As a girl, and now a woman, who was still trying to figure out why she didn’t fit a mold or follow a specific path, I began to realize that our identities aren’t about how well and firmly we’re holding a place on one path. It’s about being able to let go of that place or veer off that path, just as long as we’re steady with our own values and dreams, as esoteric and amorphous they may be.
My mother was a regular buyer of a weekly magazine called Woman’s World. I was in my mid-teens and eagerly read her copies. I liked the articles and short stories. But I especially liked the quizzes similar to the ones in my Seventeen, Young & Modern, and Teen magazines. Taking a quiz would let you find out “What decorating style are you?” or “Are you a country girl or a city girl?” or “Are you a team member or a team leader?” I took those quizzes without fail, but also without fail, I found myself over and over sitting somewhere in the hazy middle. I seemed to like decorating styles from the William Morris’ Arts and Craftsmovement to beach house shabby chic. I equally loved zipping down Interstate 10 in Los Angeles and a romp in the rural wilds of Douglas, WY. And I had no definitive answer about being a stronger team member or a stronger team leader.
I wanted so much to know who I was. I was terribly afraid this lack of self-awareness was a mental defect and a sign of weakness. By my teens, I was acutely aware that I was drawn to a variety of people, places, and things but couldn’t tell you with confidence what I liked. Sure, I had an interest in writing, but I also loved student government, yearbook, and doing backstage production in theater. I was a massive extrovert who loved parties, socializing, and party dresses; but I skipped the Las Vegas-themed gambling part of the graduation-night event to hang out by the food and watch Monty Python films with a crop of fellow students I’d never met. I also had never watched Python before but learned quickly to mimic “shrubbery” and “Knights who say Knights Who Say ‘Ni!’”
There was no distinct social group to which I belonged in high school, and adulthood was no clearer for me. I loved First Amendment law, gossipy conversations with coworkers in the television newsroom where I worked, pop music, and 1920s jazz. I knew a lot about 1950s music and confused coworkers of all ages. I tried to sing The Fleetwoods alone in my car and flipped immediately into faux Britney Spears afterward. I entered graduate school with the goal of earning my master’s degree, in order to teach media and communication at the college level, but found I adored the intellectual parts of graduate school, which I was not anticipating. I was there for practical reasons but ended up gorging on theory. I would get heavy into conversations about whether one could explain the pastiche of pop culture using tenets of Foucault’s work, or if Walter Fisher’s narrative theory could better explain whatever text we were examining. Nevertheless, academic conferences were difficult to navigate. I liked talking about the practices of TV, news, or other media as much as I liked talking about the theories. I found academic conferences to be more focused on theory, and conversations trailed off when I mentioned my background in news. At the TV station, I was a little too deep sometimes. When news is breaking, no one cares about McCombs and Shaw’s agenda-setting theory. I was too cool for school and too school for cool. My head hurt a lot, and years after the quiz-taking, I was no more sure of who I was.
Entering the world of gifted education and psychology, in 2013, has helped me learn more about who I am. The idea of multi-potentiality explains a lot. The gifted are adept at many things. However, Smart Girls in the 21st Century: Understanding Talented Girls and Women discusses the need to avoid making life decisions solely on what we’re good at or what we’re interested in because we “might be good at everything and interested in everything.”1 I was working for the authors’ publisher, Great Potential Press, when Smart Girls was released in 2014. Drs. Kerr and McKay take the notion of multi-potentiality in a unique direction for me, offering guidance and advice. A woman or girl has to “use her brilliance and wisdom to set her own goals and create her own journey. What gives smart women the strength they need to persevere is their love of an idea. The choice is not whether to lean in or opt out. It is to actualize one’s deepest values through one’s calling, or to suffer the sadness of not having fulfilled that calling.” As a girl, and now a woman, who was still trying to figure out why she didn’t fit a mold or follow a specific path, I began to realize that our identities aren’t about how well and firmly we’re holding a place on one path. It’s about being able to let go of that place or veer off that path, just as long as we’re steady with our own values and dreams, as esoteric and amorphous they may be. “The message is clear for adult smart women: Self-actualization is not optional.”2
There was a furniture store in Sacramento, CA, called “Limn.” It’s how I happened upon the word “liminality.” The concept is from anthropology. It’s that notion of being discombobulated when one is undergoing a rite of passage. One is no longer where they once were, but they haven’t fully entered the transition into the next stage of their being. It’s a threshold between past self and future self while the person is restructuring their identity. I co-opted that word and made it my own. I’ve made it more about hovering around lines of demarcation and being adept at blurring the boundaries just enough so I can slide in without having all the expected credentials. I want to learn and share as much as I can with many different people and in many different places.
There is no quiz to determine what we like and how we’re one way or another. We are what we are and not what we are not. And for that I am thankful.
1. Barbara A. Kerr and Robyn McKay. Smart Girls in the 21st Century: Understanding Talented Girls and Women (Tucson: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2014), 313.
2. Kerr and McKay, Smart Girls in the 21st Century, 224.