Somewhere around first grade, I was taken out of class and asked a series of questions. I remember two specific tests. First, the administrator showed me a paper snowflake. She then told me to watch carefully as she folded a piece of blank white paper, encouraging me to note how many times she folded it. Then, she cut notches in the folded paper and asked me to guess how many holes there would be in the paper when she opened it up.
I have no idea what I said.
The second test involved describing the similarities and differences between an apple and an orange. Apparently, I nailed this one. The administrator smiled and sent me back to class with a note for my teacher that said “MGM”. In California, public schools had a program for “Mentally Gifted Minors”, or MGM–a designation of gifted and talented. I have no recollection of any other part of the exam, or the scoring, or the process of telling my parents. I was enrolled in the MGM program and shuttled off campus once a week for enrichment in a yellow school bus. I don’t remember any of the enrichment. I do remember, however, being called a “mentally gifted monkey” by children on the playground, and classmates staring at me when the teacher told me to pack my things for MGM time.
My life has definitely been marked by labels, as has yours. The Naming Names: Winnie Walker Ladd, Ladd-Daniels, Karraa, Ladd, modern dancer, couples and family therapist, birth doula, qualitative researcher, grounded theory methodologist, hermeneutic phenomenological methodologist, pragmatist, maiden name, married, divorced, wife, ex-wife, sister, daughter, mother, patient, client, clinician, survivor (one of my least favorite). Then there are the letters of designation and diagnoses: BA, MFA, MA, CD, MDD, PPD, PTSD, Ph.D., DCIS, POF (one my personal favorites).
I’ve learned the labels are symbols arranged by someone else to tell us who we are and aren’t. Ease and disease, pathology and genius, abnormal and normal, benign and malignant—words that write the scripts of our lives, or at least the titles of the scenes. I write about the nature of being in the world of labels for women whose stories have never been done service by history, philosophy, psychology, Shakespeare, or science.
Looking back at this list two months after writing it, I realized I had forgotten to list the one word that I find most useful in translating my inner life to the outer world: woman. I am a woman.
Women are gifted the extraordinary, only to be rendered invisible by the ordinary. We are not words or letters piled up next to each other with random associations to meanings loosely interpreted by everyone else in charge. We are the wind.