What Do You Do?

I never know how it’s going to go when complete strangers ask me what I do for a living. I told a guy on the train once that I was an editor and worked at a college tutoring writing and he asked me about the state of kids’ writing these days. And then he told me about how his daughter wrote angsty poetry. It was a good conversation.

Yesterday DP was telling a guy* about how I worked on a range of material from dissertations to craft books. He asked me how I edited dissertations, and I said “very carefully” and then he said that he always had trouble with grammar. We made small talk about it, but what I wanted to ask him was whether he read. If you read, your grammar gets better. But how do you ask that question without sounding like a pretentious asshole?

It’s all wrapped up in class and education. I never know how much to tell total strangers, how much they know, how to go about it without sounding either intimidating or condescending.

Ah well, I have it better than certain of my family members, who has to tell people that she’s a rabbi. Heh. How do you talk about what you do?

*A guy at a car dealership, you know a car salesman, who sold me a car. The Jetta is dead, long live the Golf!


15 responses to “What Do You Do?

  1. Ah yes, the dreaded, “…and what do you do?”
    I imagine, similar to The Cougar, I try to avoid details at all costs as people tend to look to you for advice that you don’t have all of the information to provide. Then there’s also the fact that when I leave my job, I leave my job. I don’t listen to certain news programs and anything “breaking” can wait until I show up there bright and early the next day. Separation of church and state, you know?

    Although, if I could get away with it I would so say I was a rabbi. Oh, the fun I could have. I don’t think my yiddish would get me too far. Oh vey, meshunga (sp?), and a few other small phrases one of my best friend’s gave to me wouldn’t be enough to get me through the first Torah reading.

  2. What do you do?

    Conversation almost always goes like this.
    What do you do?
    I write.
    Write what?
    A column.
    Do you get paid?
    How much?
    Not enough.
    End of conversation.

    Why do people, writers in particular, feel it is proper to ask how much money we make?
    (Charging for writing services is one thing, checking out my 1099 is a none of their damn business.)

  3. Yeah, I pretty much just don’t tell people I write. It’s my thing, my personal endeavor and challenge and fulfillment and insanity. I don’t care to share. And when people do happen to learn of it and ask about it, I shrug it off and try to change the subject. They usually get the hint. I don’t want to be given advice or asked for advice.. I don’t want judgments of my story’s worth or strengths or weaknesses. I prefer anonymity, which is why I hide behind a pen name.

    • I hear you. One of my favorite questions is “what kind of poems do you write?”

      I used to just say “ones that don’t hit the right-hand side of the page, and are about yay [I hold my fingers 4″ apart) long”. That shut them up too. 😉

  4. I have problems telling people I write at writing conferences.

    Of course, telling people I’m a librarian has its own pitfalls:

    “Do you work?”
    “Yes, I’m a librarian.”
    “Oh. Do you need a degree for that?”
    “Yes. To be a professional librarian, you need a Master’s in Library Science.”
    “Really? A Master’s degree? Just to sit around and read books all day?”
    “There’s a little more to it than tha—”
    “You know, I don’t read a lot, myself. Never have.”
    “Really? How terrible for you. Have you thought of getting a Master’s degree?”

  5. In [name of country redacted] you get voting papers each year, and they come with your profession on them. You’re supposed to check out if there are any errors, and send them back. Prof Mr Cougar looked at mine and said: “hey doc! They’ve got you down as ‘writer’ “. Well then. That settles that!

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