What do you do?

“What do you do for fun?” I ask at parties. Rarely, I ask “What do you do?”, but I really want to know what you do for fun.

“What do you do?” in America usually is translated to “How do you generate income?”

For students, retirees, mothers, and scads of people not generating income, the answer may be “Uh, nothing, I’m (a student, laid off/injured/on disability, retired, a mother, a drifter - happy or otherwise). Then, I tut tut that reply. I continue with one of the following:

”Students work hard.” [Besides, what decent jobs are there anyway? Keep up the schooling.]

“I am sorry to hear that.” [Not party talk. This is a party. Don’t ask what happened. That’s rude.]

”Most retired people I know are very busy!” [As though sitting down for once in forty years and reading a book is not valuable.]

“Every mother is a working mother.” [So tired of this one because duh.]

”Yup, keep that free spirit. You know, I spent much of my twenties underemployed and an artist [and look where it got me, a holding steady but could really use some work 1850s farm house, a Bronze level health insurance plan, and a lot of happiness, I think.] [Besides, what decent jobs are there anyway?]

All those who dislike their jobs struggle with the question, “What do you do?” In that situation, the respondent can answer “Oh, I hate my job. My boss is an /ss.” “I’m in it for the healthcare.” “I [highly inscrutable job description].”

Ask an artist, “What do you do?” An artist (like me) might answer, “I am an artist* but nobody really ever bought my art, except once a guy who wanted my phone number bought one of my photos and then later asked for the money back. Oh and I got a great gig once an at Harper’s Magazine fifteen years ago. So art actually made me more broke than it ever was something I…” Did? Do?

I could also talk about my business growing native plants, but I am fairly bored saying the same things all these years. “I grow native plants. Wildflowers, tree, shrubs for butterflies and birds. And, we’re also interested in wild edible and medicinal plants, so we focus there, too.” Yawn.

I’ve never gotten my elevator speech down because I am never in an elevator talking about native plants. My trips in elevators are scant. If I am in elevator, I am in a hotel. I am usually carrying one or more of the following: a backpack, cooler, water bottles, guitar, camouflage hip pouch stuffed with toiletries, plus a key card and maybe holding the hand of a wild haired, tired kid who is clinging to his plush golden eagle puppet and cheetah. No one wants to talk to me. I am just another irritable traveler caught on closed circuit cameras.

Perhaps, I will work on a terse yet fascinating description of my vocation (excluding answering emails and picking burrs from my shoelaces). I like what I do, but, boy, I do it all day, and I would sometimes rather stumble through an awkward description of my writing and photography. See * (above) or alternately ask me in person. Somehow, I would describe The Shagbark Speaks and making photographs of myself in the evening.

Down with the Olympic professional vs. amateur model of “What do you do?” How about “What do you do for fun?”

Ask me. I might begin, “Uh, wear black and tote my camera and tripod around.”