In high school, my friend Sarah and I took a class about media. Our teacher was one of those very randomly intense people. You couldn’t really predict when she was about to snap into her intensity and get “serious” about something that did not seem serious. One that is burned on my brain is her description of a label for canned vegetables. She widened her eyes, walked to the center of the room, approached the first row of desks (thank god we sat back a row), raised her hands like a politician about to announce a plan to fix poverty, and said:
On the table,
You’ll like it
Those spaces are necessary because that’s how slowly she delivered it to us. That last “label” required at least a 10 second wait. I looked up the ad she was quoting so oddly and she was a little off with the “lyrics” but still it’s advertising gold for the ’70s, I’m guessing.
We humans are very attached to labels. They give us identity, solidarity, and maybe a bit of an internal mirror, which is a comfort of sorts. Like “Ah, I do exist. And there’s a label for that!”
Labels have been swirling in my head lately. At Gram’s viewings, she had flowers for each of her roles: mother, wife, sister, grandmother. Pretty standard. Those are labels that truly do give one an identity. If I could, I would have added “saint” or “angel” because that’s what she is now. Did I tell you I scored 12 points in my basketball game last night? That’s Gram’s divine intervention.
I made an Instagram last week and I couldn’t decide on a name. I went with “amandywritesthings” which sounds very juvenile to me. I made the account to promote my writing and my yoga classes so at least I’ve labeled 50% of that. It’s easy enough to find out what the kids are calling themselves these days because they write their Instagram names all over the mouse pads at school. To each her own…?
Seinfeld had a large role in raising me. I learned everything I shouldn’t have known from that show. (Just realizing this is a blog for another day.) Every once in a while they’d play a montage episode, a large chunk of which was just the main characters calling people ridiculous names.
Man Hands, Close Talker, High Talker, Crazy Joe Davola, Rabid Anti-Dentite (that’s just Jerry), The Face Painter, The Soup Nazi, The Bra-less Wonder, The Virgin, Loud Braun, The Lip Reader, The Maestro, and so many more.
Of course Larry David is a genius. That label goes without saying. But if you’re going to create a show that contains a constant stream of ridiculous characters, you best label them for the 7 year old girls who are watching in their dining rooms while doing their math homework and eating a TV dinner, so we can keep track.
In my class at school, I have had the girls complete the Myers Briggs. It’s an easier, more boiled down version but they love it. They have really enjoyed seeing themselves in their results. I have taken the Myers Briggs several times and each time I am a strong ENFP. The site I used with the girls also gives users a name. I am “the campaigner” and it honestly weirds me out how accurate it is. An actual quote in the career paths section is: “Can’t I fly helicopters AND be an oceanographer who writes songs and cooks?” which for me means: “Can’t I teach AND help with future planning AND instruct yoga AND tutor on the side?” There’s something so amusing about reading all about yourself. If you want to take it too: www.16personalities.com.
Another label that some people really subscribe to are zodiac signs. Chas and I are both Capricorns. I remember telling my fellow Capricorn friend Maiesha that and she was surprised we were compatible because she knows a lot about the signs. When I look at descriptions of Capricorns, I actually do see a little Chas and a little me. Maybe our 50/50 Cap-ness works out. Zodiac signs seem like another great opportunity to recognize ourselves in something written. I’ve never really gotten into the Zodiac signs although I almost always agree with horoscopes. I also love that the Capricorn’s symbol is a mountain goat because I really enjoy watching videos of mountain goats climbing.
Is all of this a little self-fulfilling? If the horoscope says something like, “Today you will find a lucky penny,” won’t you be staring at the ground all day? Why would your birthday, actual day, matter so many years after it’s gone? I don’t not believe, but I am certainly skeptical. But I’ve never heard someone say that he or she is the opposite of what his/her zodiac sign says. Though, do those types read horoscopes? Chicken-egg.
In traditional Chinese medicine, I lean toward the fire element. In the Chinese calendar, we 1987 people are “rabbits.” I know I’m part Irish, part Polish, and part Sicilian and I always dance to “Brown Eyed Girl” because I am one. I am an Orioles fan and I was raised Catholic. I grew up in East Baltimore, which actually is a thing in Baltimore City. So many labels, do they make up who we are?
In Swaziland everyone we asked questions of started their answers with, “In our Swazi cultyah…” It exuded such pride.
I think I get it, though. We love the solidarity of the labels. They bring us together. We also love the acknowledgement that we exist. A couple of weeks ago in a yoga class, the teacher told us about an exercise in getting to the core of who you are. Someone asks “Who are you?” and maybe you start with your name, job, familial roles, and eventually you run out. The concept is pretty meta and you come to “I am.” When you peel off all of the labels you collect throughout a lifetime, you’re a human body with a spirit inside. That, with the exception of Libby’s canned vegetables–when you peel off that label, they’re still the freshest canned vegetables.