November 16, 2002

What is it that YOU do?

There is a dash of dread meeting new people these days, because I know 'the question' is bound to come up. We make our introductions perfunctorily. Ann introduces herself. She says we live in Floyd County and that she works at the hospital.

"Are you a nurse?" is the usual retort.

"No, I'm a pharmacist" she explains, and here I know we are coming close to the jumping off place.

"And Fred, what do you do?" Ah. There it is.

There have been very few times in my working life I could not easily answer the question with one of two answers: "I teach at the community college"; or "I'm a physical therapist". Those answers would work for a total of 25 years. During the last six months of non-employment in my past profession, since I am still licensed, I just say that I'm a therapist. It is the path of least resistance. But invariably, our new acquaintance will then want to know "Where do you practice?"

I may yet go back in a half-hearted way to being a therapist. The pay may force me to prostitute myself once more; of this I am not certain. So, in reply to the question I typically say "I'm not doing therapy for a while. I'm home doing some writing".

"Oh, what do you write?" (And I perceive here a subliminal message in their question that says "You really must find something real to do with your life".)

What do I write? I stutter and I stammer. I say something like...

"I'm just pretending to be a writer. I put down most anything that comes to my mind".

Pooh. That's a brush-off, not a satisfying answer to the listener or to me. But what do I say to them in twenty-five words or less? I don't want to be pretend to more than I am, to overstate my claims to 'writing'. On the other hand, I don't want to be flippant; to trivialize this opportunity for creative expression that I am blessed with for this uncertain window of time. Following a path of writing is important to me now. It is a sincere and ernest mission, even if I am wandering in the wilderness and can't say with any precision just where I am in this wandering.

I am growing into an answer. It has something to do with being a meaning-maker. To will to write effectively has to do with needing a fuller discovery of the Ah, the Aha! and the Ha!Ha! in the small circle of life out my door, and maybe to find that, I have to start within my own heart and mind. I'm sorry I can't give you those twenty-five words just yet. I'm still new at this. Ask me again some time. Maybe by then I will know what it is that I do.

Posted by fred1st at November 16, 2002 05:44 PM

I hate being asked that question!! It's so true . . . it's very difficult to answer it in any satisfactory manner without either sounding pretentious, or having to trivialize one's writerly life into a reductive soundbite. Argh! And then it just gets worse, because then the next question will inevitably be what *kind* of poetry/fiction/creative-nonfiction do you write, etc. I mean, I accept the fact that this is something I have to do on occasion in professional scenarios such as academic job interviews, or grant applications, or what have you. But when I get cornered socially, it just feels weird . . . and I want to mumble and shuffle my feet. :)

Posted by: Artichoke Heart at November 16, 2002 08:06 PM

Just tell them you're a house husband. That will either a) shut them up or b) give you the entertainment of watching them trying to be more political correct than thou.

Posted by: Pascale Soleil at November 16, 2002 10:15 PM

I just tell them I have been replaced by a guy from Columbia and am searching for a new adventure.

Posted by: Charlie at November 17, 2002 06:49 AM

interesting that we (writers) all go thru trying to answer that question. i've been cornered a few times in public with the paper journal... 'heh. so you think you're some Anais Nin, huh?' right. no. and what do i write? stories. i'm a story teller. that's what i do. said with the appropriate amount of intensity/insanity, that usually closes that line of questioning. :)

Posted by: beth at November 17, 2002 11:56 AM

I always use that old academic mainstay - "I am on sabbatical." Three-quarters of the folks I talk to have no clue what a sabbatical is. The other quarter is intensely envious.

It is an awkward moment.

Posted by: Deb at November 20, 2002 10:19 AM

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