This is another party story, like Turning the Tables.
At this same party, there were so many new people I’d never met, unusual in our smallish town. I would ask people, “What do you do?”
It always feels like a hopelessly inadequate question. After all, a person working as a clerk in an office could also be an artist, a singer, a T’ai Chi master. You never know.
It reminds me of a section in Martha Beck’s latest book, The Joy Diet. In the chapter “Play”, she asks you to name your real career.
A real career is not necessarily what you’ve trained for, or what you do to earn a living, or even the job you’re currently in (or not in).
Your real career, as Webster defines it, is “…the course of action a person takes over a lifetime.”
It may not be what you do for money. It may not be anything you’ve ever done. It may not even be what you do in your free time.
It is, she says, “…the course of action your true self would take if you were to live to the limit of your potential.”
This is a harder concept to grasp–what do you dream of doing? What feeds your soul? What are you at heart?
And this could be, she says, a Japanese scholar, a scientist, a mother.
This reminds me of the older definition of amateur: What you pursue for love. Or perhaps what you would pursue, for love.
To cut to the chase, she often asks her clients, “What were you doing the morning of 9/11? And what did you do that evening?” What seemed most important to you then?
When I found out about the two towers, I was working in my studio. And making preparations for my birthday celebration.
My husband and I immediately went for a walk. And talked.
We observed that there was a new dividing line: The people who knew. And the people who didn’t yet know.
I held my family close, and struggled with what to tell my kids.
I went back to my studio to make little horses. I struggled with why I should still do this.
Then I wrote about it.
And then I went out to celebrate my birthday.
I had to write about the event to make sense of it.
I had to ask myself why —why making those horses still had meaning for me.
It was because they were, for me, a symbol of everything that’s tender, and good, in the world.
So I know my real career is making sense of the things that happen to us in life. To write about them as I go through them. To mangle my intentions, to struggle with meaning. To find a little way through.
And then to share them, through stories, with other people.
And then make little horses that embody those stories.
Oh, and to always leave room for cake.
Pretend we’re at a party, and we meet.
What is your job?
And what is your real career?
PS. Art biz tip: This should be someplace in your artist statement, you know….
PPS. For this exercise, if something spared you the sucker-punch-to-the-stomach reaction to 9/11, feel free to choose another life event that left you reeling.