This is not a city-specific “problem.” (It is not even a problem, only a mere annoyance, for having a job and bristling at someone inquiring about it is annoying in itself, an indicator of blind privilege, even for “true artists.”) There was a too-long period of time when I, too, was SMDH and how-far-can-I-roll-my-eyes and R u srs? about this question, dragged by it, felt clutched by some vacuous “so what do you do?”-monster that seemed to live on the breath of every Angeleno. O! The Machine of Hollywood! I thought. The fakery! The climbing of ladders, social and professional! But no. That wasn’t just Los Angeles. It wasn’t just the Industry of Entertainment. Obviously other knuckleheads, in other cities, across the globe, have felt this silly pang. It’s not a problem of New York City. It’s not a problem of certain subcultures or industries. It’s not a problem. If there is any problem nesting in the idea above, it is the death of viewing one’s self as an artist due to making ends meet. With a job. Maybe a career. But that reverberates to everywhere. New York City doesn’t have a monopoly on struggle. Is it more expensive than other cities? Yes. But must the trust fund-less and un-rich work regardless of the city they reside in, save for the lucky few with grants? Yes. Yes! That’s all part of it, too! This is not a problem. There are many problems with living in cities, having jobs, being artists. This is not one.
Later, realizing it wasn’t an Angeleno parasite of questioning, I concluded it was only lazy conversationists employing this questioning. The all-cringing whispering of the capital-N “networking” (shush!) shaming around us in a waltz. Maybe. But if someone is mingling, lingering in your personal space at a party, in a bar, at a luncheon, and they know nothing of you, and they know of zero witty, high-brow ice breakers to wow you with their conversation, what is wrong with them asking about one of the few things we all must do? One of the few things that connects us all—the need for shelter and food and the modern route to acquire it? Absolute worst case scenario: they’re trying to use you. This rarely actually happens. And when it does, the indicators outside of asking “what do you do?” are many and easily spotted. The thirst is real, you know. So, removing worst-case-scenario, lecherous fuck-head troll asking, what is at the root of this question, or at least near it? Someone trying to make a connection with you, the simplest, most basic way they know how. Would it be better if they asked you what you love? Of course! Of course we want to talk about what we love over our day jobs! Are most people comfortable initiating conversation with something, especially to artists, that is so intimate? No!
So let us not yuck and whimper at someone asking about our lives. And let us not pile meaning upon it and then assign its reason for existence to a particular city, or industry, or group of people, or trade-wind. Smile, answer the question, and unfold the conversation with your new acquaintance, your new friend, maybe, your new colleague, possibly, or just the buzzed art enthusiast behind you in line for the bathroom. There are worse things in this world. And that list is so very long.”