“What do you do?”

In the course of engaging on a butch-femme discussion forum, as is my custom now and again, I came across an image that brought to mind a whole host of thoughts and feelings:

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[Creator unknown: please tell me if it’s you, or you know who! I’d like to credit/link]

Instantly, I’m brought back to a moment in the backseat of a car, holding hands with my lover at the time. We’d just been apple-picking with friends of mine she’d recently met. My dear femme friend asked from the front passenger seat, “What do you do?” And my lover responded, hesitatingly and with a detectable note of shame in her voice, saying what her retail job was, trailing off at the end of the sentence. I added, “And she’s a landscape photographer: she has a piece that she’s sending up for Photo-a-GoGo, she sold the photograph she submitted last time, it was a beautiful shot.” And that got everyone talking about technical specs on cameras and framing and things that actually mattered.

Fast forward to that evening: E and I are in bed, talking about the day. “I felt lame, when M asked what I did – I didn’t want to answer.” And I say, knowing that it’s true, “But M didn’t want to know what you do for work – she knows that already — hell, she’s one of my best friends, she knows more about you than you want to think she does,” with a smile and a teasing nudge. “She wanted to know more about who you really are. That’s why I mentioned your photography. Because that’s who you really are.” I feel the tension slowly leave her body as we lay there in the half-light and I tell her that M has both a Job (working retail) and a Career (as a medical practitioner), and that my friends don’t hold her up to some high standard of prestige or income or power – what they want to know is that this person they love, me, is spending time with someone who knows what they love. Because having a passion – any passion, really – and sharing it with the world in some way, brings a light into your life that cannot be reproduced in any other way, and gives you something you want to share with those close to you.

It can manifest in so many forms: writing a piece of choral music; painting a mural; designing a custom gown; landscaping grounds; writing a piece of tricky code; finding the part of a machine that’s stopping up the works and fixing it; soothing a troubled soul; mending a broken bone; writing a bit of prose.

It isn’t what we do for a living. It’s what we do for ourselves, and each other. That’s what is important. I happen to be really freaking lucky, and I love what I do for a living — this is a very new thing to me, and I’m still getting used to the idea. And if someone asks me what I do, I could give them a stuffy “official” job description. But if I say, “I help libraries make their online catalogs sexy,” and they don’t understand all of what that means because they don’t know how to calculate its value, to turn it into an annual salary, or a marketable product – that’s sad, and we probably don’t have a lot to talk about. I want to hear about that photograph. Or that song. Or that healed bone.

Let your passion be your person. Let it define you. Let it tell the world who you really are. What do you do for the world?