I’ m stuck in a box and I can’t get out!! Seriously, in yesterday’s e-messages, I received a questionnaire from my college that asked all kinds of questions — from where I live to my marital status to whether or not I have kids to how many pets and what kind, if any, do I own?? Other questions included whether or not I had any schooling beyond college and what my profession is?? Whoever composed the questionnaire even had the nerve to ask me my age!!
Each of the questions were followed by a list of multiple choice responses. The responses to where I live were limited to choices urban, suburban and rural . . . followed by list of states. Now truth is I live in two different places: in the off-season I am a resident of suburban Clayton, Missouri but during the summer, I reside . . . at camp — which happens to be in a rural area in the state of Minnesota. But Camp was not even a boxed option to check off!!
Ticking of the appropriate boxes, I clichéd myself as married and having two kids (both boys) and a very fat cat. Easy enough to answer. But those single-choice responses did not take into account that I am “mom” to over 300 girls every summer . . . at camp!! And that I have an additional three cats and a dog (Marjena’s brood) plus Oreo and Patch (Kamaji caretaker Randy’s two dogs) who spend almost every day . . . at Kamaji. And then there’s the 10 horses . . . at camp.
And, yes, I have had education beyond my college days — went to grad school in fact (where, by the way, I first met Mike). But there was no choice for education other than in a school environment. How limiting given how much other-than-book-learning I’ve acquired thus far in my lifetime. Think of all the learning that takes place . . . at camp!
And while there was a huge variety of occupations to choose from — everything from A to Z — there was not one mention of working . . . at camp!! In actuality I should check off teacher and dietician/food service manager and medical liaison and counselor and accommodations manager and business manager and sometimes photographer and videographer and youth worker and stay-at-home mom (after all I am at camp — my home-away-from-home — all summer long with my 300+ ‘daughters’). But again I was limited to checking off only one occupation . . . and, again, camp director was not one of those choices!!
And, okay, so maybe I am 39+ years of age in real life but I am young-at-heart . . . at camp!! (You guessed it — “young-at-heart” is not a choice option!!)
Baffled as to how to accurately respond, I wonder what, if anything, my college will do — once it has compiled all my limited-to-one-choice responses — with the information?? After all, I can’t even respond to most of the questions because whatever answer I choose won’t fully describe who I am!! Bottom line is: I cannot fit in tiny boxes with labels attached (i.e., urban, rural, married, single, no children, some children, dogs, cats, young-middle-aged, middle-aged, verging-on-old-age, college, post-college, doctor, lawyer, etc).
It is the sum of my total life experiences which shape who I am rather than some anonymous computer compiling labeled-limiting-data on me and likely then categorizing me according to some label.
Likely many of you know of what I write. As far back as early grade school kids label one another according to a perceived social status — cool, sporty, brainy, nerdy, geeky, loser . . . which continues through high school with even more labels attached including boho, indie, wannabe, jock, goth, tree-hugger, preppy, punk, straight-edge, skater, poser, scenester, etc. added to the list.
Labeling isn’t all bad. Take for example Bill Gates, billionaire geek extra-ordinaire. Because of him geek is chic. But labels are not quite as simple as they may seem. For example, if you play sports, get good grades, skateboard, and like to wear all black, are you a nerdy jock-skater who’s into goth or a skater goth-jock who’s a bit of a nerd?
Labels can negatively stereotype or be a source of pride and comfort. Finding a group to identify with is sometimes an important part of the process of defining who you are. But defining anyone solely by the way she looks, what she believes, what she likes or does or, in the case of my college questionnaire, by demographics — can be an insult to the many dimensions that make up a person . . . that make up me!
It’s important to look beyond labels (or, in the case of the questionnaire I received, beyond little square boxes). There’s more to every individual than a single “label” or a few ticked-off boxes on a limited-to-one-choice-response generic questionnaire.
All I can say, is thank goodness for camp!! Camp allows me to be whoever I want to be, how many whoever’s/whatever’s possible(!!) instead of simply a one-dimensional stereotype pre-defined by marital status, education, profession, etc. and categorized by someone else!!
As for my college questionnaire — I decided not to complete and submit it after all; instead I boxed it into my computer’s trash compactor!!r
by Kamaji Blogger Kathy Jay