Wednesday 12 January 2011

What am I?

This post had me thinking,
not for the first time,
about the quandary so many of us face 
when asked to put down our occupations on a form.
I have in my time been occupied (and sometimes paid)
 as a painter, illustrator, archivist,
photographer, archaeologist,
gardener, teacher, nurse, 
mother, book editor, researcher, 
writer, special needs tutor,
cleaner, cook, furniture restorer, 
driver, decorator
and blogger.

Of course I haven't always been paid,
and there's the rub.
Does the question on the form want to know
what my skills are worth in monetary terms?
Does it want to know where I rank
 in an employment hierarchy?
Does it want to assess how interesting and important I am?

Certainly, in social situations, 
it often serves as a shorthand;
a box to put you in. 
Indeed it is usually the first question 
you are asked by strangers.
(Are you more or less interesting, important,
well paid, than me?)

But for most of these forms it is utterly irrelevant.
They might just as usefully ask you for your shoe size.

 Even if I could quite legitimately write,
opera singer, obstetrician or oligarch,
baker, broadcaster or ballerina,
it would only represent a snapshot,
a tiny fleeting sample
of all the occupations,jobs and careers 
that make up many lifetime's experience.

Leaving that space blank though -
well it allows for some ambiguity,
a refusal to be boxed,
but it also feels self-effacing
and slightly stroppy.

I'm not yet of retirement age
so retd. won't wash.
I quite like the idea of being
a bon viveur,
in its literal sense.
Perhaps lifer would be less self-congratulatory
but has the criminal overtones of a mal viveur.

Well, hungry is what I am now.
Luckily I have no forms to fill in 
or I would have to write 
sandwich maker in the box.

I leave the last word to the inestimable
Matt Pritchett.



  1. Yes, we get asked so many times what is that we do, yet no one really wants to know the detail. I used to say I worked for the Council (true) or that I worked at the Civic Centre (also true) - and despite knowing nothing about my complex, challenging, unusual job, everyone seemed quite satisfied with that!

  2. Trust me: once retired; especially if it's an early retirement; the question begins to rankle for men also.
    In future I think I might adopt your bon viveur tag, or possibly, As yet, undecided.

  3. Sigh........... just don't get me on this one.............. it's too, too difficult for a cleaner to cope with. I always want to put "Astro Physicist" or "Wannabe Rich Man's Plaything"............... or even "Bogus Form Filler Outer".........

  4. The simple answer , and the most accurate , is simply "Being me" .
    A full-time job in most cases , surely ?

  5. Ah wonderful post one time, in a fit of annoyance, I wrote 'a reader of library books'!

  6. I have to look up "stroppy" ...

    perhaps you could qualify as wordsmith ... :-)

  7. "sandwich maker" love it...seems all I do as a mum of two under 5. but I do get annoyed by such a question, I work part-time for paid work, work full-time as mother. Is it 'home duties' seems so quaint, and not quite right either.....Occupation? Occupied by much.