A category is a safe bet. It is the obvious, tangible, concrete, reliable. It proclaims our security with clear demarcation, a definition, a purpose, objectives and conclusion. Substance, people, trees, rocks, metals, light, water have a place, a definition, a group, a belonging. A category is absolute. We surround ourselves in categories. A map draws lines around landscapes, fills each country in pink, purple, brown. It labels them, spells them correctly, and protects each boundary with a bold black line. We tell ourselves stories about those shapes, about the people, their color, language, food, belongings, houses, bodies, art. The people in that shape are like this not that. We do not argue with the category, it is unconditional. A category is contracted. A frame draws a rectangle around a painting, manipulating the eye to view the colors, lines, value, composition. It focuses the viewer and demands attention. It entices one to see and utilize only vision to experience it. But there is emotion, process, love, conversation, history, woven among hues and shapes. It can be seen if one does not use the eyes. A category is limiting. We sort our children. Arrange them in order from smart to dumb, pretty to ugly, athletic to academic, light to dark, good to bad. Children are measured, lined up, compared, contrasted, analyzed and finally put in a grid and told what the future will hold for them. It is easy. It is logical. But it is diminishing and devastating. A category is cowardly.
The scene: The playroom. A box lies on the ground, half the marble game inside, the other half gone. The rest is upstairs, split between the living room and Dana's bedroom. I'm annoyed. Why can't Dana keep one toy in the same room? It seems a small thing to ask.
Then I remember, yesterday she sat by the window in the living room, the pieces of the game formed a long spear with a spinning mill on top. Dana talked to it. It was a wand. A talking wand. A great towering city. A princess. A noble companion watching out the window for her friend to arrive. A brave soldier keeping her safe. It did not occur to her that it was, in fact, a marble game.
To Dana, in every item there is endless potential. When we sit at a restaurant the condiments on the table become animals. They march across the table cloth, tell stories, sing, dance and commune. They play hide and seek, cook her a meal and quickly become best friends. She transforms herself into a suitcase. She is carried to the airplane, dropped off at baggage claim to land safely in my hands where I find my shampoo and bathing suit inside. Now she is a cleaner and endeavors to pick up all the garbage on land and sea. We pick up plastic bottles, wet newspaper and old straws. We search for garbage cans and dumpsters for our findings. She has multiple identities; girl, bird, princess, sandwich, chef, cookie, snake, monster, cleaner, storyteller. They layer her with meaning and boundlessness. She has multiple companions made up of flesh, plastic, Styrofoam, metal, petals, grass, wood. Her world is never lonely. Her world is rich with possibility, complex in its ability to make connections, wise in its capacity to see meaning. There are no categories.
The marble game sits next to a stuffed baby gorilla on the window sill. I leave it there. The box in the playroom is still half empty. It doesn't annoy me anymore. I only hope that I don't limit her with my own short comings, stunted expectations and unconscious arrangements. I'm excited to see what new connection or transformation she will imagine. And I can't help but wonder how we collectively forgot the astonishing freedom of a world without categories.