Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

In my last post I said that I no longer want to limit the possibilities in my life or box myself in through labels, such as wife. mother, or what have you.

However, one of the comments to that post brought up some interesting points, though it may have been slightly tongue in cheek. Here’s the comment, in part:

“But can we avoid being boxed in? What about the label ‘poet’? Is that a box? Is what we call ‘freedom’ merely the exercising of our right to choose our own boxes? Are those that refuse to be boxed in unknowingly occupying a box labelled ‘those that refused to be boxed in’? Is there life without boxes?”

Well, I’d have to say that I believe in the individual. I’m not breaking new ground here, I just agree with Descartes: I think, therefore I am. If I consider myself to be boxless, then that’s what I am. It has nothing to do with me if someone wants to lump me into the subset of people who are boxless. I don’t see myself that way.

The only way we know anything about the world is through our senses–what we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel–and through the way we process that information. We alone can define who we are and other people’s impression of us may or may not coincide with that. On a larger scale, society tries to dictate how we behave based on labels, and many of us, myself included, compromise who we truly are in order to fit in. I’m choosing now to minimize that tendency by being a free thinker. Again, I’m not reinventing the wheel here.

Furthermore, I think there is a difference between a label and a box. Labels are for the outside world, not for the one being labelled. It’s like being at a gathering where everyone is wearing name tags. Your tag is not meant for you to read: You already know who you are. The label is there as a way for other people to identify you.

On the other hand, being in a box is a mentality.

What I mean is, I suppose there are some labels that are inevitable, such as being being a woman or being black. While I’m happy to wear these labels, “woman-ness” in large part is the luck of the biological draw. “Blackness” is a description of appearance and/or ethnic heritage. Both of these labels have the baggage of social and cultural constructs attached to them. The problem comes in when  there are assumptions, expectations, and restrictions based on these labels. That’s when “labels” become “boxes,” and that’s really what I’m against.

I don’t mind calling myself a poet, though, because for me, that label has nothing to do with restriction. By definition, being a poet is to be without limits.

I don’t want to be  a total loner, though. I’d love to hear your comments, whether you agree or disagree. Talk to me.

© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2012

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Comments on: "Life Without Limits: Is That Possible?" (39)

  1. Hi, Sweepy Jean! ~

    I think it was Napoleon Hill who used the metaphor of imagining yourself locked inside a safe and not even realizing how limiting that is because the inside of the safe is the only thing you’ve ever known! The inside of the safe (or ‘box’) is the whole world to someone who’s never been outside the safe or even aware that there is anything outside the safe. The word ‘safe’ is, of course, also double entendre….

    Welcome to Life Outside the Box — Good Luck on Your Journey!

  2. And as poets, do we have an infinity of freedom beyond our skin/shell? Possibly not. Inside, though, I go to so many places I believe I am free whether or not that is true. I may stumble upon where I fear to tread and feel that I have no control–and so believe in God who gives me only what I can handle and opens me as a conduit for holy work and is my constant companion on the way and who gives unconditional love. I find that I don’t like others to define God either.

    • Hi, Susan! I truly think everyone, but especially poets, has the ability to live outside of themselves, beyond the shell of their bodies. And as you suggest, we can go further as we conquer fears. I so agree with you that each person’s concept of God (or lack thereof) is a deeply personal and individual thing that only we can define for ourselves. The first half of my poem, “closer” describes a bit of my concept of God, influenced by the Quran. (the second half is about my children. I rarely share poetry in public as arcane as that [at least not deliberately], but from the comments on the poem it seems that other people were able to get something from it, so I’m glad.)
      https://sweepyjean.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/napowrimo-2012-poem-30

  3. This is a very thought-provoking post! Love this! I do think we pick and choose labels that we like (poet, writer, doctor, architect) and cast off those that we don’t (adopted, motherless, childless, divorced) so the person who commented raises a valid point. I agree that labels and boxes are different, but they both are identifiers. Personally, I think however we choose to move in the world is up to us. Others will always see us and form opinions, but it’s up to us to build our lives organically and not become trapped in boxes or allow others to put us there in the first place. if you’re put me anywhere, but me as a notion in the sky so I can fly and evolve freely. Or if it’s in a box, tear the tops and sides off so I can move! 😉

  4. Correction: If you’re gonna put me anywhere, put me in the sky so I can fly and evolve freely. Or if it’s in a box, tear the tops and sides off so I can move!

    • Hi, Tameka! It really is true that it is so hard to get away from labels and boxes. I’m almost starting to see this struggle to be ourselves as the central, ongoing battle. Maybe that’s what life is, maintaining identity.

  5. You’ve certainly given us much to reflect upon here, Sweepy Jean. I liked your comparison of labels to name tags at a gathering – they are for other people to see, but the one wearing it already knows who he/she is. It reminded me that we are not defined by what we do, but by who we truly are inside, i.e., I am not a writer, I DO writing. Does that make sense?
    Blessings and thanks for this marvelous post!

    • Yes, Martha, that makes a lot of sense. There was a FB response to this post that said something similar about doing poetry instead of labelling myself as a poet. This brings me back to Tameka’s point about discarding some labels and keeping others, at “poet” is a label I’m fond of. A lot for ME to think about … 😉

  6. Labels are something we really can’t escape from. But when the labels becomes a basis for judgment is when the trouble begins. I don’t have a problem with being labelled a Muslim but I might be judged as a “terrorist”. The negative assumptions is when the trouble arrives.

  7. Such an interesting topic to explore. In my opinion, more people want to be in a box more than the air they breathe because there is comfort in running with a pack. However, they will never, not even under duress, confess to this, they won’t or if they do they say the non-conformist is a freak, point and cast stones (slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift). My entire life I’ve been one of those freaks, In my younger years I wanted to fit in but my strangeness kept poking through – the part of me that didn’t fit into a category. I don’t have a label or category that is one size fits all of me, rather I am just me and chose to live by my own hand. One last comment, it’s currently trendy to be unique, however, it’s lonely being an individual, so most give up after the first few weeks. Ok, off my pedestal. Have a good weekend, and look me up if you are ever in San Francisco. We could talk on this subject at length and so many more.

    • Wouldn’t it be so much easier to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else–but never as enriching or personally satisfying. My sister and I always talk about the people we encounter in our lives who can’t stay real for very long. I hope we do get a chance to talk some day!

  8. I CONCUR! “On the other hand, being in a box is a mentality.” YES. yes. yes. I agree with @martha “You’ve certainly given us much to reflect upon here”

    Labeling…it is like fingers on a chalk board when I hear it or even label myself. I think we all have a right to be ourselves it makes the world, I think, a more interesting place, yet when we lump people together, put them or ourselves in a box, we are separating ourselves….and limiting!

    Great topic. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks so much, Amy! You really described the dual nature of labels quite well, where on the one hand we lump people together, which takes away their individuality, and on the other hand labels separate us from each other.

  9. janaki nagaraj said:

    Nice, thought provoking post. By boxing ourselves, we are in a way limiting ourselves.

  10. galenpearl said:

    As long as we use language, we will use labels. But I believe there is a truth beyond language and beyond labels. The Tao Te Ching says “The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things.” So I guess what I’m saying is that we can recognize that communication requires labels, but that we don’t have to be attached to or limited by them.

    When I was overseas, I was part of a group of expatriate women. We discovered that our success depended on not being confined or limited by labels. If I saw myself only as a “lawyer” I wouldn’t have gotten the job I got as a “consultant.”

    Another example is that my son’s label as “autistic” allowed me to get him many needed services when he was in school. But I never thought of him as being only autistic. It was a label that had it’s uses but it did not define him.

    Hope some of this makes sense.

    • Wonderful comment, thank you! I love that quote from the Tao Te Ching (I’m going to tweet it later on)! ;p But seriously, that’s beautiful. Your point is very well taken that labels do not have to be limiting and they can serve a good purpose. Once again, as many have said here, the label is not the defining factor. You make a lot of sense.

  11. I like how you defined yourself ~ nothing else matters. Boxes are labeled to make people aware how things inside the box should be handled… but people are labeled from the ‘outside’ based on what other people see/perceive.

    Boxes do limit people. It also reflects the person who does this and it could stifle people’s growth.

    In answer to your question, is life without limits possible? I’m taking this in good sense ~ somehow, I do wish people could handle this possibility…

    • Melissa, you never cease to amaze me with your insight. I’m afraid that many of us don’t know how to handle each other, so we give each other labels based on our own limitations, bringing each other down. I’m also pondering what you hint at in your last statement: Is life without limits a good thing?

  12. What an intriguing post. Labels vs. Boxes. i would’ve just easily accepted that the two were the same but you’re right. I guess a box tends to be more limiting. I would have to admit that I am one who tends to enjoy labels. I suppose being a Sociologist does that. Definitions help identify, segregate, define boundaries and over all make it easier to understand individuals and groups. It’s a (social) science after all. But real life has far too many variables and even sciences acknowledge that. Real life is far less predictable and that’s what makes it more interesting, more meaningful. It’s those gray areas, those unexplained, those things that go beyond the lines, boundaries and definitions that truly intrigue and make everything more colorful. Those are the real breakthroughs. I suppose it’s the same when we break out of our own labels and boxes. Thanks for this meaningful and thought-provoking post Adriene!

    • As with everything, the intent makes all the difference. It’s one thing to use the label to identiry, and another when It goes beyond into judgment. And as you so aptly said, many times people don’t fit their labels exactly; the borders are blurred and overlap. Thanks for enriching this conversation, Joy!

  13. You are what you think – no doubt about it, unless you’re just delusional. I think that’s where the ‘to thine own self be true’ comes in. As for what others think, that’s where I just try real hard not to care. I’ve spent over six decades learning that my expectations for myself are the only ones that matter, and one of those expectations is that sometimes having no expectation is paramount.

  14. Thank you for turning my slightly whimsical post into something relevant. It’s easy to ask questions but it’s much harder to provide answers. Your distinction between labels and boxes.makes a lot of sense as well as the fact that a label can turn into a box if we allow it too. I have some qualms though with your notion that we can define who and what we are (i.e. If I consider myself to be boxless, then that’s what I am). I think there is ample evidence from neuroscience that human beings have an infinite capacity to fool themselves even in the most subtle of ways. This has happened to me several times in my life (i.e. I thought I was something I wasn’t) and it is a common experience for many people. I feel we often underestimate the power of our upbringing and the cultural and social strings attached to the nuts and bolts of our consciousness.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to engage and pose the questions here, and while I provided answers, I’m sure they raise even more questions than definitive solutions! Your point is well taken that we can fool ourselves to think we are something that we are not, and I as well have experienced that phenomenon. Yet i still maintain that It’s hard to be something other than what you think you are. For my part, until I came to see what I truly was, I did not achieve anything toward that end. On the other hand, look at Don Quixote: Regardless of the outside appearance, he is the Lord of La Mancha.

    • I tend to agree with Rolando’s comments. Sometimes we know our own selves the least because we can only see ourselves through one perspective and that one perspective is not always accurate. It is the reason therapists like to have collateral information. We also do not live in our own vacuum sealed bubble, untouched and unaffected by those around us. We affect our environment and our environment (including the people in it) affects and alters us. So although we can define ourselves as we desire, as an isolated yet unboxed individual without labels, this does not make our definition true. In the end, though, if we are “functioning” people, maybe there isn’t anything particularly wrong with having delusions about ourselves, although that is obviously debatable.

      Anyway, another provocative post – I wouldn’t expect anything less from a poet! (there is that labelling/expectation thing again…) 🙂

      • It is so much to think about. I guess my question would be, if what we think about ourselves is not true, then what is true and who gets to decide? Thanks so much for weighing in, Rachel!

  15. Kudos Adriene! Same here. I believe in the individual too. No labels. Look what they’ve done to children. In a world where herd psychology and collectivism supersedes the individual’s creative thought, innovation, and liberty, we are expected to blindly conform to norms without question.

    The creative life is like child’s play. If you are really an artist or writer, then you’ll do it regardless. Without needing the strokes from other folks. Of course strokes are nice, but creative folks don’t really need them for the affirmation. Does a child say, “Well, if you don’t like my mudpie I’ll just quit?” And they don’t identify themselves as a mudpie makers. They just make mudpie’s and are happy all the while 😉

    • Excellent comments, Debra. When it comes to the labeling of children in the school system, we set them up not to believe in their abilities. Also, we are taught early on that we must keep within our boundaries.

      You and others have made a point about not labeling ourselves based on what we do (writer, poet, etc). That concept is really gaining on me. I have seen how some poets are taking the art to the next level using sound, video, and technology.

  16. Dear friend,
    Deep write here. Yes, many truths also. Sadly, we will never escape labels. Thanks for sharing.

  17. A strong, thought-provoking message. You raise some interesting questions. Makes me think how as soon as we see or hear someone, consciously or unconsciously we tend to label them. It’s genetic, inherited from ancestors who had to label or box people as friends or enemies, based on appearance, accent, clothing, weapons or decoration, etc. Labeling now includes social status, education, work, type of home and neighborhood, financial situation, among others, without regard to the individual. This may lead to false impressions and too high or low expectations.

    On the other hand, for people with creative talent, the reverse is true. To be labeled a poet, a writer, or an artist is more like a recognition of talent and works, often rendering other labels unnecessary or superfluous.

    Others may label us or put us in a box, but we’re the ones who decide or accept to stay in it.

    • The list of labels is endless, and if we eliminate them, will we just invent others? Is it really human nature to to want to box everyone in or can we evolve out of that?

  18. Sometimes I think we are our own worst enemies, boxing ourselves in and expecting things to change.
    I just posted on my blog about how a recent week of down time made me realize my out of routine pace (no box, no strings) made me feel so much more productive. You are so right, we can choose to stay in the box or jump out and explore the world beyond.
    Once most people jump out, the box is seldom a welcome state any more.
    Great post. Wishing you the best in your poetry writing.

  19. It is only human to try to categorise people. That’s just the way we think, the way our minds works. It just makes our life easier, because we believe that we have organised our thoughts. The problem is when people stick to silly stereotypes, such as “poets can’t write fiction”.
    I don’t mind being called a blogger/writer/poet/whatever as long as I can change style and be free to write whatever I want!

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