Saturday, January 29, 2011

Stamping the 'ol stereotype on your face!

I have a friend who works for TSA.
We talk at least once a week on the phone like we did so many years ago (I forgot to mention that I've been friends with this woman for 20 years... oh how time does fly!) But we also text and email obsessively. Oh, and we live like 5 miles from each other... HA!

Ever since we graduated we have been on again off again friends - that sounds slightly terrible when I type it out on this screen, but life is life. Is is, always has been and will always be my friend - just some times life pulls you apart. So we didn't talk for a few years. Now we do.

The other day we were talking about our jobs - her working for TSA and me being a yoga teacher - and we laughed. We laughed because whenever things are going fine in the world people say that she is slowing down their arrival and departure at the airport and when things aren't going well (take Russia for instance) she and her coworkers are labeled stupid and told they aren't keeping people safe.
For me we laughed because people think I'm a fitness instructor (which I'm not) or that I'm about as bright as a 2 watt bulb and I bath in patchouli.

I have nothing against fitness instructors - I'm a fan of health and being healthy and in shape - but that's not what I teach and I don't like the scent of patchouli. (and personally I don't think I'm that brainless...) But these things are the corner stones to the type casting everyone does in this world. We label and categorize people the moment we meet them from what they are wearing, how they speak and what jobs they have.

As a writer these classification help a lot - they help me build characters and then relate them to you. You open the book, turn the page and see - BAM! - 30 something hippy new age yoga mom that likes to stand on her head and chant "OM SHANTI JAI! JAI! JAI!"
Or enter the airport and BAM 30 something TSA employee that is no frill, no thrills and has an attitude from here to Johannesburg.

As a writer I thrive on people watching. Simply sitting with my mouth zipped closed watching this and that as people walk by. This girl says "like" too many times and that kid slouching so much you can't see his face, but when he passes anyone 50+ his head whips up, he glares at them knowingly. Left shoulder tucks in to ensure no physical contact will be made even though he is too far away for that to ever happen without intent. I watch and then I think, "What is that?" Is he just a kid rebelling? Does he have a bad home life? Is he assuming those older then him are judging him, so he judges first.
When he passes me our eye connect and I smile. He doesn't know what to make of it so he lowers his head and ambles on.
Then there is the family of 5 kids ranging in age from 6 months old to 9 or 10, a mom and the mom's friend. The kids clothing is old, worn out, dated and covered in Disney logos. The oldest child's pants are flooding up over her ankles and the baby is lying in a carrier just staring at the fluorescent lighting lining the trendy "urban" unfinished mall ceiling. The kids in between are jumping on each other, faces dirty and hyper on soda pop and sugar pretzels. The mom and her friend are gossiping, about what I'm not sure, but when ever the kids ask her a question the mother grow more and more agitated. She wants to gossip and to drink her super sized soda.
They pause for a second in front of  Lane Bryant and I hear the friend say the casual outfit isn't sexy enough for her. I note that because I think the out fit IS sexy. When they finally reach the bench I'm sitting on the mother looks and me and I hear the words, "uppity; skinny; bitch"
And I think, "Ah! There it is... project much?"

Labeling is what I do - but I'm not doing it in order to make people feel inferior (aka - uppity skinny bitch style) I just don't know how else to let you know that my one character, Denny Johnson, has a superiority complex without adding that his mother was a rich single mom who gave him everything he always wanted and the one thing he will never accept or understand is that he doesn't deserve to have EVERYTHING because it's unrealistic. Is there another way that I'm missing?

The 90's brought on the "politically correct" movement that went from scary to funny to down right stupid. At times I can feel myself, as a writer, get caught up in to that web of don't EVER offend anyone - ie don't speak - and I find that it affects my writing because I become grossly aware I may be offending someone I write poorly... but on the opposite side of the writing spectrum, three the "Shock!!" effect. Where the writer adds a 20 page rape scene and can't understand why I don't want to read his draft and give him feed back.

You can elude to many things when you're writing a book - when you spend 20 pages (that weren't even doubled space) on a over the top violent rape scene, I start to question you on a whole other level. And surprisingly don't want to hang out with you. Ever. Again.

I like to think that I have a good enough head on my shoulders to understand that when I'm people watching the people I'm outwardly describing may not be that bad. The "like" girl may have been excited or nervous about something I missed and the hunched over kid may just be having a bad day and that family could have been easily talking about that Skinny Bitch book? (but I doubt it, she looked me right in the face than laugh... meanie mcmeaninhaimer)

Just like my TSA friend is one of the nicest people I've ever had to the honor of know and me... well... I like to chant. Not gonna lie. OM! SHANTI! JAI! JAI! JAI! and I say that to you, right now. If you're wondering it means "Om! Peace! AWESOME! AWESOME! AWESOME!"


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