How to answer the teen-child’s question, “What do you DO?” and why I thought it better NOT to. Answer. Or, do.
Tomorrow I will leave this house/pet sitting gig and spend three nights at my mailing address, in my own bed. From the beginning of the “summer” season in June through mid-September, I will have spent less than two weeks in that bed.
Which is okay.
I really like it here. I’m quite comfortable in this home, where a family of my best friends live, and this neighborhood, where I have a few other house-sitting gigs and have been to parties and such. It’s quiet. I can hear the insects and animals at night. It is wonderfully welcoming. And this house vibrates with love. The art, the decor, the history, the warmth all speak to the couple who live here and have made this place, built this place, sustained and maintained this place, survived marriage and child-rearing and in-lawing and crazy friend-ing; this is a HOME, not a house, and it is suffused with the energy and aura of the beautiful people who live here. They have made a “family” and they have welcomed me into it.
Good people. There are so few. And by “good” I don’t mean saints or platitude-spouting hypocrites; I mean that these dear friends of mine are real, honest-to-goodness human beings who have been through the fires and trials, the ups and downs, the births and the deaths, the anger and the acceptance, the storms and the peace, the good and the bad times, the ridiculously high elations and the lows so deep it seemed there might not be an escape, the real challenges of being alive, and they have faced them with courage, grace, dignity, class, privacy, patience, and a willingness to keep on, go on, learn and let go and move along.
I admire them and love them and honor them. They just DO it. Which is something I have difficulty managing.
Last night, the neighborhood teen-boy who comes by each evening to walk the puppy-ish, newest addition to this family, Bear, the crazy one-eyed, beagle pup, returned after an hour or so with a somewhat less energetic Bear en-leash (that being the point, to wear Bear out – a hopeless pursuit, btw) and spoke to me. At first, I didn’t quite know he was speaking to me. He’s a nice boy, what I know of him, but frankly, after decades of teaching young people and watching them grow and go, I don’t really register them anymore. As I am invisible and inscrutable to them, so are they, to me. I have just learned NOT to tune into that frequency – it’s a choice.
So, I didn’t really hear what he said at first. It came to me as he was looking at me, waiting for an answer and I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, A – – – , were you talking to me?”
“Yeah. I mean, what do you do? Cuz, I always see you on the couch. Is that it? I mean, you go to the gym every day, I know, but do you just only get up to do that and when I come to walk Bear? Do you do anything?”
And one that echoed a discussion with a grown-up friend from earlier in the day during which I expressed my declining desire to actually “do” anything at all. Because, you see, if I cannot comprehend a “why” behind the doing of something, then I no longer think it is incumbent upon me to act. Because, you see, to me, right now, almost EVERYTHING that ANYONE does seems rather pointless, the doing of it done because “I said so.” As in, well, why do people work and buy houses and build relationships and go out in the world and go to school and on and on – “Because it’s what you do.”
It’s not what I’m going to do. I did it. I played by those rules. I tried to fit in. I tried to give what people wanted and needed. I worked. Hard. And when it came time for me to ask for what I needed and wanted, somehow, I was always wrong. When I wanted a day a week to write, to try to live my dream, that was too much. When I was moving on, I was told, “Well, you never really did anything anyway.” When I needed support and loyalty and understanding, I got abandonment and slander and betrayal. From long-time friends and family too.
Luckily, I made a new family. Here, where I am now.
But, why would I trust again? Why would I work endless hours to make things, to do things, so I can do what? Build something else and watch it morph into a labyrinth of poisonous karma?
So, how did I answer A – – – ? I laughed. Then said, “Well, I read and I write, but, what is it you think I should be doing?”
He mumbled something, some embarrassed sort of utterance meaning he didn’t really want to be in this conversation, and, in just the few seconds I engaged – which is why I try NOT to tune in to this age group – I could tell that he had not asked the question he really meant to ask; a question he doesn’t yet know how to parse; a question I hope he doesn’t ever get to; but one he sees embodied by me, a sort of anomaly in the neighborhood of over-achieving, always running, socially active, upwardly mobile, middle-class lovely people who do, do, do and don’t ask, so much, the “WHY?”
He wanted to know if I knew something he should know. Who, he wondered, was this adult, who didn’t seem to be enmeshed and embroiled and in pursuit of the same victory in the life-game being played by all the other adults he knew.
Yes, best I didn’t answer. Best he just play. It’s hard enough to be 16, without also being presented with the existential “WHY” I’m facing. Just, I don’t know, keep walking the dog, kid.