Friday, October 10, 2008

And what do you do?

is a question I have hated for years, even though I am certainly guilty of asking it.  You = your job, your life is your job, you are defined by your job, I will put you in a box based on your job is everything that question implies.

I remember being publicly opposed to this question after college, as I struggled to find a job that would allow me to answer it with pride.  It's half the reason I answered an ad to become a ballroom dance teacher my first year out of school -- it sure sounded better than "consultant," which is the job every other college grad seemed to be doing.

And that question is half the reason I went to grad school (the other half being that working sucks).  Going to grad school and becoming a teacher, no matter how long I lasted, was a way to answer the question, to get a "career," to finally decide what I was going to do with my life.  Well, we all know how that turned out.
Last night, at my hip hop dance class that I'm taking here in Durham, I struck up a conversation with a young woman in the class.  I was sitting with another woman I had already met a couple weeks ago, a woman named Marissa, who, as a Master's of Public Health student, has a purpose and a schedule and a cohort and all of those things that seem so great and so elusive at the moment.  This other woman introduced herself as Amy and asked Marissa and me if we were students.  When I answered no, she asked me, "What are you?"

I froze.  What am I.  I had panicked enough when Marissa asked me what I did a couple weeks ago, and I had given her a long mumbled answer of just-moved-from-Chicago-was-teaching-high-school-boyfriend-is-from-here-um-don't-know-yet.

But what am I.   My first impulse was to say, "Nothing," but I knew that was too existential or sadsack.  "I don't know," I said, and we got past the awkward moment by laughing it off.  Kind of.

It wasn't this poor woman's fault -- she was sweet and friendly and one year out of school.  But since she asked me that question, it has been circling around my head.  In response, I could make one of those touchy-feely identity charts and list my personality traits and things I like to do - yay! (Barf.)  Or, I could get all mad at American society for placing so much emphasis on your job being your identity/purpose. (Snoozeville.)  Or, I could muster up some resentment towards my family, for providing such unrealistic role models as people who actually do what they love for a living. Damn them!  (Totally kidding, especially as they account for 87% readership of this blog.)  

Blah, blah, blah, right?  And some more blah blah about how the pressure is really all me and how that darn over-achieving / make-something-of-yourself impulse that is supposedly a good thing when you're in school or doing something respectable comes back to bite you when you don't choose a "path."  

What am I?  At the moment, I'm a little sleepy and am contemplating a nap.  And after that?  I think I'll be a little hungry.  Who knows what I'll be by dinner time.


antee said...

you are...the best damn sister that's ever walked the planet, and that's how you should start answering that question. and i am freakishly lucky to have stumbled into a career i love - but one that often feels like it's taken over my life.

you could also just start calling yourself a certainly have the chops to back up the claim.

evandebacle said...

Wait. I thought you were an actual superhero. No, you must be. You just don't want to blow your cover in a new town...Just please tell me that the South is not your Kryptonite!

Joan said...

Now THAT is a great subject and one that stinks at the same time. You are an amazing articulate courageous creative curious compassionate open alive beautiful woman.

I do like to say that all the strange and good and challenging situations we are perpetually faced with are really and ideally opportunities for us to define ourselves (and that, surely is one of the best things we can do with this golden opportunity called life... ) but it is still and always a pain that there is not better language and subtler interest (on other people's parts) in many cases for us to be able to communicate who we are to people we meet.

Also, let us remember that you are a role model of integrity ( and here is where I start to mutter about my own questions of hanging in this bucking bronco job of mine...)