People like to put people into tidy little boxes. They especially like to put women into tiny little boxes. Specifically, they like to put me into tiny little boxes.
Honestly, I’m not a fan of the process, no matter how convenient those boxes might be. At school, I was The Brain. Sometimes, because I’m not what anyone (unless possibly if they’re drugged) would call meek, I’m called a bitch. Or… intimidating. Or… cynical.
In a way, I guess the argument can be made that all those little boxes are correct. Fitting. I know that a lot of people would have loved to be put into my boxes. (Being a small town’s The Brain has a certain amount of prestige.)
The truth is, though… that I’m not The Brain. Once upon a time, I used to channel a significant amount of rage and frustration into getting (far) ahead academically. But, as I said, those boxes can be very convenient. You know how other people see you, so you know within which bounds you can move. That was how I arrived at university with stars in my eyes and convinced that, since everyone else thought that as the Brain, I should focus on making so much money that I didn’t know what to do with it. Becoming an Actuary seemed a good idea at the time.
Well, if you’ve read my bio, you probably had the outcome of this spoiled for you. Although, not completely, because describing the sheer scope of the disaster that my decision had led to would probably take up a book. And that’s just the first six months. I stuck with it for eighteen.
Much longer than I should have, but people couldn’t understand why The Brain would actually despise a course that’s so… brainy. So when I told people how unhappy I was, the reaction was: “But you’re The Brain! You can do this. You have the intelligence and ability to finish this degree and get rich and be successful in the way that The Brains are supposed to be. So stop being lazy and work harder.”
One Wednesday morning, about eighteen months into my degree, I walked to my first class of the morning. I came to the last street crossing before my building, and seriously considered throwing myself in front of an oncoming car.
Why? Because I just didn’t want to sit through another soul-numbing class again. Fortunately for me, I still had a part of my mind healthy enough to scream: “What the hell are you thinking?!”
By the time I safely crossed to the other side of the street, though, I realized that I couldn’t do this. My The Brain box had officially started to suffocate me. I broke down in tears (for about the eighth time that week) and called my mom. She told me to march straight to admin (skipping class, I might add) and get myself out of the Act Sci program.
This I did, but the damage was done.
See, people don’t realize this, but putting others into too little boxes can be seriously destructive. They tell us what we can and can’t do. They define us in ways that lead us to believe in the common definition. Because it’s all we ever hear, it hardly ever occurs to us to even think beyond that box. Once that box begins stifling us, however, we have to move beyond its limits or be crushed. When you’re used to being boxed and labeled and limited, the process can be a terrifying. Traumatic, even.
Think I’m kidding? Try being “The Brain” and then realizing that you can’t continue being her as per the standard society definition. Suddenly, everything about you stops making sense. You’re torn down to your foundations because you discover that everything you were told you were — everything you believed about yourself — is a lie. Or moving to your own boxes, try moving outside those boxes just a little and discover just how against non-conformity the world really can be.
I don’t wish the accompanying existential crisis on my worst enemy.
I don’t wish it on you, awesome person reading my article. So when someone tries to put you in a box, saying you can’t do something because it doesn’t fit in that box with you, mentally flip that person off and do it anyway.
I’m not just talking vocational or skills based boxes, either.
These boxes can be anything. Although it’s not limited by gender, people really seem to enjoy putting women into boxes.
The assertive ones become bitches.
The ones who act and speak the way men do are unbecoming, or rude or butch.
The ones who insist on being treated equally get called feminists (as if that’s a curse word), overly-ambitious, scary, mean, intimidating…. And on… and on.
You know, I’ve been told on multiple occasions in high school that I’d get lots of dates if only I’d dumb myself down a little. Never mind that if the boys aren’t confident enough to handle a highly intelligent girl in conversation, it’s their problem and not mine. Actually, I still get told that. That’s totally a box. An attempt to limit my behavior to societal standards. I’ve just earned enough stripes crushing these boxes that I can now happily flip people off for making these stupid remarks.
And I do. In my mind. All the time. (Think that makes me unbecoming? Pick a finger.)
See here’s the thing. I am not The Brain. I am not a bitch. I am not a cynic, or a pessimist, or an optimist, or any other damn thing people might decide I am.
I am, however, a human being.
A complex one.
A person filled with contradictions. Like the fact that I can actually understand, do and enjoy calculus, but you couldn’t pay me enough to write a mathematical paper (or any other academic paper, for that matter) ever again. Like the fact that I might, if you give me a topic that interests me, change my mind.
I’m highly intelligent, but I find it to be a pain in the butt more often than people would think. Why? Because I have passion for pretty much one direction and one direction only: Art. I write. I paint. I take pictures. I sing. I act. And people tend not to put others into “The Brain” and “The Artistic One” boxes at the same time. So people put me in “The Brain” and demean any artistic accomplishments as beneath my intelligence. Or they put me in “The Artistic One” and then proceed to treat me like an idiot — which in itself is just plain insulting to artists in general (more on this in the future) — or demean any progress I make because I’m “not a real writer/painter/singer/actor/whatever they want to convince me I can’t do.
I’m ambitious, sharp, witty, sometimes riddled with self doubt (as all writers are when they write, which is what I do with most of my free time) and I have a short temper. I learned fencing and French because two of my favorite books are The Three Musketeers and Scaramouche. Also, it might or might not be that I just really enjoy stabbing people. I read literary fiction for fun, but have a deep, all consuming hatred for literature as a subject. In any language — and I read in three.
Nothing sets my temper off faster than injustice and hypocrisy. This, I suppose, is why I picked this subject for my first ever Gumption article.
All this is really just a small sample of what makes up my personality. Every person is at least somewhat as complicated as I am (although I know most people don’t also live with various casts of characters in their heads). Why should we be defined by the limits of someone else’s creation?
To make ourselves acceptable to society? To the person who boxed us in the first place?
Well then. I don’t know about you, but then society better find a way to create boxes for writers who enjoy literary and genre fiction, French, fencing, ballroom, art in general, math, astronomy, laughing in the face of nay-sayers and who’s also quite a bit of a smart-ass, because I happen to think I’m awesome just as I am, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Oh yeah. That’s a box I’ve got for all of you.
Here. Get into the Awesome Person box.
It’s a bit different from other boxes. Because it’s infinite. It can stretch to accommodate your desires or shrink to being just the right size to be comfortable. There are no limits to this box, for as long as you remember just how awesome you are.
Just because you’re you.
You know the best thing about the Awesome Person box? The only person getting to define (and redefine) you is you. Try it out.
A box that’s big enough.