Sunday, March 25, 2012

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?

10 comments:

Nicole said...

The blogging community is amazing. It's like having pen pals who communicate all the time, and who were all chosen because of their love of similar things (like writing.)

GOD, cabbage rolls are the most vile food item. UGH.

harriet glynn said...

I'm quite into the idea of tribes. But I think we belong to many obviously. For many years my tribe consisted of people who liked hiking and camping and drinking. Those were GREAT years. But I wasn't getting a lot of intellectual nourishment. I got that when I started working in the arts. Now that's a great tribe of wackos! I also have my adoptive parents tribe, which is a deep one but focussed on all the complexities around adoption and what that means for us and for family. And I have the OLD FRIENDS tribe, which I love for the ease of being. And the social media/blogger tribe and and and!!! BTW, as you know, my husband is an impossibly exotic Filipino who grew up in whiteville ;-)

Patti said...

I hear you too. I've been too athletic for the artsies and too artsy for the jocks. But I digress.

I grew up in the Donovan (the ne'erdowell side of our town) among Croations, Poles, Ukranians, Finns and some Ojibway (just to keep things interesting). On Culture Day, the girls would show up in ribbons and red boots and beautiful dresses and I'd wear a green shirt.

"Mom," I said. "What's the national dress of the Irish?"

"Rags," she said.

Oh well.

Crack You Whip said...

I totally love blogging and never realized how much I had in common with so many people. It has really opened my world up.

I hate cabbage rolls.

Pauline said...

Hm, it's funny you posted this because I was thinking of a similar post for myself last week.

My mother is from Scotland and I was raised partly with that culture. Growing up around Asians and other groups, though I wanted to be something more exotic and "interesting". It wasn't until I went to Scotland and saw that their culture, history and languages ARE really interesting!

Everyone should be proud of their heritage, because every country has something to offer.:)

Helen Abbott said...

Patti and I belong to the tribe of Those Who Love Cabbage Rolls, but apparently she and I don't share membership in the subtribe of Those Who Love Cabbage Rolls and Aren't Afraid to Admit It.

StephLove said...

I think like most people I have a lot of partially intersecting tribes, but the time I felt most immersed in a culture that felt mine was in college-- I went to small (very) liberal arts school and I never had as many friends as I did then, before or after.

For a long while academia was my tribe, but it isn't any more. Almost seven years after I stopped teaching, I'm not over the loss.

Right now I'm relying on the parents of my daughter's preschool classmates (even though she's in kindergarden now) for most of my social life. She went to a co-operative preschool and you really do become a community when you are in the classroom with people's kids from the time they're two until they're five.

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

To find your own tribe and not feel as though you will be cast out is amazing...probably. I can't say that I have ever reached that level of comfort but that's my thing not yours. So let me just say that I am so happy that you have found your spot, your home, your place-to-be.

cheesefairy said...

Yes you always find your people eventually. I had some pals in school, but none that have lasted; then the Drinking & Smoking & Being Free tribe of my 20s & 30s, and now, the remnants of that tribe (essentially five women who were strong and ballsy) sort of tightening around each other like a nice hug. It's good.

And god yes, the Internet. For people like us: who hate phones! Half of the people I know in my real life community are people I met through my blog and twitter.

Betsy B. Honest said...

Sigh. I need to know some women I feel are my intellectual equals. And that kind of makes me feel like an asshole. But it's true.