© Steven D Morse – morsefoto.com

What do you do? I’ve been asked that very thing many times at social gatherings and events. It’s always a casual, safe, unassuming way of starting a conversation with a stranger I suppose. The questioner expects to find out about the questionee’s job or occupation. A common variant is: what do you do for a living? I live my life for a living. Of course, answering like that would doom the conversation to a quick and painless death. I find that there is an underlying disdain to the question, isn’t there? A sense that you must do something; that you must validate your existence through some action that benefits the community you inhabit. Like, what do you do that allows you to live your life? Biochemically speaking, metabolic processing is what I do, constantly, that’s what we all do. Of course, that’s not the answer to the question. Ideally the answer is simple: I’m an accountant, I work in real estate, I teach, and so on and so forth. And really no one is looking for a deep layered answer, just someone to enjoy their free rum and coke with for some prudent amount of time before floating off elsewhere; anywhere.

I’ve answered the question differently over the years. Mostly I’ve stuck to what’s socially acceptable: school and work. Say you’re an English major and a slight “really?” makes its way onto the inquirer’s face. Say you’ve worked in Neuro-research and a whole other type of “really?” overtakes their expression. I’ve lied sometimes to entertain myself, saying things like “I used to be a pro basketball player in Europe.” People tend to believe it.  I’d like to go absolutely avant-garde with my responses though. Say things like: I watch rain drops wait patiently on the window for their lovely partners to arrive, before dancing merrily down to the windowsill. I can see their faces now, looking for some pretense to walk away slowly, “Oh, my friend is calling me, I gotta go, bye.”

Truth be told I’ve asked the very same question to strangers at social events. Rarely have I actually cared about their answer. Rarely do people venture away from talking about their job, and rarely is their job fascinating enough to keep me enthralled for too long. I wish people would take that bare canvas of a question and go wild with it. Why not? If someone is asking you what you do, they know nothing about you, might as well make it entertaining.  My point is, there’s a great many things we all do: we sing, we dance, we write, we walk around, play sports, play videogames, watch the rain, wear hats, cook, eat, drink, fall down, get up, etc. Whatever it is, why limit ourselves to droning over what our job is when asked by a stranger? Let’s get creative. So, what do You do?

-David Collante

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