Pigeonholing

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how pre-conceived impressions of people–and characters–can cause us to come to some very mistaken conclusions.

Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest. Kathleen’s newest book in the series, Dressed to Kill, will be released in the UK on August 1, 2019 and in the US on November 1, 2019.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net/

The other day I was in Walmart. I had a few awkward to handle packages and a young employee offered to help me out. Not usual for Walmart, and I accepted with gratitude. He was dressed in jeans and I assumed he was in gardening or helped load groceries. We were chatting a little as we walked to my car when a crow flew down close to our heads, then landed on a light pole. “Oh,” the young man said, “I think that’s Edgar. I wonder where Allen is.” He looked at me and smiled a little. “I named them.”

I am sure my mouth was agape as I stared at him. “You mean for who wrote the poem?” I still wasn’t sure if that was what he meant or if it was some coincidence.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s my favorite one. The poem.”

I am embarrassed to admit I was surprised. He just wasn’t the type I’d associate with reading Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps in school?  I’m not sure what classes include his work. Even then, I wouldn’t have expected this particular young man to actually like it. If pressed, I’d have thought he was the type who would never willingly read a book of any type, certainly not poetry, that cars and sports would have been his passions. I’d pigeonholed that young man before I’d ever said a word to him and, boy, had I been wrong.

It got me to thinking. Do I always pigeonhole people I meet? Do I assume because they look a certain way, work a certain job, talk with a certain accent that I know what kind of person they are? That I know what they like? How they live? I hope I don’t but if I do, I’m cheating myself out of something important. I shudder to think how many interesting conversations I may have missed out on, how many interesting people I’ve never bothered to get to know. I wondered if I pigeonhole not only the people I’ve met but the characters I write. Sorted them by “type”. Stuffed them in a pigeonhole.

Are there “types”? I’ve heard that expressed all my life. He’s the type to end up in Harvard, or I just knew she was the type to end up getting divorced. Is there a type of man who will abuse his wife or a type of woman who will be president of the PTA? I guess, in a way, there is, but can you tell who falls into a certain category by casual conversation or just observing? I doubt it and we shortchange ourselves and the people we meet by doing so. We sort them into little pigeon holes as neatly as the mail is sorted into little boxes and that doesn’t work very well. The guy  who wears the ‘wife beater’ tee shirt may be a model husband and the one who leaves for work every morning in a three piece suit carrying a pig skin brief case may be the one who comes home and beats his wife to a pulp.

What is the point of all this? Briefly, none of us are so simple we can be sorted into simple little groups or pigeonholes. Not in real life or in the books we read. Or write. People, all people, are complex, a mix of goals, emotions, abilities, and we owe it to ourselves, and to them, to get to know each other better before we pass judgment of any kind. Because if we don’t, we are likely to be wrong and think what interesting conversations and people we might have missed!

Unless, of course, it’s a murder mystery. Then you can pigeonhole anyone, type cast anyone as you try to find the murderer. Of course, if the author has set it up so that the person you think is truly the type to commit murder turns out to be the good guy, or maybe the corpse, and the last person you thought could be the culprit, is, then you just put him, or her, in the wrong pigeonhole.

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