I’m thinking today about labels, and the implications of the ways we describe ourselves or are described by others. This has come up because a dear friend of mine, Notty, is making her first-time-in-a-decade stand-up comedy debut next week, so there’s been a lot of talk bouncing around about Being Funny–who’s funny, what it means to be funny, and what one is supposed to do with one’s funniness (apparently that’s a word, though it doesn’t look right). Notty is a funny gal, with this sort of no-nonsense brassy delivery that absolutely slays me; and it’s just plain flattering to have her tell me that I’m also funny (at one point, she joked that for source material, she should just stand up and read my blog)…but the truth of the matter is that she’s stand-up comedienne funny, while I’m amusing-anecdote-delivered-via-writing-or-in-small-group-settings funny. Neither is greater or less than the other; they’re just different paradigms, each with their own place in the world.
So it got me to thinking about adjectives and nouns and implicit verbs (did I mention that “nerdy” also works to describe me?), and it all turned into a sort of Mad Libs game in my brain; and I realized that while certain adjective-noun-verb combinations are totally fair game, others are somewhat less healthy, and I think that’s something worth talking about.
For example, Notty is a funny gal, therefore she is going to do stand-up. I am also a funny gal, which means that I am a person with a good sense of humor, therefore I will be laughing and cheering her on from the audience. “Funny” –> either “comedienne” or “audience member” –> either “perform” or “applaud”, as appropriate. This is a great spectrum to inhabit, and I’m delighted to be there.
But what about some of the other adjectives in my world, which might also be in yours?
I am frequently described as “strong”. In my case, that manifests as “caretaker” or “aggressive nurturer”, depending on the day and the situation. To brainstorm some of the implications I’ve seen bouncing around:
A strong person:
takes care of others / smiles through the pain / takes care of his- or herself / stands up for what (s)he believes in / refuses to admit defeat / refuses to admit his or her feelings / pretends everything is ok even when it’s not / does what needs to be done because ain’t nobody else volunteerin’ to do it for them / takes on everybody else’s burdens / fakes it ’til (s)he makes it / can lift heavy objects.
Judgment is pointless here; the truth of the matter is that some of those definitions work well for some folks, and not so great for others. There are some verbs in there that I’m perfectly happy to own–“does what needs to be done because ain’t nobody else volunteerin'” is pretty much straight out of my own universe–but there are others that I avoid. “Pretends everything is ok even when it’s not” doesn’t really work for me–I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I learned a while back that in my universe, open communication works far better in terms of keeping me from snapping and flinging plates around the kitchen.
Here’s another one:
A fat person:
weighs more than you / weighs less than you / should exercise more and eat less / has already made dietary and movement-related changes, and is waiting to see that reflected on the scale and tape measure / is perfectly healthy, thankyouverymuch, and is just not built to be a size 6 / can’t fit comfortably into airplane seats, movie theater seats, or indeed any other seat with rigid sides / can’t dance, play sports, or stand for long periods of time / was dancing this morning, can kick a soccer ball that would take your face off if you stood in its way, and has a job as a teacher so obviously the “no standing” thing is false / cannot wear anything “cute” or “sexy” / has a closet full of cute and sexy clothes / hates him- or herself / resents skinny people / is perfectly comfortable in his or her skin / only resents skinny people who resent fat people / makes a better snugglebuddy in an arctic snuggle-to-survive situation than Miss Skin-and-Bones over there.
I could go on with that one all day. I reckon we all could.
The bottom line is that while you can’t always control how other people complete the Mad Lib (“A/an _adjective_ person tends to _verb_”), you and you alone have complete control over which of those suggested verbs you choose to own, and what you do with yourself as a result. I’m absolutely willing to acknowledge that “fat” is an accurate description of my body, but I’m not down with all of the implicit verbs listed above, in the same way that I’m not down with all of the implicit verbs listed for a “strong” person, and I’m only down with one of the verbs listed in the “funny” example at the top.
In other words: you’re the one running your show. Other people–including friends, family, your religious/spiritual community, the media, etc–can toss out suggestions for implicit verbs, but you’re the only one who can actually make those verbs happen. You choose to participate or not as you see fit, because at the end of the day, it really is literally impossible for someone else to do most things for you: they cannot stand onstage for you and move your mouth and make jokes come out; they cannot go out and exercise for you; etc. They can suggest; it’s entirely up to you to choose and act.
…Of course, if you have found your way into my little corner of the cyberuniverse today, allow me to suggest that a good verb for you is “rocks”, as in “A BuffaloTracts reader rocks“.
Now go rock the rest of your world. It’s one option for a suggested implicit verb, anyway, and I personally think it’s a great one.