One of the great things about blogging is that you can have as many tries as you want to say what you trying to say. Unlike in real life, where you botch stuff and make faux pas and humiliate yourself (or others- which is worse, I wonder???), on a blog you can type and retype and edit and erase to your imperfect heart’s content. It is even possible to delete entire posts, and although they theoretically still exist somewhere out in cyberspace, I at least feel the same sense of satisfaction as I do when I hang up on a particularly cantankerous phone caller. Click: you’re gone.

In the last post I wanted to express my own frustration with people trying to define me in terms of what I do, but I think it is a much larger issue. As a society, we have gotten so used to equating a person with their profession that it doesn’t even seem odd to us that: A)often the first question we are asked when someone meets us is, “So what do you do?”; B)we expect that telling someone what we do will accurately convey pertinent information about who we are as a person; C)what we do is even relevant at all.

And in truth, for many people what they do IS who they are. If you are a corporate lawyer, you may dress the part, drive a certain car, and adopt certain mannerisms even outside of the office because so much of your identity is wrapped up in Corporate Lawyerism. I have seen teachers, and frankly it is only teachers, wear those cardigans with the apples and rulers and ABCs/123s on them- when they are not teaching and not in school… When someone asks, “What do you DO?” The answer is, “I AM a _________________” and not, “I DO _________________________.” Isn’t that interesting?

But that shortchanges both the asker and the answerer. If I want to know who you are it doesn’t help me to know that you practice dentistry. If you want to know who I am, it doesn’t give you any particular insight to know that I stuff envelopes or write a blog or do laundry.

I think many of us equate who we are with what we produce in the world, or what we are paid to do because we often don’t give much thought to who we are. Whether because that is too painful or too deep or too vast to contemplate, we spend lots of time doing and very little time pondering. It’s not that I am not guilty of this very same thing; in fact, I am one of the gravest offenders. I so abhor quiet reflection that if I am ever in a peaceful house I will put on the AM radio just so I can have background noise as a distraction so I don’t have to be alone with myself.

For me, this is partly because I don’t like looking at that huge space that exists between who I am and who I wish I was. I am not just talking about the limitations of my illness. In fact, I am not talking at all about the limitations of my illness. Although it is tempting to blame my shortcomings on how cruddy I feel on a regular basis, and I could probably make a rather convincing argument for why that may be true, if I am speaking from a position of pure truth I would have to say I have just let myself off the hook about certain things. I have let myself not be accountable (to myself, since in these things nobody else counts), and so I have become not the person I would aspire to be but instead the person I really am.

And that’s more than a little painful.

So if I worked and someone asked me about myself, I would definitely rather tell them I was an accountant or a grave-digger than that I was a fallible human with so-so character who should probably work much harder to be better but most of the time just can’t be bothered. It’s much easier to say who I look like to others (meaning what I do) than to talk about who I am.

Oddly enough, though, this is a game that both sides play. Because lots of people who ask about me don’t want to know me at all. They want a cursory answer to a cursory question, and in most contexts that’s fine. I don’t need to tell someone I am meeting casually and will never see again the complete saga of my life story. Nor do I likely want to hear theirs. It’s like the social nicety of saying, “How are you?”, to which the only acceptable answer is, “Fine.”. Anything else is almost unbearably boorish. I think both sides understand how this transaction is supposed to work, and as long as you play by the rules, it’s no harm, no foul.

But when you don’t have a job to fall back on, society sort of breaks down on you. If you meet someone- which may sometimes happen, even if you mostly stay at home like I do- and they want to do the social shmooze with you, “So, what do you do?” within 5 minutes of meeting you, you are already at an impasse. I guarantee you that this person does not want to hear that: A) I vomit. A lot; B) I lay in bed. A lot; C) I do laundry and cook and clean, when I’m able. Are you enthralled yet? Neither are they…

Last time this happened I decided to change things up a bit, so I said, “I do nothing,” to which she replied, “Oh,” and quickly looked around for possible escape routes. Seeing none she stammered and sputtered and I realized it was probably my turn and I should pretend to be civilized so I asked her some inane question and she was delighted to chatter on and on about who-knows-what.

When my doctor asked me, for the zillionth time, about how I spend my days, and told me how not being more productive is giving in to the pain, and blah blah blah, I broke it down for her like this: “I may not be a corporate executive, but I am a Corporate Mommy. Every day I run my house to the best of my ability. I manage my staff and my resources and do my job. I’m in charge of the budget and the inventory and the supplies. So just because my job doesn’t have a box I can tick on your form, it doesn’t mean I’m not competent…” I saw her smile as she made a note in my chart, so mission accomplished.

As I was thinking about directions for this post (making supper in the middle of writing- and you didn’t even notice I was gone, did you?), I was wondering really who I was. All of the labels I came up with weren’t quite authentic. Mother: only defines me by what I do for others. Wife: only defines me by who I am legally obligated to. Homemaker: job title that I feel like anyway is a way to legitimize what I do by making it sound like a “real” job, when in fact it shouldn’t need to be legitimized at all. And the rest are even more of a stretch: friend, blogger, Roman, Countryman- lend me an adjective! All are tangential things and none are ME.

I know who I am at my core, and maybe that’s most important. For each of us, I think it’s time we saw who we are and what we need to do to be who we want to be. It’s time to make our insides congruent with our outsides; let’s face it, none of us knows how much time we have left. So I guess the real work of our lives is to live the most wonderful life we can with the resources we have been given.

Maybe the best answer to, “What do you do?” would be, “I try my hardest to be the purest version of myself.”

I wish you luck on your journey.