“I don’t like being put in boxes. Boy, girl, dork, popular – those are boxes.”
“Sorry. But…” I wanted to know something. “How old are you?”
“Age is a box.”
~ From the pages of What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci.
Boxes confine. Boxes limit. Boxes keep things in and boxes keep things out. The only boxes I like are the ones that I put in storage because I have no use for what I’ve put in them and probably won’t for a long time. Like my high school yearbooks, my first lock of hair, hospital bracelet – stuff like that.
Labels are just like boxes. Slap a label on a box and we’ve got a perfectly, pin-pointable, predictable product. What happens when said product doesn’t perform in the manner the label on the box specifies? We send it back and get a full refund. In our eyes, it didn’t fit into our basket of expectations, and it gets the big, red Reject stamp across the front.
Same as putting labels on people. We label them, expecting certain characteristics and we are surprised and sometimes angry when prim and proper Mary Jane is caught dancing on the tables at a seedy bar, or the virtuous Mrs. Goody-Goody is caught washing down pills with a vodka tonic. How about Miss America showing some skin in pictures taken eons ago?
Society loves doing that – putting people in boxes and writing labels on them in big permanent markers. It’s easier to keep track of us that way. It keeps us in line. But that makes us feel like we have to live up to someone’s expectation – a heavy burden to carry.
One of the many problems with boxes, though, is that they create a finite atmosphere from which we can take our next breath. How can we be one way when we are supposed to act another?
I find it difficult to label myself, so normally I don’t even try, but as part of a workshop headed up by Kristen Lamb, we were asked to make a list of words to describe ourselves or how others would describe us. It was eye-opening, to say the least.
After I had written the word “calm,” I immediately wrote “explosive.” “Cautious” was followed by “impetuous.” “Focused” fused with “scattered.” One hundred words later, I was still not able to get a very clear picture of who I was – it was blurry at best.
Taking the time to write those words was a wonderful exercise because it made me realize I am all of those words, yet none of them, or maybe a bit of each, in a very –ish sort of way.
That probably explains why I could never hold down a traditional job. Most jobs have very specific boundaries in which to perform. I don’t do boundaries. Guidelines maybe. Boundaries never. Abiding by leases, contracts, rules, and regulations makes me break out in hives.
The same goes with time. Clocks are too regimented and too confining. I rarely give an exact time for when I will be somewhere. I know myself too well. It’s always 1:00-ish, noon-ish, or afternoon-ish. I’m often teased about it, but it’s an expected and accepted part of me.
So there you have it – the nuts and bolts of who I am – or who I’m not.
How about you? Do you fit into a mold? Can you identify yourself with just a few words? Where is your comfort zone? Let me know! I’d love to compare our lists!