“What Do You Do?”

At some point in recent memory, I’d read that it is a fairly American (U.S.) tendency to ask someone 1) their name and 2) what they do. Are we truly so interested in the work of someone we just met? If their job is in a field we do not understand or don’t have an interest in, we may even tune out their answer or choose not to ask clarifying questions to better understand this new person.

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In the piece that I’d read, the suggestion was instead of asking someone, “What do you do?” ask them, “What do you enjoy?” Part of the problem is that we ask about employment so we can judge other people, even subconsciously. How do you feel about a stay-at-home dad? An adult fast food employee? A person unemployed who isn’t even looking for work? A part-time lifeguard in their thirties? Someone who makes money on the side selling Avon or Pampered Chef, or drives an Uber or Lyft? Let’s face it: we all have feelings about jobs and make judgments about people based on what they do. We’re basically checking, “Do you meaningfully contribute to the economy?”

For the first time last night, I asked a new person who joined my meditation class 1) his name and 2) what he enjoys. He was utterly flabbergasted. He said he’d just moved from Oregon to Indiana a month ago, but he didn’t know what he enjoys. He said, “I had the What do you do? answer loaded and ready to go.” I explained why I did not ask what he does, and eventually, he came to answer gardening, short horror fiction, and breweries.

Pretty soon, we were comparing horror movies we’d seen, which were our favorites, etc. and the conversation kept unfolding in a natural way! If I had asked, “What do you do?” and he said (which I learned later) that he’s a stay-at-home dad of four children ages two to nine, I wouldn’t have had anything else to say. I have no children. I could have responded, “Cool, my brother has four kids, too.” But then where would we go from there?

In the future, when you meet someone new, consider asking them what they enjoy instead of what they do.

The Science of Hope

Recently, I was informed I need to meditate, to achieve a sense of calm I am not maintaining on my own. Directed to the podcast Ten Percent Happier, I scrolled through the archives and found topics that appealed to me. One was “The Science of Hope” with Dr. Jacqueline Mattis. For me, hope has that woo woo feeling behind it, as if we’re all supposed to walk dreamily into the future, ignoring all the present adversities (like a pandemic, an insurrection on the country’s capitol, inflation, and possible WWIII).

Yet Dr. Mattis, a psychologist and professor, shares data-driven information about hope that can appeal to anyone, including the extremely poor and vulnerable populations facing adversity, and those who have privilege. Here are some notes I wrote while listening:

  • Hope is optimism with a plan.
  • Set a goal and figure out how to achieve it.
  • Hope is a bridge to get you through, not mindless wishful thinking.
  • Through bad things, along the way we are helped by others: teachers, friends, family, mentors, even strangers.
  • It’s a fantasy that we can control the world we live in.
  • Having a support system that challenges naysayers is good and a form of hope.
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  • In what ways is uncertainty good? How does it serve you? Pivot to a story you tell yourself that includes hope. Look at the data (stories) of your overall life, not just certain moments. Is the actual story that you can do [challenging thing] because you have many examples in your life as evidence?
  • People say, “Don’t quit your day job,” which makes you feel small in your creative endeavors. What if you shift your hope to doing that endeavor for yourself, or a small group of people, rather than a big audience? This is a form of hope.
  • Seek community! Some communities I have joined are my blog, volunteering at hospice, an online horror movie club, meeting and befriending two retired neighbors, my book club, a sign language group, and volunteering at the library.
  • Hope is not all fantasy and deluded people. It’s data driven. Optimists look at the same data as pessimists, but the extract different meaning depending on what they’re looking for. In one study, people were shown a picture of a cancerous lesion on the skin. Optimists tended to look at the skin around the cancer; pessimists focused on the cancer.
  • How has the story of hopelessness you’ve told yourself served you? If your story draws people to you to help you, it may serve you. But can you seek help without ditching hope?


Last Friday was my first day volunteering at my local Friends of the Library book sale. The manager of the book sale is a lovely woman with experience working in community-based organizations. As a book lover myself, I was familiar with where everything is in the book sale because I’ve shopped there before! In fact, I have hundreds of unread books that I’m currently working through so I can reduce that TBR (To Be Read) pile.

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What did I do while volunteering? Customers would put their books on the table, and I would tally how many of each type/cost they picked out. This makes it faster for the cashier. Many people are repeat customers, so they even put the books in piles for me. They know the drill!

When I worked at a library, I was not able to talk too much about books with patrons due to privacy issues around reading. Yet, nothing was said about the book sale! I was happy to tell customers which books looked cool and which I had read myself. We are community members, not employee/customer.

So, what does volunteering do for you? In almost every case, the people for whom you are volunteering are so ridiculously grateful you are there. Honestly, it’s a good feeling to be wanted and needed, and I believe if you are struggling with challenging emotions around belonging, loneliness, self-confidence, and/or worth, volunteering is a way to remind yourself that you do matter. Of course, there are the more practical benefits, such as making friends, helping your community, and getting to know people who are happy to write you a letter of recommendation.

Here are some types of volunteering I’ve done in the past:

  • Theater usher
  • Filling out award certificates with my calligraphy skills
  • Theater stage manager
  • Helping at the cookie table during a downtown Christmas event
  • Reading to a person with dementia
  • Driving a college men’s soccer team to their tournament

Have you volunteered? What was it like, and how did you feel about it?


Recently, my husband and I bought a house, and fortunately, there aren’t too many repairs to complete before we move in. One repair that had me worried due to the possibility of mold was a loose shower wall. You know, when you push on it it feels like there is space between the shower wall and the house wall.

I decided I would look on YouTube for answers, because folks sure are helpful and creative when it comes to DIY projects! I located a slightly intimidating video but felt I could do it myself. I only need a few supplies: masking tape, packing tape, Gorilla glue, newspaper, a syringe (the kind with no needle!), a screwdriver, and a brace made of wood.

However, as I excitedly told my husband about what I found, he started to take over my project. What gives!? I think he assumed that because this was a handyman task that I assumed he would do it, conforming to expected gender roles. And while this is not the norm in our family, we’ve never owned a house and are trying to feel out who we are and what we are responsible for within this new ownership space.

Because I felt like he was being kind and then didn’t process my feelings, I pulled into myself, which stirred up some helplessness. Of course I couldn’t do it, of course he would do it, why would I think I could do it? Then, we addressed the issue between us that we hardly knew existed, because the shower wall was sitting there with no one fixing it.

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It was my idea, and I shared information. I did not ask for help, but he tried giving advice and assistance regardless. Thus, I felt incapable. After we had a conversation, my husband encouraged me to fix the shower by myself while he mowed the lawn. But I couldn’t seem to do it! I could see him outside, and my feelings were shy.

So, I waited until Monday when he went to work to drive to the house and fix the shower without him knowing. I didn’t have the nice brace from the YouTube video, but I found some old wood in the garage and stacked up a plastic tote and some old notebooks to really make a wedge. And it worked!

And afterwards, guess what I felt? Empowered. And so this is how my bathtub taught me more about learned helplessness and empowerment. If we, even with the best intentions, assist someone who has not asked for it, nor have we asked if we can assist and are willing to accept “no” as an answer, we are taking away an opportunity to let that individual — like me! — develop personal strength and fortitude.

Last day of Interpreter Technology Class

Here I am! The last day of Spring semester 2022, and my final project is to submit this website to my professor. I created eight videos, organized my certificates, crafted greetings in both ASL and English, and tried to make an overall pleasing experience for visitors. Now that I have more free time, I’ll add blog posts with original content, too. I hope you’ve enjoyed the book reviews in the meantime.

So what have I learned through this experience? Even though I first created my book blog Grab the Lapels in 2013, that doesn’t mean I am a website pro! I forgot a lot of the initial set up for a website, which means that my book blog is basically running on automatic while I add content. Not only that, but WordPress is constantly updating, so if users aren’t paying attention, they can be left behind.

The point of this tech class in which we make a website is preparation for our final semester in the interpreting program, when we hope to attract clients who think we’re ready to do an internship with them. Currently, I know my videos are not ready to convince anyone. I’m still trying to get my facial grammar correct while being expressive, too. It’s a sort of rub-your-tummy-pat-your-head game that I’m working on and am determined to do better with practice.

For instance, in my last YouTube video I sign about my my love of books and how I started Grab the Lapels, which led me to making friends all over the world. However, I don’t look terribly excited about my favorite hobby. Woops! Instead, I look a bit forced. My professor said it’s appropriate for interpreters to look serious, but in casual situations they can be more relaxed. I know my video is for interpreting, but the content is more relaxed, so I’m not sure!

I do know that there is a whole summer ahead of me during which I plan to continue attending Deaf meetup.com groups, watch lessons on LifePrint, and cross my fingers that the local Deaf community have more events in person. I want to come back in the fall even better than I left — sort of like the Girl Scout motto!

Plus, because interpreters are lifelong learners and I’m not doing an internship for another two years, I have plenty of time to make new, better, sharper, more concise (and accurate) videos.