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After Work: The Question

So there you are at another party, chatting to someone you are meeting for the first time, and out comes the inevitable question: What do you do?

Should you answer in detail? Career outline? Future plans?

If you want to be really popular you will follow Dona Gibbs's wise advice and ask a simple question by way of reply.

“What do you do?”

Around this time of year with so many cocktail parties, it’s a question that gets asked a lot.

What should I answer?

I’m soon to be 64 and what I do is what many of my contemporaries do –those of us who are very, very lucky. I read newspapers and magazines. A lot more thoroughly than I used to now that I have the time.

I see more plays. More dramas, fewer musicals now that I better understand the universality of the human condition. At least I flatter myself that I do.

I listen to music - soaring classical, raunchy blues, rock ‘n’ roll, smoky old standards, get-up reggae, get-down funk, plaintive folk and even one hit wonders like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” which always makes me laugh in that “So-bad-it’s-good way.”

I explore plant nurseries. I drag home bags of potting soil and special fertilizer for the bougainvilleas. I contemplate planting an avocado tree.

I shop for the world’s best soap scum remover. I apply, rinse and repeat. Endlessly.

I try new recipes. Fearlessly.

I put in yet another load of laundry.

I look for the perfect outfit - the one that will make me look ten years younger and ten pounds lighter.

I take out the garbage and take in the mail.

I sometimes drag my unwilling self to an exercise class, golf or a horseback riding lesson.

None of this though is a scintillating answer to the cocktail party question, one that I think of as The Question.

Should I tell the questioner that my passion is writing? When I’ve tried that I get a look and another question, “Anything I might have read?”

If they have to ask that, well, isn’t the answer, “No.”

Early on in my twenties, when I was asked, “What do you do?” I had an answer: “I’m in advertising.”

And that was enough back then. I could be put in a neat little slot: single career woman.

Marriage and motherhood changed that.

I had entered the workforce on the cusp of the Women’s Liberation Movement. I never attended a consciousness raising session. I’d had my consciousness raised plenty as the sole woman in my graduate school section, thank you very much, and I was well aware of the pay discrepancies, harassment and just plain ole nonsense of the corporate world.

While I loved my job - well some of the time anyway -I couldn’t deal with being separated from my cubby, giggling little boy. He’d just sprung two little seed pearl teeth, which the nanny called my attention to.

So I quit.

The next time I was asked The Question, this time from a woman, I answered, “I’m a mom.”

I got back a barrage of anger. I was a traitor to the cause of working women everywhere.

Years passed and then our son left home for school as kids are wont to do, darn it.

I returned to work.

Then at a dinner party a man asked The Question.

And I proudly answered in detail. I was planning an ad campaign, we were shooting a commercial and I had been nominated for an industry award.

His eyes were glassy when he delicately dabbed at his lips and answered, “That’s all very interesting, my dear. My wife doesn’t have to work.”

Finally after all these years, I think I’ve learned how to answer The Question. I’ll smile as brightly as I can and say, “Tell me about you?”

And I find that is really what is wanted all along.


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