I hate this question. Not because there is something inherently wrong with it, like there is with “Where are you from” one (What does it matter, where someone is from? It’s a purely incidental thing that will tell you nothing about a person, unless you choose to steep down to your prejudices. Why not ask “where are you going to” instead? This at least will give you some idea about your interlocutor, right?). No, I hate the “What do you do” question because I don’t have a good answer for it.
For many, way too many years I was able to sidestep this question by saying that I’m studying. Sometimes that mercifully ended the topic. More inquisitive people would want to know what it was I was studying and upon learning that it was things like philosophy or culture of Eastern Europe, they would say “Ooh,” and nod, and ask what I was going to do afterwards. Pff.
But now that I’m done studying I don’t even have that substitute answer. So, what do you do, M? What indeed.
In the nineteenth century my position could be, I suppose, that of a gentleman — a person who does not need a wage-paying job. Only I’m not exactly nobility. And nowadays my situation is more aptly described as a housewife — a person whose spouse earns the family income. Not a very glamorous description. I sometimes use it half-jokingly, but it doesn’t elude me that the joke is on me.
My extremely supportive spouse keeps telling me I should say “I’m a writer”. Own it proudly.
But I can’t. It seems farfetched. I’d need to clarify that, but for a couple of self-published short stories, I’m an unpublished writer and this doesn’t sound so proud anymore. It sounds like an exploitative time-waster.
Plus, it doesn’t feel like I spend enough hours in the week actually writing to really own the title. I spend much more time reading for instance. I always have. I certainly defines me.
Next time someone asks me “So, M., what do you do?”, can I just say “I’m a reader”?