“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“What do you write?”
That used to be a simple question to answer. My Capitol Hill days? Speeches and constituent correspondence. Journalism? Breaking news and investigative series. Think tank? Research papers. Nonprofit arts advocacy CEO? Testimony, filings, and a blog.
I need a short answer now.
In the last few months I have 1) covered breaking news as a stringer for a UK-based magazine; 2) ghostwritten editorials and other content for consulting clients; 3) authored blog posts; 4) written two short memoir pieces, the first of which will be published next week; 5) prepared a nonfiction book proposal complete with sample chapters; 6) and written a creative non-fiction piece to be workshopped later this month when I begin my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
I’m enjoying the diversity of projects (although I wish more of them paid). But I lacked a short response when asked that initial question, repeatedly, this weekend at a family reunion for my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary.
My stumbling attempts led to blank stares and awkward silences.
Maybe I need a new approach. I shuttle my kids a lot, so I’m a chauffeur. I love my gas grill, so I’m a short-order cook. I’m waging a (losing) battle with weeds, so I’m in lawn maintenance. All of those pay as much as the literary journal that’s about to publish my memoir piece.
I kept reminding myself this weekend to be flattered at others’ interest in my life. I avoided resentment at the question, but I still didn’t welcome it.
If I’m truly a writer, I should be able to craft a short and satisfying response.
How do you see yourself when asked “What do you do?” and how do you answer?