My Line of Work

By | January 29, 2011

So what am I, if not a writer? A Native Studies instructor? A primitive skills teacher? A school director? Professional labels create images. When I hear someone referred to as a professional of some sort, I automatically picture the person in the role. However, he or she often doesn’t fit my idea.

Why then do I do it? Does it somehow serve a need, such as giving me a preliminary feel for the person? Oftentimes not. Is it fair to the person? Same answer. Do these facts stop me from doing it? They haven’t yet. Why not? Probably because I am a product of my culture and a creature of habit. Labeling appears to be quite important to us—we have numerous professions dedicated to the task, and large portions of our vocabulary and schooling are devoted to proper classification and cataloging.

But am I not a person unique among all people? Why would I want to join a crowd of nameless “individuals” all marching behind the same banner and wearing the same uniform?

Let’s try another tack: why do I need a label to define what I am? To answer the occupation question on a form. For a sense of belonging, of self-worth. To protect myself from yet another humdrum exchange. “Hi, how are you?” “Fine.” “What do you do for a living?” “ I teach.” “Oh.” And sometimes, to protect my privacy. Slap on a routine label and the topic is dropped.

Still, I am no closer to answering my initial question as to what I am if not a writer. What I have done thus far is discover that my use of a tag is essentially strategic—I’m doing it out of fear and avoidance. What would happen if I left the occupation slot blank or if I replied to someone that I didn’t have a profession? How would I feel if I got no recognition for my profession?

Maybe I am something other than a label. Why do I need to be a professional in the classic sense of the term? Is it enough to say that I am Tamarack Song? Those who know me and my name’s meaning might say so. Still, there is the issue of those who do not know me. I could tell them I am a survivor of child abuse, or that I am a compulsive inquirer, or that I only drink water—these are defining characteristics that manifest no matter what hat I might be wearing.

On second thought, I’ll go with labels. At least when I interface with our traditional culture. It’s a game I play to keep the culture from infringing upon what really matters in life. When someone sits down with me and asks from the heart, I’ll tell them my story.

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