'Hi, I’m X, and I’m a senior lecturer at Southern Cross Uni. What do you do?’ This enquiry comes with distracted, feigned interest, a flick of her long dark superior hair and a smugness that makes me want to puke. I fucking hate this question. I try to be magnanimous, but on less charitable days my mind leans toward the cynical. ‘What do you really want to know? What I do or how I earn my money?’ I don’t go there! Regardless, my reaction to this prescriptive, potentially socially isolating and dead-end question is probably written all over my face. I feel it instantly. The protective little hairs on the back of my neck rush toward the horizontal as my emotional landscape freezes. ‘I do lots of things" I blurt. ‘Have my finger in lots of pies’. ’ The Bard says it better than I ever could!
But really, how do I answer that question? And what question would I prefer? I ‘do’ lots of things. Sometimes I lie on my bed for hours reading. This is luxurious to the point of guilty discomfort. The only way to silence the judge that criticises my down time is to just read! I sew, curse, and unpick, and sew, curse and unpick again. A crowd of cushions I’ve been making from the fabric I was given in Arnhem land has begun to colonise my workroom. One morning a week, I head to my beloved Playback Theatre. Each week we rehearse and prepare for upcoming gigs by playing silly warm-up games for an hour, and then telling our stories. After 16 years I’m still astonished by the healing power of shared personal story, and the captive, deep-listening ensemble of actors who play them back. On Friday morning I trampse down to the farmers market to buy fruit and veg for my hospice client, and head back up to the hills to be with her. Every now and then I work as a facilitator on rite of passage camps for teenagers transitioning to adulthood. These are 5-day bush retreats and involve lots of preparation, weeks of it. Occasionally I’ll spend hours writing a blog. I’m a laborious thinker! Two or three times a week, I drive down to Brunswick Heads on a whim just to walk out onto the breakwall to feel the swell of the ocean in my bones. I cook, pick citrus, covet the neighbour’s passionfruit, sit in cafes and talk to strangers, listen to birdsong, marvel at the paragliders who sprinkle the sky outside my window, support and exasperate my friends and family, play my uke, walk the dog, and reflect on the myriad of emotions I feel during the day. Envy, desire, blame, grief, confusion. Oh yeah, I'm never short of strong feeling! I attend a weekly Buddhist study group, committee meetings, and volunteer at numerous political and community-building events. It's a long coooeee from my past life as a legal/parliamentary secretary in Melbourne, far more connecting and fulfilling, and paradoxically, virtually impossible to articulate to those with a more conventional working life.
So, next time somebody asks me that oh-so-bloody-boring question I’m going to plagiarise a response I heard at the writers’ fest. ‘I work for Arnotts in Food Technology and am currently developing a product that stops the marshmallow on an Iced Vovo from sagging’!!