by Mariesa Jozwiak
I got a massage yesterday.
I mention this because my participation in the Capital District Writing Project’s Summer Institute has gotten me thinking a lot about labels and stereotypes (or “single stories” as we’ve come to understand them, thanks to Shannon’s incredible video clip).
When you read the opening sentence of this post, I’m guessing you probably formed an opinion of me as either pampered & over-indulged, or a new-agey person who talks about balancing her energy a lot. (Or you might just be wondering where in the world I am going with this. Bear with me.) In the single story you have about me as a “person who gets massages” I am either wasteful or self-aware. You have a story about me based on one sentence—really one word in one sentence. (Would your story have changed if I’d said “I got a pickup truck yesterday.”?) My label as a “person who gets massages” influences your single story of me. It’s a story which clearly can’t represent the whole me, but it might influence your willingness to get to know me and expand your single story. This is the power of a label.
I did a little math today before our session started. Based on the average number of students our cohort works with in a given year, we will be directly impacting over 4,000 students in the Capital District just next year. That’s a lot. I think it’s clear from our work so far this summer that we are passionate about having each of those 4,000 students identify as writers. But I’ve started to wonder about what that label will say to others. What is the “single story” that most people have of writers? Are they seen as unhappy people who sit alone in dark rooms often producing work no one wants to read or as interesting, self-aware people who write to learn about and change themselves and the world?
I’m beginning to see my obligation not only to help my students identify as writers but to turn the world into a place where identifying as a writer brings with it a whole anthology of stories…instead of just one.
So, yes, I got a massage yesterday. And I wrote about it…because I am (among many other things) a writer.