Sunday, December 8, 2019

what do you do? more stories of connecting with others

a common question when meeting someone at a party is "what do you do?"
This ranks right down there with strangers who pass you on the street and ask
"how are you?" in a cheerful voice as they continue walking.

what do people really want to know?
will I pass or fail depending on my answer? 
why is it so tiresome to me to deal with little social amenities like asking after my well being while not caring about it?

Try telling someone the true sorry tale of how you "are" and watch as they squirm, start to look away or worse, at their watch or phone. It's not comfortable.

Back to the question of "doing"
I realize most people ask this because they don't know what else to say to connect to you, or they think by knowing your occupation, they know who you are.
For example (I worked in a school for a while...)

They may even decide right then and there that your job of say, teaching, means you are intelligent since you need a degree from university, but that you settle for a lower paying job so maybe you're not their kind of go-getter.
Or they may  look up to you since they were not financially able to go to uni. They may hate you since they never did well in school, or their disgusting uncle john was a teacher and they hated him. They may see you as a sounding board for their platform on education reform, or increasingly in today's political atmosphere, a drain on taxes since they don't truly believe in education. (don't get me started) (they don't even teach how to write nowadays)

Anyway, your answer will cause a reaction of sorts, quickly followed by judgement of your entire life.
oy vey

What if we were prepared with an answer to the question, what do you do...
...when you have free time
...for a hobby
...for others
...when confronted with bullying sleep better at night
...with your savings find peace inside

What if you answer, tongue in cheek, to the  question: "what do you do (implied, for a living)" with,  I sit around watching mindless tv and doing sudoku puzzles while ignoring what my spouse is saying.
Then smile.
what fun to see that reaction!
uh oh
There may follow an uncomfortable silence, looking at a watch or around the room, and moving on to someone who knows how to play the surface game of get- to- know- you.

As a young woman, I used to answer the question with, "I'm a dancer on Broadway, but now it's off-off-OFF Broadway, and then I smiled.
Only the very interesting people hung around after that...
mission accomplished.
After all, how boring to say, I'm a social worker, dealing with abuse and neglect cases. I knew no one  wanted to admit that happens in real life so, they put me in a box with other do-gooders who made little money. They made an assumption about who I was, and that was that.
There was so much more to me...
I was a social worker, by day, and by night I danced off-off-OFF Broadway in shows, and volunteered for charity events, I was an artist who painted and quilted, I loved my dog and walked miles a day, I made crepes for dinner on my electric crepe maker, I read books and thought great thoughts, and wanted more from life. I strove to be honest and the best person I could be.

what do you do?
better question at a party, what do you want to do but haven't yet?

so my suggestion is to stop asking questions you don't want the answers to.... and start conversations that really bring about connecting with someone you just might really like.

a quick story... dh and I had just left an embassy hop in DC where we watched a tango trio play in the Argentine embassy. We stopped at Dupont circle and sat on a bench to watch people at play.

A group of three tall young men sidled up to our bench, pants drooping down thin waists, dark skinned with frowns on their faces. We are middle aged light skinned professional people on the surface.
 On the surface, this was a chance to be real with another person.
I turned to the one who sat closely to me, and smiled, and said something. Now, I can't remember what, but somehow the two of us ended up talking about writing the great American novel.

He admired a certain author, and wanted to write like that, and this young man wrote every night at his kitchen table after work. I didn't ask what job he did. I said I too wrote at the kitchen table, and wanted to write a novel.
We watched the kids splashing in the fountain, men playing chess at concrete tables, and couples making out on the grass.
His friends walked off. He and I had a wonderful conversation and it changed me. I often wonder if he remembers the moment when two people who seemed to have little in common, talked excitedly about shared goals? I remember it well.


  1. Right!! Love your perspective and change in questioning. I'm going to use your: So what haven't you done yet, but hope to do question. (I never knew after all these years of following you that you were a social worker...I love that!!) Felt good to learn more about ya.:) Thanks for sharing.

  2. What interesting conversation starters, LeeAnna! I'm not much for "small talk", but think your ideas are MUCH better than the age old 'What do you do (for a living)?'.

  3. A good point and a good story. I need to think about new questions that could start a better conversation.

  4. Hi dessert buddy !
    That was fun! So glad we chatted!

  5. Thanks for sharing. I really like your conversation starter questions and I'm going to try to use them when opportunities arise.

  6. I'm the person at a party looking for the dog to pet. Not a very good conversationalist if there's not a dog close by. 😇

  7. You are spot on in that most people really don't care about the answer to those *small talk* questions. Sometimes it's worth it to come up with some fantastical line just to see the look on their face! I do like your conversation starter questions. Only those people who truly care about knowing another would stick around and continue the conversation.....which is really all we want in the first place, right?! If not, I'm all for finding the dog.

  8. That's a very cool story about the young man you had a conversation with! And you're so right about the drivel that people use to socialize/attempt to me it's too boring. It reminds me of the old days when people used to smoke in restaurants, bars, people's houses...they'd say "mind if I smoke?" and just light up without hearing the response! I heard a Steve Martin bit from the 1970's, he said when people say "mind if I smoke?" he responds with "mind if I fart?" LOL...I love that and one day I promise I'll say it hee hee.

    Another thing I can't stand is "so, tell me about your family"...If I really tell them about my (former) family, I think they'd have nightmares lol...the whole small talk thing and the empty questions...that's just one of the reasons I really don't socialize.

    Alex and I keep to ourselves and we just like our own company. We feel that "forced" socialization is just too emotionally draining. I have better conversations with my Blogging friends! (truth!)

  9. I try to remember that when I'm asked about what I do. I usually answer with my job, because I do love that work. But occasionally I throw the curve ball of quilting or dancing. lol. I'll need to remember to be more specific when asking people what they do. I like that!