Monday, February 6, 2012

Who Are You? Labeling Ourselves

I sold the manuscript for my second book, A Suitcase of Seaweed, in 1994. At the time, it was an unstructured, unthemed, and unillustrated collection of poems due to be published in Fall 1996.

In Summer 1995, I was one of the writers-in-residence at the USC Writing Project (part of the National Writing Project). Each day I joined a group of teachers to write and talk about writing. One of our daily projects was a journal that prompted me to want, desperately, to have illustrations in A Suitcase of Seaweed. I called my editor Margaret McElderry to ask if this was possible. She explained that my poems "didn't require" illustrations and, in fact, illustrations would interfere with the reader's imagination. I begged. She said I could have "three, black-and-white, very small; you can draw them yourself; and they must be finished next week." Three! How could I choose only 3 poems to illustrate?!

And then it hit me: my identity was clearly divided into 3 parts--my Korean self (from my immigrant mother), my Chinese self (from my immigrant father), and my American me (born and raised in California). I wrote three prose introduction pieces for each section, did three line drawings, and then sorted the poems quickly, trying not to think too much, and indeed putting some poems in one category versus another for purely whimsical and even arbitrary reasons.

Pretty ridiculous, really--but the way we choose to define ourselves (and the way others choose to define us) one day versus another can be a ridiculous thing, too, sometimes purely whimsical and arbitrary.

How do you define yourself? If you had to limit your whole self to 3 black-and-white drawings, what would you draw? If you had to divide all of your identity and experience into three categories, how would you label those categories?

52 comments:

  1. Wow, only three, that's hard. I would have only three categories for all of my identity to fall under. Well my first category would be Family, because my family is very important to me and they effect my life a lot. With out my family I would only be one third of the person I am today. The second category would be Friends, because my friends are a big part of my life and my identity. My third category would be Fun, because I like to have fun and with out fun my identity wouldn't be the same, I wouldn't be the same. Those three categories are the biggest parts of my identity, I would be completely different without them.
    Post By
    Noah Zobel 7th grade student at ARMS

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  2. Noah: I really love your idea of having "Friends" as one category and "Family" as another category. Part of the challenge of having "Fun" as a separate third category would be in sorting poems that refer to Friends and Family--trying to decide, for instance, if a poem about going to a game with your family is really a "Fun Poem" or a "Family Poem." If you ever end up writing a collection of poems and stories that is divided into those categories, I'd love to see it!

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    1. Thank you for your professional advice, it was much appreciated. I might rethink the fun category or make it more specific, and say something like entertainment or recreational. I still think that fun or entertainment is a big part of my identity and world view. So I think my final decision is Family, Friends, and Entertainment. :)
      Post By
      Noah Zobel

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  3. That's a tricky question because no body is only made up of three categories. For myself I would choose

    Artistic: This fact about me changes how I see things and think every day

    Family: I have a huge family and they all look out for me. They influence my decisions All the time

    Friends: I live in a tiny town called Shutesbury. There are not many people that live here, and we have to stick together when we can. IN this way, my friends are like my family, and influence my life just as much.

    Isola Murray, ARMS 7th grade student

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    1. thank you! it was a deep question, so I spent a lot of time thinking about it... It's so hard to put yourself into only three categories!

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  5. This question took a while to answer 'cause it is so hard to pick only three categories to describe a person. Though I think I would choose

    Family: My imediated family isn't huge but all of the members mean tons to me. I do basically everything with my sister, even if that wouldn't be her first chose, but I don't know how I would survive without my parents.

    Friends: I live in the same town, Shutesbury, as Isola and since my sixth grade class was so small we became really close. The majority of my friends I've known since kindergarten, but the new ones are pretty great too.

    Sports: I've played soccer since I was five and recently started more sports. Soccer and rock climbing are my main interests out of school and most of my week days are committed to practices. I've made lots of friends through sports that have helped me, especially going from one school to the next.

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    1. Sage: we need a lot more books for young people on the subject of sports (the emotional aspect). Maybe you can write poems (for fun) about this and publish a whole book!

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  6. Like Sage said, it is really hard to pick categories for yourself, especially only three. A lot of my categories kind of mush together, but they are all relative to me. They would probably be-

    Art/Creativity- I love art, whether it's literature or performance or drawings, and they really play a huge role in my life since I've loved art since I was really young. I love being able to express myself or make a small idea grow into a bigger one.

    Friends and Family- Some of my friends to me are more like family than just friends, since I trust them so much and they mean so much to me. They have a large role in my life and they really influence me and change me and help me be a better person, so my friends and family are almost like the same people.

    Culture- I'm half Japanese, and I've spent a lot of time in Japan. The culture in Japan is very different from the American culture I grew up with, and that gives me a new perspective on life as well as other cultures. My Japanese-American or Asian-American culture definitely defines a big part of myself.

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  7. Great categories, Amy! I'll bet you have a lot that you could write in the Culture section.

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    1. Thank you, I think that would be the category to write most about. :)

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  8. i would label the categories: family friends and sports.
    FAMILY: I am all Cambodian. My parents had to escape Cambodia and live on the borders of Thailand. They were sponsored by a church in Southampton in order to come to america.

    FRIENDS: I have lots of friends, most of them are Cambodian. I wonder why they're are so many Cambodians in Lowell. I like having friends like me.

    SPORTS: I like to skateboard and roller skate i don't play any team sports like base ball and soccer.

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    1. Ravee: I think one difficulty is determining what "friends like me" means. If you have a Cambodian friend who hates skateboarding, and a non-Cambodian friend who loves skateboarding and skating...which one is more "like you"?

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    2. ok but i meant like from the same place

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  9. FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Ha, I smushed two categories into one. My family and friends support me and help get through hard times. They influence who I am. My family is from Ukraine, Poland, Russia, and Israel. These places shape everything about me including my religion, what I eat, and many other things about me.


    ART/MUSIC: Music is one of my favorite things in the world. I've been playing a musical instrument for almost my entire life and I love it above almost everything else. Art shapes me to reach for my dreams. I love writing and this love helps me not be bored and is part of my identity.

    FUN!: Anything that I consider fun is part of me. Whether it is drawing, writing, reading or sports. All of these and more are huge parts of myself.

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    1. Very nice! You probably have tons to write about just in the family section!

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  10. Three categories would be hard! For me, I would probably do:

    FAMILY: Many people here have also used this as one of their categories; but for good reason. Family is important and I think it influences everyone, and without my family I probably wouldn't be the person that I am.

    FRIENDS: My friends are important to me, too. They are my second family. I have been friends with most of my friends since I was really little, and I met some this year. My close friends mean so much to me!

    TWINS: This one is tricky. Since my twin sister is both my family and my friend, putting the poems into categories could be hard. But being a twin is a big part of my identity, because when I was little I would try to be just like her. Then when I got older I started trying to be more of my own person. I get compared to her sometimes, even though we aren't identical twins and we both have really different personalities. I think I am who I am partly because I wanted to be different from her, and be my own person.

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    1. Libby: Could be really neat to write two poems that seem at first glance to be identical; then, upon inspection, just similar; and upon close reading, significantly different from each other. Try it!

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    2. That's a good idea, I'll try it! I wasn't sure if having Twins as one was a good idea, but that seems like it would really work.

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  11. This is a hard one for me because I'm adopted. I think that one way I would split myself up into is Vietnamese because that is where I was born from my Vietnamese birth mother and raised by my Vietnamese foster mother before I was adopted. I was never in an orphanage. In terms of blood, I am one hundred percent Vietnamese. Another way that I think I would split myself into is culturally European. My family through adoption are all of European decent. I'm the one and only Asian in my adopted family. My grandfather on my mother's side's ancestors are from Ireland and my mother's mother actually immigrated from Albania herself. My dad's ancestors are from Russia and Austria, though with the border change it's now Hungary. I think that I would also consider myself to be American, despite the fact that I was not born here. My adopted parents are American and I am an American citizen. I have an American passport as well as a Vietnamese passport. Though I'm not sure what I'm going to check off when I start getting those application forms that ask you what your ethnicity is...

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  12. Sam: about those application forms...maybe you'll come up with a perfect term. Goodness knows we need something other than "Other"!

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    1. Yeah, exactly. If you're going to have categories, you gotta have them all. But the problem is that the people who create those application forms never tell you if they mean boilogically, culturally, etc. So you're pretty much "stranded on an island" for those kinds of questions.

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  13. Well that's a very tricky question because there are many things to a persons identity. The three pictures I would pick are pictures of my family, friends, and picture that represents traveling.

    Family: I chose family because without my family, I wouldn't be anywhere i am know. Also I know my family will give me the right guidance in my life, so i can live a good life.

    Friends:Well friends are very important to have, because sometimes you can't tell your family something but you can tell a good friend. That can give you good advice. I have a lot of friends that are always there for me like my family.

    Travel: I love to travel. Its just like a thing that i have to do. If i couldn't travel i think i would be a whole other person. By traveling i learn a lot of things. If i didn't travel i think i would be scared of many things. Now i'm not scared of anything.

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    1. Harleen: Maybe you could write a different poem about each place that you remember visiting...

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    2. yeah maybe i could thanks for the advice, i never thought of that

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  14. Wow, three categories to separate my identity and experience is really hard. I feel as though myself and my personality is always all over the place. I think if I were to categorize myself it would be in these three categories:

    FAMILY: I love my family so much and they are one of the biggest parts of my life. Whenever I feel down I always talk to someone. I love to be around family and even though were all different and sometimes my cousins and I don't always get along we always have a great time doing things together. I can really connect to your poem "Quilt." It reminded my of my family especially the part when you say "but made to keep, its warmth, even in bitter, cold."

    FRIENDS: Friends are also a really big part of me. I think I'm really a peoples person and I love to be around people. I'm a big chatterbox and laugh-box and I just like to make people happy. I trust my friends with any secret and I tell them everything. I feel really honored to have such great friends who are all caring and loving towards me and I with all respect I treat them the same way.

    The last one is hard to think of but I'm going to go with:

    ART/DRAMA: One of my many passions is to be come a dancer. I do Indian Classical Dance and have been enjoying it now for 3 years. It's really something for me that takes my mind of things and I feel really relaxed when I do it. Drama is also something I love. Acting has always been fun for me and over the years I felt more confident in acting and not so much more embarrassed. As a little kid I was so scared to put myself out there and go on stage but now I feel more confident and want to go out there.

    -Maha Awaisi

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    1. Maha: You have lots to write about in the art and drama category: stagefright, confidence, "becoming" someone else...What a rich topic!

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    2. Thank you so much! I think a profession in the arts would be something I would really want to pursue. I've really seen a difference over the years especially in my acting and how I've become more confident. I think that aspect of myself is always growing to be better.

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  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Maha: I hope that you removed your comment and it wasn't removed by me. If I removed it, sorry! (I experimented yesterday with removing some last names and unfortunately these were not successful experiments).

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  16. As everyone else as said, three categories is hard, and I don’t have three clearly defined cultural pieces to categories as you did. The thin borders between everything I do make it hard to divide in only three places, but I’ll try it anyway.

    Academic

    The first major part of my life is the academic side of me. It is a very unique part of my life, because of the way it came to be. At first, as with virtually all people, academics was forced on to me, and I went along with it. However, over time, as I was forced to put in more and more effort, and more and more time, it has shaped my life in way no other single thing has. It has forced me to think about things in new ways, and further respect for chose, especially with time where I decide what to do, which is what shapes me.

    Spare Time

    Spare time completely shapes the areas in which I most develop. From playing sports to get moving after a long day sitting in school, to browsing the internet to give my brain and body a break, what I do in my spare time determines how I react to everything else in life.

    Family

    Although this category is a complete different division from the other two categories, I 100% could not leave it out, for one reason, being that they are what make everything in my life possible. Be it allowing me to sign up for a class or giving me a ride to a soccer game, they make everything come together

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    1. Scott: that's a great description of the different parts of your life!

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    2. I'm glad to hear you think it worked; I've been trying to break things apart at a different angles, and I'm liking the new viewpoints.

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  17. I think it is difficult to choose 3 categories to define ourselves but her are the 3 that I have chosen. One of them is new experiences. I have had a lot of new things thrown at me from a six month sabbatical to starting middle school and I think that has helped me mature and develop as a person. The second category that I believe defines me is family and friends. These people have given me a place to share opinions and experiences. My third category is hobbies and activities. My hobbies and activities have introduced me to friends I would not have had otherwise. For example soccer has introduced to a bunch of friends I have today.

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  18. Hmm...three categories is hard to pick!
    I would say...

    1. PEOPLE
    There are a lot of really important people in my life, both my family, and my friends. I feel really lucky to have such awesome friends and they are all really important to me. I hope to still be as close with everyone ten or twenty years from now as I am at the age of 12.

    2. ART
    I very, very,very much love to write, and I also love to draw/paint. These two art forms are a really big part of my life and really, what I want to DO with my life: be an illustrator and author.

    3. GOALS
    I had trouble thinking of this category. This is connected in some ways to number 2, because goals of mine include future professions, which I mentioned above. I absolutely love traveling but I haven't gotten the opportunity to go to very many places. So, when I'm older I hope to travel the world, and see amazing new things, and live in some place like Japan or Sri Lanka or England or Norway. The goals I have are really important to me, because I am very motivated to make them come true in years to come.

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    1. I love "Goals" as a category. It would be most interesting, I think, to have poems about your real attempts (successful and not) to reach particular goals.

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  19. 1. Amherst
    I have lived in Amherst my whole life and know everything there is to know and it makes up a large part of me. It is a great community with many educated people and people who are just overall awesome. Without living in Amherst, my life would have been totally different

    2. Judaism
    My parents are conservative Jews and we are some of the more religious people where we live. Ever since I was a baby we have been going to services on Saturdays and since first grade I have been going to Hebrew School. I went to a Jewish camp called Ramah for two summers and I met some great friends who I have traveled for hours to go to their bar mitzvahs.

    3. Traveling
    I have traveled far around the world since I was a 6 week old baby and went to mexico and when my family went to England for 3 months. For a few years we annually went to Florida, which I still adore. We also went on trips to exciting places like Mexico and Puerto Rico, and boring places like St. Louis. Then in fifth grade I went to Argentina to live there for half a year. It shaped my identity and how I think in many ways. Since then, I have visited Argentina one more time and recently took a two-week trip to Israel (which relates to Judaism).

    By Jonah Weinbaum

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    1. Jonah: You have a TON of rich experiences to write about!

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  20. I identify myself as a world traveler. If I had to limit my whole self to 3 black-and-white drawings, I would draw an eagle, a snake, and a cat. Its kind of hard for me to divide my identity into three categories as I am a world traveler so I don’t stay in one place for very long to form an identity in that one place; but I think I would categorize myself into family, culture, and friends.

    Culture: I would choose culture because I was born in Rwanda, I’m part German, Canadian and Scottish. I have lived in the USA, Canada, Azerbaijan, South Africa, China, and Rwanda.

    Family: I would choose family because I move every 1 or 2 years, so I need to keep my family close. Plus, they always support me in everything I do.

    Friends: I choose friends because wherever I live, I make many friends who are important to me and things like Facebook and E-mail help me keep in touch with them.

    By Riley Schmidt

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    1. EAGLE, SNAKE, CAT would make a terrific title!

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    3. Yeah. I think i would write a poem showing how i was similar to each of these things. Maybe something like:

      Like an Eagle,
      I soar,
      High in the sky.

      Like a snake,
      I slither,
      Looking for food.

      Like i cat,
      I sleep,
      long hours.

      By Riley Schmidt

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    4. Similar to what others said, I think that it would be hard to categorize yourself into three parts. For me it is basically what you did in the past, what you are doing in the present, and what you are planning on doing in the future.

      1. If I were to put myself into three categories like the others did, I would make the first one community. Community is an important category because your family raises you with a fairly biased view, which in essence stresses the influence of their world view, beliefs, and morals on you. Friends and other relations do the same; it influences you to change to the point where you feel that their acceptance is guaranteed.

      2. A second category would be literal world view/morals. What I mean by literal world view is what you actually see, hear, and experience. In your mind you uncontrollably develop opinions on certain issues and happenings, which in return shape your morals. Being only thirteen I am still developing my world view so I had to play around with the second category a little bit!

      3. The third one would be the decisions/ambition. This is because the only point of making a decision is if you actually go with it. This requires ambition because it determines whether or not that decision is important enough to you to have effort and work put into it to make it happen. Ambition shapes your priorities and decisions shape your identity because they are what you did, what you are doing, and what you will do.

      By Alara Akisik

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    5. Past/present/future is a very natural way to divide things!

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  21. Thank you for taking the time to read my categories. It was a very hard question, and I was debating over many categories, the easiest way was to do past/present/future!

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  22. This is a question which I have never really considered. I think that if I had to classify myself into three main categories I would list cultural identity, music and academia. I am of a mixed heritage and I find that I identify myself very much with those cultures. For me big parts of cultural identity are culinary tradition and language, among other things. Music was a fairly obvious choice for me. I cannot imagine myself without music considering the fact that I began playing the violin at age two and a half. Academia is important to me because I relish reading and learning about history and enjoy going to school. If I were to put these three things into pictographic form I believe that I would opt for the two flags of my culture as one, a violin as the other, and a pen, book and sheet of paper for the other.
    By: Ilya Yudkovsky

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    1. I like your description of your images!

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  23. Thank you, I definitely thought a lot about how I could define myself. I find your images (in the book) very interesting. The image for the "American Poems" really shows what it means to be a half-and-half (which I am) with a comical twist. I like how you used culinary things as your representation of your Asian side. I definitely agree that when representing one's self as an Asian (I am one) that food and drink is the way to go!
    By: Ilya Yudkovsky

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  24. Three drawings is not enough to describe me. However, if I had to draw three drawings (which I would enjoy because I like drawing), I would draw the following:

    1) Sports: Drawing of me playing hockey and baseball
    2) Family and Friends: Drawing of me with my family and friends
    3) School: Drawing of my middle school

    I would divide my identity and experiences in the same three categories of Sports, School, and Family and Friends. I basically spend most of my time playing sports, hanging out with my family and friends, and going to school, so for this stage of my life, these would be my categories.

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  25. I think it would be very hard to identify myself with only three categories. I think I would have to include my Family as one of them. I spend lots of time with them and they are mostly the ones who shape my views about society. One category I would include is definitely Friends. I am around my friends every day and experience their personalities which, in turn, influence my personality. The third is Travel because my family travels so many places. Traveling helps me experience different cultures which changes my views on life.

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