Is it Really so Important to Label Ourselves and Others?

My four-mile saunter today wasn’t quite as exciting or as heartening as yesterday’s. The pack weight was the same, the distance the same, but various parts of me ached at different times. (I haven’t been able figure out how to stop the slight chafing of the shoulder strap, but it’s possible it’s a design defect of the pack since it was mentioned in at least one review.) Still, I met the challenge. And the whole experience was fabulous in its own way.

Although I might be sore, and I might be staggering a bit after all that effort (I have a hunch I didn’t eat enough yesterday), my mind is at rest.

It’s always a joy getting away from the city, even if my “wilderness” is just the expanse of desert beyond the neighborhood. Out there, by myself, there are no labels. There is just me, whatever that might be.

I sometimes call myself a writer but only when it pertains to my books. I don’t call myself a blogger even though I blog more than write. I don’t call myself a hiker even though I hike more than blog. I don’t call myself a dancer even though I dance more than hike. And I don’t call myself a sleeper even though I sleep more than all of those activities put together.

Most especially, in today’s world where gender is such a hot topic, I don’t bother to place myself anywhere on the gender spectrum, nor do I place myself anywhere on the political spectrum.

I am.

What more do I need?

What more do you need?

Is it really so important to label ourselves and others?

I’ve been deleting “labelers” from my Facebook page, even those I’ve kept because I thought it diplomatic not to delete them during past purges, but I am tired of all the labels we slap on others. Ists and isms. Gender classifications. Political views and identity politics.

Even if people deserve being called racist or sexist or ageist or bigot or anything else, why say it? Labeling makes us feel superior because we, of course, are none of those things. Labeling puts people in what we feel is their place, and keeps us from seeing their greater (or lesser) truth.

One thing that grief taught me is that we are all works in progress, even those we dislike or those who anger us. We are all on our own personal Ferris wheel, filling every one of the buckets, but the wheel keeps turning and so all the buckets are us at various moments during the day, at various times during our lives. It’s only when someone dies that the Ferris wheel stops, allowing us (perhaps) to see each of their many parts. By labeling a person, you put a spoke in their Ferris wheel as relates to you, stopping it at that particular view of the person. You never see all the rest of the buckets. Never see that beyond your label, the wheel keeps turning.

I tried to explain this to a friend who insists that I am opinionated, though I do not think I am arrogantly and conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in my opinions. (Which is the definition of opinionated.) And every time she tells me I am opinionated, she uses the same example, “You don’t just say ‘I don’t like Meryl Streep,’ like other people do, you say, ‘I hate her.’” Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I ever thought about the actress, can’t remember the last time I spoke her name, can’t remember the last time I saw one of her movies, but apparently, years ago when we were discussing movies and she was extolling Streep’s virtues, I said I hated the actress. And forever after, in my friend’s mind, that proves I am opinionated.

(As an aside, I told her that the one-time friend who called me contrary was perhaps the most contrary person I ever met. The person who called me negative was so negative I could barely handle being in her presence. Before I could suggest that this friend turn the opinionated finger to herself, she said, “I can see where this is going.”)

So, here’s a thought. What would happen if everyone stopped labeling everyone else? Calling someone racist ignores all the blatantly unracist things the person does. Calling someone leftist ignores . . . etc, etc, etc. But even if they were consistently racist (or whatever label you put on them), why say it? It might not make the world a better place if we stopped the labels, but it sure would make Facebook a much more pleasant place to hang out.

Meantime, there is always the desert, where there are no labels. Just sand and wind and sun and me.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Today I Am Officially a Writer

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

I got serious about writing a little over a decade ago. That’s when I started writing novels as well as researching the craft of writing and the publishing industry. I finished writing my novels about seven or seven years ago, then concentrated on rewriting and polishing the manuscripts to make sure they were as good as I could possibly make them. Meantime, I sent out hundreds of query letters in an effort to find an agent or publisher.

You’d think all those years focused on the craft of writing, rewriting, editing, proofing, querying would qualify me to call myself a writer, but it was just something I did, not something I was, so I never gave myself the title.

Even after my first two books were published by Second Wind Publishing in 2009, I still didn’t identify myself as a writer, except in relation to the books. For example, Pat Bertram, author of More Deaths Than One. I now have five books published — four suspense novels and one book about grief — but I still didn’t call myself a writer. It seems sort of silly and, considering all the millions of writers who have a book listed on Amazon, makes me not the least bit special. And anyway, I don’t make a living off writing, which would, I think, be a major qualification to list “writer” as one’s occupation.

Today, I had to go to the bank to fill out some paperwork, and they asked my occupation. Oddly, the only thing that came to mind was “writer.” I laughed to myself and said sotto voce, “What the heck.” Then, louder, I told the clerk, “I am a writer.” (It’s a good thing they didn’t need to ask what my income was. They’d probably have laughed in my face.) Still, “writer” sounded so much more interesting than shrugging off the question about occupation with a brief comment about taking care of my father.

So now it’s official. I am a writer.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+