YOU CAN CALL ME
by Vicki Schutter
Have you ever thought about what you would like to be known for? I'm
not talking about things you WISH you could do, like leading the first
mission to Mars, or being given the Lifetime Achievement Oscar, or
having one of your paintings auctioned off for a million dollars. I'm
talking about things you actually do or have done. Of those, what
would you like to be known for? People will say, "The woman who
______," or "The man who ______". How would you like that blank filled
in? The other day I had to call Accounts Payable to ask about my boss'
Travel Expense Statement. He has me do that a lot, because he's so
anxious to make sure he gets every penny he thinks is due him. This
man is even stingier than I am (which probably makes those of you who
know me shudder), only he has a lot more to be stingy with than I do.
So he tells me to call Accounts Payable about his precious money and,
even though I hate doing it with all my heart and soul, I do ...
because I know deep down inside that his money is more important than
my job. So I make the call, and just as I finish dialing the
extension, the professor with the loudest mouth in the entire
department comes in to talk of my officemate. A different woman than
usual answers the phone, and I start trying to explain to her what
I want, all the while Dr. Bullhorn is trying to explain to my
officemate what HE wants. This is a situation which is NOT conducive
to fluent speech. What made it even worse was that the woman I was
talking to was having pretty much the same problem. No, no, I don't
mean she stuttered. I mean someone was talking to her at the same time
she was trying to wade through all my blocks and figure out what I was
trying to say. Finally, I heard the woman "whisper," "Ssssshhhhh! It's
that girl who stutters!" "That girl who stutters." So that's how I'm
known on the Rice University campus. Makes you think of that old TV
show, doesn't it? Instead of "That Girl", suppose it was "That Girl
Who Stutters" and Marlo Thomas had a severe speech impediment? Yeah, I
like that. Maybe I'll suggest that idea to a network president the
next time I have the ear of one of them (which is every time they want
to know my favorite show, so they'll known which one to cancel).
Anyway, that made me think. Whether we like it or not, labels are a
part of our lives. When someone is talking about you, he is not going
to say, "That guy who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1948 and went to
Smith High School and then went to Jones College where he got a
bachelor's degree in ..." No, of course not. They are going to pick
the one thing that is closest to being unique about you and, therefore,
will probably enable their listener to recognize who they're talking
about: "the girl who stutters," "the black guy in the Ku Klux Klan,"
"the man who always wears plaid pants with polka-dotted shirts," etc.
The advantage, such that it is, to labels like mine is that people
on campus know who I am. I am not an anonymous figure. The
disadvantage is that what they know me for is talking weird, and I'm
fairly certain that's NOT what I want to be known for. So what DO I
want to be known for? Let's see ... Since my ego, at this particular
point in my life, is at an all-time low, how I would most like to be
known is as "the gorgeous girl that all the terrific guys want to go
out with." I guess that doesn't fall into the realism criterion that I
insisted upon at the beginning, though, so I'll have to come up with
something else. I know my friends and family think of me as "the girl
who loves cats." I know that because over half of the birthday cards I
got had cats on them. Actually, I don't mind being known for that,
since I'm quite sure that cat lovers are very intelligent, well-bred,
sensitive people. I would like however, for them to also think of me
as "the woman who is a good friend" and "the woman who is always there
for me." I would also like to be known as "the woman who is honest,"
"the woman who is sincere," "the woman who laughs a lot," "the woman
who is generous" (okay, I'm reaching for that one), and "the friend who
is loyal." "The woman with the nice smile" is how I would like for
people who pass me on the street to think of me.
That brings me back to my original question: What do you want to be
known for? If labels much be given to you (and they most certainly
will be), which ones do you prefer?
added with permission of the author
May 21, 1999