“What do you do?” A weird question, in the end. Despite the linguistically gargantuan scope of the inquiry, it has just one little idiomatic meaning. You’re forced to respond in some artificially brief way, if only to move conversation along, and inevitably your answer reveals little about you and what you really do in this life, even if it can be boiled down tidily: (“I’m a lawyer”). Sure, your response, however impoverished, probably does reflect something you do a lot, if you’re traditionally employed or a full-time parent or whatever. Or else you do it a lot but you’d rather do anything else. Or you aspire to do it. Or you don’t really do it that much at all, despite its being “what you do.” And on and on.
This all seems a very American thing, you could argue, this emphasis on career, the focus only on what you do that makes you “productive,” but really it’s a problem of strangers-getting-to-know-each-other conversations in general. (And I think I prefer “What do you do?” over “Tell me about yourself” or, oh infinite dread, “What do you do for fun?”) Talking about yourself is uncomfortable, distilling your life’s doings into a digestible narration. Your elevator pitch is just a nod to polite society, a ventriloquistic eruption of factoids to outline your form. Like talking about someone in the third person when they’re standing right next to you, or clothes that don’t fit so well. And somehow, whatever and however you reply, you risk creating an irretrievable first impression that could haunt either party far longer than it should. In the best of times, it’s lame.
And when your life kind of falls all the way apart, then what do you do?
April 15, 2020 last year was the last day I did the thing I was doing up until that point. All the things I thought I was going to do after that I could no longer do. I looked around for other things to do, did things briefly, started doing things but didn’t finish, aspired to do dream things, made plans to do realistic ones. Sometimes, often, I did actually nothing. Always, I measured myself on how much I “didn’t,” while ignoring what I was actually doing, during this most recent revolution around the sun:
I ended a relationship. I moved, about 6 times. I cooked. I watched hours of cooking videos. I cried, a lot. I started to write. I walked in the park. I slept. I decanted bulk goods into jars. I spoke on the phone. I bought and sold a car. I lived with family. I found anger. I embroidered little animals onto tote bags. I panicked. I showered infrequently. I taught myself how to buy and sell stocks. I listened supportively. I started with a new therapist. I pared down my belongings. I won an award. I experimented with 15 kinds of cat food. I watched TV and fell asleep to it. I started reading ten independent newsletters a week. I got down on myself. I got a really nice tan. I built a website. I gave up ice cream. I felt terribly at sea. I took 1000 images of my cats. I stopped being able to read books. I found it again. I made a new friend more than twice my age. I discovered encroaching grey hair. I stretched. I volunteered at a food bank. I got a FitBit and rarely reach the step goal. I tracked my heart rate obsessively. I was a comfort to others. I bled like clockwork. I marveled at the beauty of New England. I bought myself flowers. I ate so much popcorn. I mourned, and I grew up a lot, and I watched the year go by, and I waited.
And I listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will” on (desperate) repeat:
April, come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May, she will stay
Resting in my arms again
June, she'll change her tune
In restless walks she'll prowl the night
July, she will fly
And give no warning to her flight
August, die she must
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September, I'll remember
A love once new has now grown old
Because I couldn’t say it any better, a user comment on the song’s YouTube page: “I thought I understood this when I first heard it. About the turning of the season. I always was a little sad about fall. But now I'm 70. And it’s about everything.”
It’s a long preamble to say that, as my unplanned 2 week Culture Diet vacation may have illustrated, I am now doing more than ever. I copywrite for a branding studio, and have worked on six soon-to-launch products. I am thrilled to be guest curating an exhibition opening this October for the Museum of Jewish Heritage here in New York (more details to come soon!). I’m collaborating with a wonderful artist in California and writing two articles about her work. And this coming Tuesday at 5pm, I will be hosting a virtual live sale of a curation of artworks that I put together for Showfields, a fabulous store/gallery/platform. All of the artwork can be purchased easily through their e-commerce site, and during the livestream I’ll be walking you through the selections and the artists. It’s a fabulous way to grow your lil art collection and support artists and, win win, for every person who logs onto the live, one dollar will be donated to the Loveland Foundation. And it’ll be fun! Tuesday, 5pm, join here.
Yours in doing,
Thank you for reading The Culture Diet <3 If you’re new here, a most warm welcome. I’m a curator and writer based in NYC, having spent a decade working in the art world. What you’ll get here is interdisciplinary cultural commentary, personal essays, thoughts on art, things to consume, and whatever else inspires, outrages, and delights me. If you’re enjoying it, please subscribe and tell your friends!