Kick until Something Else can Distract her for a Few More Years.”
I can’t tell people I’m writer, can I? It’s not like anyone has come running towards me waving cheques in my face and offering publishing contracts (I mean, you have to have a fully finished book for that, right? Right?)
But today I did. Today, when I was at an appointment, the doctor asked me what it was that I did for a living back in my little town. And I told him. Well, kind of. I told him, “I’m working at being a writer.” Because, technically, that is what I’m doing, isn’t it? I’m working every day (even if only in my head some days) to further my writing so that one day I might actually make a living at it (if I actually finish a novel, like, finish-finish, good copy finish, rewrite it in pen finish, send it away to an agent and actually believe you might get an acceptance letter finish). And he didn’t laugh at me. He didn’t say, “What’s your real job?” (in which I’d have to reply, none, nadda, zilch, so I’m pretty happy he didn’t say that) And I appreciated that.
I appreciated the fact that he had something to say about my writerly aims and was positive about it. He didn’t, or didn’t seem to, dismiss me as I’ve had done in the past. Because if you dismiss what I do, (or don’t do, some days), you dismiss me. Because isn’t that how the world seems to work right now? You are what you do? At least, you’re defined by what you do. And in my case, what I do is try to convince myself every single day that this will work out, eventually, and that I’m not wasting my time. That I am somebody, even if I don’t leave my house every day to go to a job where I have a boss and tasks to complete and a cheque at the end of the week.
Things would be so much easier, not just or me but for many others, if that question would change (I believe. Yes, I am putting my own wishes and desires onto those of other people, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. I may be a singular type of person, but there are others out there like me. I’m not a complete freak of nature). I wish people wouldn’t ask me what I do, but ask me something that allows me to show them who I am without needing a title attached to me. I know it’s an easy question, especially when it’s only a bit of a time filler before getting that needle or your meal comes or, whatever else you do while small talking. I myself have asked it of people many times and wish I didn’t. Because there is so much more to a person than what they do, at least there is to me. I am much more than just – nothing.
Robert Holden wrote this quote in his book, Shift Happens: “There is a world of difference between having a job and having a purpose.”
I almost cried when I saw that. I wanted to shout out to him, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” It was almost like, with those words, he’d given me permission to not “do,” anything in the traditional sense. And if you want to get technical, those words are essentially, what I do. I do not have a job but I sure as hell have a purpose. And that purpose is to create a career for myself that never becomes a job. Because a job, to me, is something you have to go to. It’s the hours you clock in at a set wage per hour or month or year, during a set time period while the rest of your life is on hold. Whereas, I want writing to be my life, or a huge part of it. And in a way, it is, because if I don’t write I get ridiculously grumpy. It is what keeps me sane. It is what I look forward to doing in my day and is actually what often gets done to me if I’m out for a walk or a run or driving in my car (this could also be considered a split personality or hallucinations or whatever else you can call characters living their own lives in your head. In light of trying to come across as sane and avoid long term stays in mental institutes, I like to call this part of my being a writer.). I do believe it is what I am meant to do; maybe not the only thing, but definitely one of the things I came here to do. And isn’t that purpose?
I’m not saying one is better than the other. A job versus a purpose. Some people are happy to clock in their hours and get on with their lives when they are done work or on holiday. Some people’s jobs are their lives and truly makes them who they are. Some people need work to define themselves. I, well, I’ve spent many, many years of my life not having any kind of job title and maybe that is why I stopped trying to find one. No great employment opportunity ever presented itself to me so I had to make one, and when you make one, well, you might as well make what you like, right?
So, to some people, I do nothing. To others, I am lucky enough to have a husband support me while I play with words all day and have no right to say anything to anyone else about their jobs because of this situation. To me, I am choosing to spend my life doing what brings me joy. I am pursuing a career that actually gives me energy instead of wipes me of it so I have nothing left for myself or my family at the end of the day. And to my kids and that family, I am a writer. As my son said to me, “I think this is it, mom, and it’s only a matter of time before they publish your book.” (Yes, he may be 7-years-old, but I’m going to believe children know things we don’t, so I’m going to take his word for it.)
Until that happens, until someone actually pays me for my book, I will probably still struggle with the question, “What do you do?” Because until that book comes out, I really have no proof that I do anything at all. But, I’m okay with that. Because at the end of the day, the only person I have to answer to is myself and as long as I am not the one dismissing what it is I do or don’t do, then I have permission to continue along my path of purpose until it all works out for me.
And if it doesn’t?
That is not a possibility, because as long as I’m doing what I love, I have to believe it will all work out in the long run. It might take a little longer than simply writing out a resume and going to a job interview, and I might have to put up with saying, “I’m working at being a writer,” for a little while longer despite the reception such a statement might receive, and I will have to check the unemployed box for a little while longer on forms. But at least I can wake up in the morning proud of myself for not giving in (which I often want to do throughout the course of my day) .
So, what do I do? What I love. And they say that’s all you need, so I must be doing the right thing.