Healers and builders, of which I am neither.

November 25, 2007

I went to an old friend’s birthday party last night. Aside from myself the rest of the crowd, without exception, were engineers or doctors. I’m not generally sensitive to that sort of thing, but there was such a glaring accomplishment gap between me and every single other person, I was discomfited (1).


And then the inevitable ” so what do you do for a living” conversation surfaced…and I was tempted to just claim I suck dicks down at the bus station, to avoid recounting the minutia of my entry level IT job. At least there would be some blue collar dignity in cock swallowing; my job combines the toothless banality of accountancy, with the mental acuity of sorting buttons… and these would be fairly dissimilar buttons. I honestly take more pride in sleeping under my desk regularly, than I do any function I am paid to perform. I can only assume the Doctors and Engineers feel somewhat more validated by there professional duties.

Eventually I got drunk enough to project some ablative charm: I was clever and engaging, but there was a falseness and calculation that made it joyless. It was the arty extrovert equivalent to talking about my sweet car and bank balance; I wanted them to know I was as good…as valid they were, and that social currency was the only thing I had to put forth. It seemed to work: people were warm and attentive, but I still felt like a high school cool guy in a rundown Camero.

It wasn’t so much that I have a crappy job that bothered me, it was the overwhelming urge to try an explain it. To provide some justification for why I was better than my situation, or at least had to capacity to be so, had I worked at it. Somehow it was important that these strangers were aware of my unrealized potential…as if that were more representative of who I am that my actual life. I wanted to make sure they knew I was lazy, not stupid. That is a pretty low standard to fight towards.

I’m going to have to think on this.

(1)And yes I used discomfited, instead of uncomfortable, to bolster my ego a little.

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16 Responses to “Healers and builders, of which I am neither.”

  1. engtech Says:

    I can only assume the Doctors and Engineers feel somewhat more validated by there professional duties.

    That’s a pretty big assumption.

  2. sulya Says:

    “I dip cookies.”
    “I tie pretty bows.”
    “I make houmas.”

    At varying points in my life, these are all answers I have given to the question “What do you do?” In each case, it was not the whole truth. In each case I was reading the audience, playing down my accomplishments, forgetting the things I was doing “on the side” and going for the cheap laugh. I was playing the clown, deflecting the fear of being seen through…

    Why am I babbling about this?

    I guess, I just immediately gut-empathized with this post, Valliant, and I keep thinking that there are people who define themselves by what they do every day and there are people who define themselves by what they haven’t yet done. (I’m sure there are lots of people in between but my rhetoric demands some sort of hyperbole dammit!) The former are very often those have jumped through hoops set by others to attain levels of success that are fairly structured and widely recognized. The latter often get caught in reactive traps trying NOT to be like the former but – at their best – forge their own paths with two hands and a shovel and without looking back…

    I suspect, if I may pitch in with you, that we are more of the latter category. I suspect that when we are not in our own way, we do plow ahead, putting one word after another. I suspect that even if we were to sell all those words to publishers we would still be chasing the next set of words – defining, conjuring, wishing for the next hoop through which we must jump… We would, in short, still be uncomfortable at parties…

    (Insecurity, of course, plays its hand in all this but I do not wish to tip my hat to that devil right now.)

    None of this is much consolation, I guess. So I will add – next time, grab someone’s palm pilot and surf on over to this place. Let this “you” speak for you. Ain’t nothin’ dumb about him. And if that still does not console just know you isn’t alone brutha’…

  3. baredfeetandteeth Says:

    I sincerely relate to the feeling of being better in potential/ability than on paper. I’m currently wading through applications for the next phase of my education, and being forced to convince people I’m qualified and able when there’s a decidedly limited supply of evidence is rough on the ego. Goes something like this:

    “look, I know there’s not a lot of proof of my potential, but I would be a spectacular addition to your program”

    “but how can we know that?”

    “you just have to give me a shot”

    “but why should we?”

    “…because…I’m awesome”

    “prove it”

    “…oh.”

    But I think, apart from the life move challenges it presents, it’s just a matter of getting your head properly around the idea that maybe your priorities are just different than others. They’re not worth less because they’re organized alternatively. Next time it gets under your skin, just shrug and say you’re a struggling writer.

    Incidentally..this reminds me of an anecdote I like to thieve from an old prof of mine…which I’ve possibly shared here already, because I tend to spread it around.

    Anyway, he was comparing Toronto and Vancouver, his going away party in the former to his first party in the latter, and made a point of noting that at the Toronto party when he asked someone “what do you do?” they’d delve into the details of their career, whereas the first person he asked the same question to in Vancouver (another academic by trade) responded with, “I mountain bike.” I’m not sure how honestly representative of the national divide that is, but I do think it illustrates that some people devote their lives to their careers and others make a career out of…other aspects of their lives, regardless of how they pay the bills.

    Excessive…my bad, it’s been a while.

  4. sabretooth Says:

    I recently met several friends of a friend. We’re all political geeks, so before meeting up he described them to me like this: “Two of them are the directors of international NGOs and the third runs a popular blog about Democratic politics”

    Sulya is right – we tend to forget about what we’re doing on the side. If I were you I’d say “I run a successful and off-beat litterature and art blog”. Define yourself by what you do, not just by what you make money doing.

  5. w0rmwood Says:

    “Define yourself by what you do, not just what you make money doing.”

    I agree with Sabes!

    However, when alcohol is involved, you should also trust your gut feelings when reading a crowd.

    What do you do?

    Me? I masturbate on average three times a day to wide variety of electronic pornography, only some of which i find genuinely erotic. Oh, I also write poetry and darn my own socks!

    =)

  6. Ginny Says:

    The last time someone asked “What do you do?” I just answered “Good.” While she gave me her best “WTF” look, I walked away, smug in my own cleverness.

    A couple of years ago, I was in the midst of a heated debate over what was wrong with those gosh darned kids nowadays! I do enjoy a good debate, and I am able to string more than 3 words together. One of the people I was talking to stopped, mid-conversation, and half-stated, half-asked, “You’re just a receptionist?”

    While I struggle with all the same shit you just described, I also enjoy being underestimated.
    Excellent post – thank you so much.


  7. “None of this is much consolation, I guess. So I will add – next time, grab someone’s palm pilot and surf on over to this place.”

    I can’t help visualizing dragging wary naysayers by the hand to come take a look at my toys :) Some solid heartfelt advice, none the less.


  8. ““but why should we?”

    “…because…I’m awesome”

    “prove it”

    “…oh.””

    You should get Business cards:

    BFAT Mysterios*: Clearly Awesome.

    * I assume they would contain your actually name. Though that is a pretty sweet nom de guerre.


  9. “If I were you I’d say “I run a successful and off-beat litterature and art blog”. ”

    Sabra Darling, you encouragement is much appreciated and deeply touching… but pulling out the “Successful Blog” card is akin to directing someone to my mom’s refrigerator as proof of my standing in the visual arts community ;)


  10. “While I struggle with all the same shit you just described, I also enjoy being underestimated.”

    It can be rewarding.

    When I was a dishwasher (around early 20ish) I was clearing the table of two obnoxious government workers on a double date. At one point they tried to impress the girls with their profundity, by talking pop metaphysics and misquoting Kant samplings as Nietzsche.

    Eventually they noticed my look of disgust and asked dismissively if I wanted to add something to the conversation. I suggested that the notion that dishwashers were illiterate was a false synthetic judgement a priori. They sort of blinked, and the one girl who’d actually read some philosophy laughed and refused to explain it them.

  11. thekenji Says:

    Hey AJ, that was a heartfelt post. I can relate to that feeling of frustration for wanting to explain your situation to strangers so badly. It’s an odd act of pride and dignity where you’re feigning it but also sincerely believe that you’re a superhero in your own right.

    One of the most significant things I’ve been learning over the last few years is that 99% of this whole world runs on a level of bullshitting. I find gloss is so much more intimidating than the truth.

    The creative spirit is a powerful thing though, and I think you have that in aces. It’s one of the few things that can conjure the world from nothing.

  12. Rodney Dowdall Says:

    Hey A.J.

    I know where you are coming from, this feeling of inadequacy. I feel it a lot too. My centre’s around the schooling I have received to date, and that somehow it means that I am not an intelligent person. It’s, funny, but it’s what drives me to be a better person every day.

    You have nothing to justify to anyone. I know that I haven’t seen you that much over the last 15 years, but all through that time I have never met anyone like you. You are truly unique. Most people cannot say that. You are posses intelligent, wit and an ability to envision things that most can’t understand. I can still remember marvelling at you ability to grasp a situation at hand and come up with a response. I remember this time that I had read a book before you, and I made a statement about the book. I thought the statement was innocuous, but from that one statement you were able to determine the ending of the book. Never feel that you do not measure up to anyone, because there are scores of people who do not measure up to you.

    Would it be totally gay for me to end this by saying “Nobody puts A.J. in a corner” and then breaking in to a round of “Time of my life”?

    Rodney

    P.S. My mom still likes you best of anyone I have ever hung out with. That’s gotta count for something, right?

  13. engtech Says:

    Me? I masturbate on average three times a day to wide variety of electronic pornography, only some of which i find genuinely erotic. Oh, I also write poetry and darn my own socks!

    don’t ask why the socks have holes


  14. “Would it be totally gay for me to end this by saying “Nobody puts A.J. in a corner” and then breaking in to a round of “Time of my life”?”

    Absolutely not. *Leaps in Rodney outstreched arms for lift we’ve been practicing all summer*


  15. “The creative spirit is a powerful thing though, and I think you have that in aces. It’s one of the few things that can conjure the world from nothing.”

    Sage words, Toyooka sama.

  16. Stiletto Says:

    “What do you do for a living?”

    Oh I hate this question too. I can always feel it coming right before it comes. Must they know I’m a wealthy independent? Will they think of me differently? I want to be loved for more than my money, you know!

    Let them love the tits, but not my wallet!


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