Blood, Caste, Clan, Class, Division
Scintilla Day 7 prompt: List the tribes you belong to: cultural, personal, literary, you get
the drift. Talk about the experience of being in your element with your tribes.
There were times growing up when I felt like my cultural tribe wasn't much to get excited about, and envied those with seemingly richer and more vibrant traditions and beliefs. My mother's family was Polish, so when we visited (usually once a year or less) there were perogies (yum) and cabbage rolls (blech) and unintelligible speech and the fact that we didn't like Ukrainians much even though they sounded EXACTLY the same. My father's parents were Scottish and English but didn't communicate much of that to us. Even the fact that all of my relatives lived in Saskatchewan gave them that 'western Canadian' tag, and the ones that were farmers had that in common - I spent years joking that whenever they didn't want to go on vacation with us they would just use 'the harvest' as a lame excuse.
My family lived in Ontario - average people living in the middle of Canada. On days in school when we were supposed to bring in things representing our heritage, I never really felt like I could compete with the Croatians or the Finnish kids, or the lone, impossibly exotic boy from the Philippines.
I started to realize, at some point, that a deeply held feeling for one's culture carried some fairly heavy baggage with it, such as a bone-deep hatred for certain other cultures, or a long history of war. I thought maybe it was okay for me not to have a cool ethnic costume or a national dance if it also meant that I didn't automatically spit on the ground every time a certain country was mentioned.
My friend Zarah has remarked, when I talk about growing up, that it sounds like my mother loved me but didn't really get me. That remark probably still holds true today.
I had friends in elementary school and high school - good friends. I wasn't exactly popular or exactly shunned. I was somewhere in the middle again. I always got high marks, and I always sucked at gym, so teachers liked me and cool kids mocked me with varying levels of affection and derision.
In my first two years of university I lived in a residence where I was in a tiny minority - arts majors - in a sea of students of a decidedly more science-like bent. It was a fabulous time, living away from home, testing a variety of boundaries, finally learning to read and write with an underpinning of critical thought rather than a rote sucking-up and regurgitating method (which had admittedly worked quite nicely for me thus far). But again, most of the people I spent most of my time with were different enough that we regarded each other with a certain bemusement. One of my friends from the arts programs, a guy who loved Romanticism and actually read poetry out loud to girls, asked me why it seemed difficult for me to have a discussion about literature or philosophy without, at some point, needing to puncture the seriousness with a joke. I told him it was a self-defense mechanism borne of living among mathematicians and engineers, who would lynch me if they ever caught me going on about the noble savage or emotion recollected in tranquillity (hey - I might have just pinpointed the origin of my incorrigible smart-assery).
I got married. I could say my husband loves me but doesn't really get me, but that's probably giving myself more credit for an alluring mysteriousness than I really deserve. He has my number in more ways than I care to admit.
We had children. There is absolutely something to be said for making your own tribe. My children get my wacky jokes, and not just because I've taught them how. From my husband they've gotten useful stuff like athletic prowess and mathematical ability. From me, they get a love of reading and the ability not to find their mother completely baffling. I'm calling it a win.
I met three other women, two of whom worked with my husband along with their husbands, one whose husband worked at the same place. None of them still work there now, but we all had kids around the same time, and anyone with kids probably recognizes that this is a glue stronger than almost any other. All four of us have some significant differences in upbringing, sensibility and taste in movies (can you believe I'm friends with someone who loved Passchendaele?) But it doesn't matter. We've been through job loss, childbirth, teething, sleep deprivation, hitting, biting, wood slivers lodged in eyes, swallowed marbles and oceans of puke together. And we've confessed our darkest and pettiest secrets to each other, while drunk enough to overcome our shame and not drunk enough to forget. These women get me AND love me, even if the things they get about me are not things they have experienced. This is a gift whose value is beyond measure.
I started blogging. I met other bloggers. I confessed a lot of my darkest secrets again. I met people who felt the EXACT SAME WAY. Another gift, unexpected and welcomed with a dazed sort of joy.
It took a long time to feel like I had a tribe or three to which I solidly belonged, one that I am not afraid will cast me out if I make mistakes or show weakness. The chief image that springs to mind when I think of my tribes is laughter - not only because we all rely on humour to salve the occasional bitterness of life, even though we do, but because when I am with these people I frequently feel so all-encompassingly grateful and jubilant that I just have to laugh.
Loving people because you understand them so well you're nearly the same person, and loving people you can't quite understand and probably never will. What else is there to strive for, really?