Recently I’ve been hearing the same question with increasing frequency and I just have no idea how to answer.  It hear the question when I meet new people.  I hear the question when I run into people I haven’t seen in a few months.  It’s a perfectly innocent question, but I have one hell of a time answering it.

“What do you do?”

Wouldn’t you rather talk about politics or religion?  Maybe you could just catalog the contents of your belly button for me instead.  Enough about me, let’s talk about you!  Did you notice if the bar was just wine and beer or might there be some hard liquor in close proximity?

Yes, what DO I do?  Sadly I’m still struggling with that answer myself.  I don’t really answer “Potter” anymore…that always leads to too many jokes about stoners and/or Patrick Swayze.  “I make giant concrete mushrooms,” tends to inspire confusion and disbelief.  Then it just gets worse when they try and make sense of my previous statement.

“What do you do with giant concrete mushrooms.”

“Paint them.”

“…and then?”

“Wow.  I’m out of wine.  Can I grab you something from the bar?” (My standard line for any uncomfortable situation.)

The blog scene is still pretty new and foreign to me.  I can’t quite bring myself to call myself a blogger or writer quite yet.  I hope to be considered either of those things eventually, but this is a bit early in my opinion.  If I could list all the things I’ve ever done for a period of two months on my resume, I’d also be a knitter, tennis player, photographer, programmer, seamstress, alcoholic, house painter, slut, nanny, and landscaper.  Good thing I’m a proponent of the one page resume.

Sometimes when the dreaded question arises I answer, “I’m not currently employed.”  You’d think that would garner a sympathetic smile and the conversation would move to a safer topic.  At least that’s how anyone who could read my mind would respond.  Instead, everyone I’ve met lately prefers to keep the conversation alive with the question, “What did you do when you were employed?”

So I try and keep it relatively short while describing my most recent job.  “Well I did the marketing and events for a not-for-profit trade association that represents unique online content providers.”

Cue glazed eyes and drool.  Ha ha!  I have bored you into submission!  Secretly I hope they’ll whip out my standard line and bee-line for the bar.  Sometimes my plan works and I can escape without an existential crisis.  However, the plan is far from foolproof.  About half the time it totally backfires and the questions continue.  It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book gone horribly wrong:

“Why did you leave that job?”

“Were you laid off?”

“How’s the job search going?”

“What do you want to do next?”

Whatever string of questions follows, and whatever course the Choose Your Own Conversation takes, it always seems to end with my trying to gloss over the whole cancer thing.  Usually it goes a little something like, “Oh I spent the majority of last year trying not to die.  No, no, no…don’t make that face.  I’m fine now, really.  Just not quite ready yet to dive back into the job search and daily grind quite yet.”  You’d think I’d just killed a puppy, skinned him, chopped him up, slid chunks of his cubed body onto a kebab, grilled it over an open flame, and offered it to my conversational companion…after dipping it in anthrax spores.

I think it might be kinder for me to just make shit up.  I think they’d rather hear I’m a serial rapist, chronic alcoholic, or drug lord.  “Well, I just finally got out on parole after a tough year upstate.  It’s really a bitch trying to find a gig with a felony record.”

I think I’m just going to follow the advice NPR recently gave housewives; I’m going to tell people I’m a philosopher.  Nah, that’s too boring.  Hell, I’m going to tell people I’m researching the mating habits of Sea Monkeys recently released into the wild.


  1. You are encountering the social quandary of modern US life. “What are you?” It was so much easier when we were all farmers. Then the question was, “Where are you from?”

  2. Tell them that you are a pine martin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_Marten
    That’s a creature that is both arboreal and nocturnal, not always the best combo, but probably a good gig. I’m going to add an entry to me next resume detailing my exploits as a pine martin.

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