So, what do you do?

I've been thinking a lot lately about that question. It sounds a lot like many similar questions: "What are you doing?" "What do you like?" "What do you care about?" "What are your values?" "What do you stand for?" – but it's not those questions, and the answers to those questions don't answer it.

"What are you doing?" sounds the most similar, but it's a factual question that admits very little interpretation or meaning. What I am doing now is writing a post for my website. What I was doing earlier is watching Ze Frank videos. What I did on the weekend was break an electric screwdriver and then fix it again. Facts.

"What do you like?" is about preferences. These are transitory, and in some sense performative. I am not my preferences, they are just things about me at the moment. I really like this track by Emancipator, but I have been listening to it a lot and will likely get tired of it. I used to both play and watch a lot of Dota 2, and now I don't. This has not affected me very much. I have enjoyed science fiction for as long as I can remember, but if I stop enjoying it I'm sure I can find something else to read.

"What do you care about?" is often the closest. I answered "programming" to "what do you do?" for a long time, but that was never really the answer. I care about programming, much like I care about writing and performing and experimentation and ideas. However, they're not so much things you do as kinds of things you do: fields, or industries, or genres of skill. Unlike this track by Emancipator", it would change me to change those things, but they're not what I do, they're the spaces I do those things in.

"What are your values?" asks a more fundamental question still. Even the things you care about change, but I would say your values don't really change so much as your understanding of them improves. I recently found something I wrote a decade ago that described values I still hold today. These values describe who I am and shape what I do, but they are not what I do.

"What do you stand for?" is something more akin to why you do: a statement of purpose. I described my purpose as the need to create beautiful things. So far, this is perhaps the most meaningful thing I have said about myself, and yet if someone asks "what do you do?" at a party, it does come off as a bit of a strange answer.

Because ultimately "what do you do?" is not asking for the highest level of abstract behaviour, nor the lowest level of concrete behaviour; it's asking for the lowest of the abstract, or the highest of the concrete. It's the transition between the two: where ∀ meets ∃; where "I write" yields to "yes, but what?"; where you give up the sweet brain crack and draw a line between the things you could do and the things you do.

I think "what do you do?" is answered, not by facts, preferences, fields, values, or purpose, but by a job description. Why not? If anything has earned a claim to banal abstraction, the humble job description is surely it. It specifies work concretely enough that its boundaries are clear, but abstractly enough that there can still be a meaningful choice of how to do the work.

Here's something I did that could be a bullet point on a job description: write a post on this site every day. Not "I wrote a post about this track by Emancipator", not "writing", not "I love expressing my thoughts", and definitely not "I am a vessel that each day fills with creation and I have to pour it out somewhere". I just... wrote every day. That's it. Somehow, it seems simultaneously profound and mundane.