Monday, August 11, 2008

Talking about work

Yesterday we had a family party at our house, and one of the guests began to pepper me with questions: what are you working on, what is your favorite project, what publication do you like writing for best?

I gave her vague answers, in part because of the family dynamics of other people who began to lean in and listen to the conversation, but mostly because this was a party, I was relaxing, and the last thing I wanted to do was think about work.

Back in the day when I worked in an office with other people, I rarely talked about my job to anyone but coworkers, except to grumble to the husband or friends about it. I like to separate my work self from my real life. And I almost never ask anyone about their job, either, unless it is someone I used to work with and I want to get caught up on people I used to know.

And back in the day, people rarely asked me about work except in a small talk kind of way -- how's work going? Fine. And that was that.

Now . . . I find people want to talk about my work all the time. It isn't small talk conversation. They want to know the nitty gritty details. They want to know who I'm writing for, what my current projects are, how much I make. They ask if I'm busy or if I'm able to make any money doing this.

It drives me nuts. It's hard enough when your work is in your house, and it's always looming. If I was a person who enjoyed talking about my job, that would be one thing. But I'm not, never was, and so to avoid questions about my daily work is not out of character for me. Except now people are bent out of shape if I don't answer.

I've been told -- repeatedly -- that people are interested because this is such an unusual job (it is?) and most folks don't understand it. They want to know more. (I interview. I write. What's so hard about that?) But the odd balance to me is that, even though what I do for a living is explain other peoples' lives and careers, I can't stand explaining my own outside of a work context.

One family member once said the reason everyone asks is not that they are truly interested in what I do, they just want to make sure I'm actually working and not sitting at home doing nothing all day (not that that's their business, either).

The bottom line is: on Monday-Friday and sometimes on weekends, I work hard. I haven't had a real, out-of-town vacation in 18 months, in part because my calendar is so full, and on the days I do take time off, I still end up working a bit. So when I'm sitting on my back porch sipping a cold Blue Moon, the last thing I want to think about is looming deadlines and juggling projects.

7 comments:

Molly said...

Some of those questions are just plain rude and deserve what Miss Manners calls "the fishy stare" where you just look at them with an "I can't believe you are so crass as to ask me that question" expression.

Patti said...

that porch sounds lovely.

Beverly said...

I know you work hard and are diligent at your craft - from one artist to another, my friend - you rock.

SueH said...

You might have to help me out with this one...work isn't fair game for small talk? Okay, if work were somehow unsavory (brothel keeper?), I get it. But otherwise? I recently had a chance to socialize with a friend whose career also took an interesting turn. She's now an Episcopal minister. I was most interested to hear all about her new calling -- her role in her congregation, the mission work she leads in Central America, etc. And she seemed quite happy to talk about it. For my part, people ask about earthquakes and writing all the time. It's never occurred to me, to mind.

Sue said...

If people like talking about their work, hey, go for it. I don't. Never did. But I especially don't like talking about it now because the boundaries are so blurred. People come to my house -- they want to see my office. Or they want to see if there are copies of my articles lying about. To me, it is not enjoyable to be in the midst of a conversation with someone and suddenly be peppered with questions about the nitty gritty of my work day.

SueH said...

Ime, the people I socialize with find their work gratifying, and are quite happy to talk about it. (If anyone cares to see my home office, sure, no problem, I give them the tour and point out that I have less room than the bunny, but that's okay.) If it's a pet peeve, so to speak, of yours, you might have to accept the fact that you're an outlier -- I wouldn't read dark motives into the questions.

Lori said...

Sue, here's what you do - you tell them something like, "Well, today I was working on this fascinating article on the legal changes in worker's compensation law and how it relates to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act." Watch them run.

I have the opposite problem - I tell them what I write about and they can't wait to change the subject. I can't find one person who wants to talk at length about financial derivatives or construction risk. Go figure!