August 31, 2011
This "About Me" prompt always gives me pause. Who am I? What do I love? What moves me? How do I avoid making of myself nothing more than a list of nouns?
Where I live, the first question people ask when they meet one another is always, "What do you do?" By which, of course, they mean, "How do you earn a living? What are your accomplishments? What box should I put you into?" More charitably, perhaps, "What shall we talk about next?"
I used to be able to answer that question clearly, at least. Conveniently. I had work that paid, a job title... But then I moved to another part of the country, one where jobs are rare, and paying jobs are rarer, and I found myself home with the children... not a valued position, no matter how important. (Is it valued somewhere? Somebody please tell me that this work is valued somewhere.) I lost my answer. "I'm home with the kids," I say. And people answer, "Oh, I would have loved to have been able to do that."
It took me great effort not to say, "nothing." Sometimes, when I come home and I write in front of my computer, and nobody reads, and nobody values my work as a mother, I still find myself thinking, "Nothing," when somebody asks The Question.
"What do you do?"
Even here I find myself given pause... No title. No organization. No way to categorize myself, no credibility. Shouldn't I be doing more??? I feel that loss more than the money (even though I miss having "my own" money.) What do I do? When I got to the About Me section, I nearly deleted myself...
What do I do? I write, I think, I read. I read books to my children, and the children at the library. I do laundry, and read philosophy. I watch children's movies again and again and again. I grow vegetables, and sometimes I sell them at the farmer's market. I raise chickens, and I lose them to predators, and I raise more chickens, and I make the eggs into dinner. I try to find a way to be in the world that lets me feel like it matters that I turned up. I write for a parenting website and draw in my best understanding of the world, and the people in it. I become the centrepiece in a "snuggle pile", the youngest child as the "cherry on top." I think about matters of visibility, sustainability, agency, feminism, environmentalism, economics, science. I struggle with my own privilege and how invisible I feel nonetheless. And then I get in the mini-van and take the kids to their drama class and feel like a complete fraud, me, in my grey mini-van.
Queer activist pagan unemployed teacher physicist polyamorous sci-fi-reading white nearly-forty mother-of-three writer artist engineer ... My partner handed me a piece of paper that i wrote up nearly 6 years ago that started with "I am" at the centre. I scrawled across it in a multitude of colours, textures... nouns, adjectives, judgements. At the time I had a job, but I don't think that the job title made it on there. "What do you do?" "Oh, I'm a [insert noun here]." It doesn't seem adequate to the task.
What do I do? Seek right livelihood. Meditate. Write. Work to be a decent human being. Find the boundaries between self and other. Seek community. Get on with the art of living. Be.
What do you do?