I sat, staring at the two pairs of shoes, one black, one brown.
The shoes fit perfectly. I loved the style. But I had to choose which colour I wanted to take home with me. And it was proving to be a difficult choice.
The wonderful salesperson who had been patiently putting up with my pickiness and lack of focus for the past hour tried to help. She said that really, it depended on what kind of things I did. What kind of person I was.
She asked me if I went out a lot, to events, restaurants, to social gatherings. If that was the case, she would recommend the black pair. If, however, I was more casual, spending my time in laid back settings, then the brown pair would better suit my lifestyle.
And then she laughed, commenting that one must decide who they want to be simply to buy a pair of shoes.
I laughed too. It was silly. But a part of me felt a little panicked.
I don’t know which type of person I am. I certainly enjoy going out, I love concerts and sitting around a beautifully laid table with friends. But I spend much more time in, lying on couches, watching movies, going for the occasional stroll outside and running errands.
I didn’t know which pair of shoes to go for, which person to decide to be. They both had a great appeal, and I value both glamour and comfort.
When the salesperson asked which kind of person I was, I doubt she thought that it was an alarming question. After all, we are constantly labelling ourselves in some way, deciding who we are.
Just this week I filled out an application online, and checked through the boxes. I said that I am female, single, Canadian, in the 20-30 age bracket, English speaking, have an A range academic standing and identify as having a disability.
Even something as simple as preference, I define. I like strawberries and chocolate. I dislike peppermint and parsley. I like Beethoven. I dislike rap music.
And often, that categorization is important. It is important, when filling out an application, to give an idea of yourself, even in the sparsest possible form. Otherwise, these strangers assessing you, or in this case computer program, have nothing to assess.
And it is important to know what you like and dislike. To be able to look at a menu and have an idea of what you will enjoy. To choose which music to play.
But it is one thing to have superficial labels for the sake of ease. It is another to internalize these labels, to let them conduct how you see yourself.
Because those labels tend to be quite hard to remove, once they’ve been fully absorbed.
And you might change. Your life might change.
I used to see myself as a singer. It was a huge part of my identity. As my body began to fail, I clung to the title, pushing my body to its limits and even going so far as to claim that physical harm was acceptable, as long as I could finish the performance. As long as I could sing.
I was desperate.
And then, finally, I drove myself into the ground. Quite literally, in fact, receiving a concussion from a bad fall on stage. I reached a point where the performance couldn’t even begin. The song could not be started, let alone completed. Not by me, anyways.
I had no idea who I was anymore. Is there such a thing as a singer who cannot sing? But how could I be a singer one day, and not the next? And if I wasn’t a singer anymore, who was I?
These are questions that I have been grappling with for over a year. When someone asks if I’m the opera singer that they heard about, I laugh uncomfortably and change the subject. It’s not that I am ashamed. It’s that I just don’t know.
But maybe I don’t have to know.
I’m simply a human being, just like everyone else. I have interests and talents, and quirks and flaws, and I do certain things on certain days and that’s fine.
And sometimes, something that I usually enjoy frustrates me. Sometimes, something I generally dislike captures my interest.
Sometimes, I sing. Sometimes, I write. Sometimes, I exercise. Sometimes, I cook. Sometimes, I sleep. And sometimes I am quite good at those things. Sometimes, I am not.
It is important to know yourself. And it is essential to have the ability to identify certain aspects of yourself. After all, why would a law firm hire someone if they are not a lawyer? Would it be acceptable to let someone who wasn’t a doctor prescribe medication? And how can one expect accommodation if they don’t identify as needing it?
But maybe it ought to stop there. Maybe we ought to recognize certain aspects of ourselves, of our experience, without extending the term to our entire being.
Maybe that flexibility, that space, would offer new opportunities.
Opportunities to try new things, to experiment. To change our minds.
I ended up choosing the black pair of shoes. Not because they better suited my personality. Not because they projected an image that I aspired to.
They might embody a certain personality. They might project a certain image.
That might be what drew me towards them.
But that’s not why I picked them.
I picked the black pair, because, in that moment, I liked them.