Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Family resemblances revisited

 I'm taking one of those rare things: an sick day where I am not trying to do a bunch of stuff other than be sick. I'm fine, and only moderately uncomfortable, but I don't have the energy for much other than reading blogs. In addition to others, I sometimes read my own blogs.  And today I found this entry, from July 2015, when AJ, only child at the time, was 9 months old.

Family Resemblances

It's a short blog, and the main point is: although my friends and family saw all sorts of resemblances in baby AJ to me and Mr. Turtle and to others, I didn't see any resemblances, and I didn't think it was important.

What was important? 

".....what matters most to me is that I have a child who is her own individual, and becomes more that unique individual every day."

A lot of people seemed to like and agree with the sentiments I expressed in that blog. Which is fine. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Our feelings say something about where we are in life, and the lenses through which we see the world, and that is an interesting thing to try to understand. 

But nearly 7 years later, I no longer feel the same way. In fact, I would say the phase of "it only matters that she is an individual!" was quite short-lived.

Of course, it's great to be an individual. But it's not the only thing that matters.

What changed my mind? Probably the turning point  was my dad's death, just a few months later. In July of 2015 I had no idea he was ill, though the cancer was discovered only weeks after I wrote that blog. Today, I see a strong resemblance in AJ to my dad, and even more so to his sister, my Auntie R. It is meaningful, and it's something I frequently point out to her and to others. I also tell AJ that she, myself and her great-aunt all love to dance. We share that bond across generations. In addition, AJ took sailing camp last year, loved it, and wants to continue sailing. I make sure to tell her that this is something she shares with her Grandpa, though sadly she does not have a conscious memory of him.

As for Dani, right now I see a strong resemblance to Mr. Turtle's side of the family, especially his Auntie O. This aunt and her husband had lived in a different city for a long time. Recently, they moved back, and shortly after they returned, Auntie O invited me to go to the theatre with her. We agreed to meet in the lobby. When I got there, I spotted her immediately. She said: "I wasn't sure if you would recognize me!" I replied, "Actually it was easy: I see your face every day at home!"

I also see something of my mom in Dani. And in one of AJ's photographs when she was 3, I see the smile of my mother's eldest sister, who died at age 11, before my mother was born. It is uncanny, yet comforting. If sometimes ghosts walk with/in us, they are friendly ones.

I don't expect or want AJ and Dani to be clones, physically or in their personalities. There's a reason that humans don't (should never) reproduce by cloning. Each generation has to adapt to a different reality than their parents experienced (however they came by those parents), and each person is uniquely precious and irreplaceable. But, if we simplified this matter to two narratives:

1) I am an individual who  married and individual and who created two more individuals.


2) Myself and my children are part of a story that began long before us, and is unfurling in a manner that is sacred, mysterious, and revelatory. We experience our uniqueness, sometimes our solitude, but our lives do not "belong to us" in the sense that we are blank slates. 

Without a doubt, #2 is the narrative I now live by.

How does it influence my decisions?

Yes, I pay attention to the individual characteristics of my children. Do I nudge them towards activities and interests that connect them to their family and ancestry? Yes, I do. When time is precious, will I prioritize the traditions and activities that give them a coherent narrative across generations? Yes, absolutely. And furthermore, I see their longing for this coherency.

"You can have/be anything you want!" is a seductive message. And in a time of plenty (well, for now) it's still a somewhat true message. But only somewhat. I am not just a bundle of individual desires and idiosyncrasies, and I will do my best to teach/show my children that they aren't either. Of course, to do so I go up against a lot of powerful forces who would love for them to only see themselves as bundles of desires, because desire is marketable.

What do I want most of all? Multiplicity with unity, rather than fragmentation. The tree that grows in the shade of the forest, and reaches toward the sun.

Monday, 18 April 2022

Family Histories

 I found the time today to write a bit of a follow-up to my previous post on my family's experiences with (part of) the Ukrainian community in my city. A conversation with my older brother led to a story from our family history on my dad's side that I didn't know.  I set out to write about it and ended up meditating a lot more on how my perspectives are changing (really just putting into words a process that has been going on for a couple of decades at least). 

It's on my other blog, torthúil explores:

Link: Family Histories: The Russian Civil War and Greece

Friday, 11 March 2022

Yellow and Blue

This past Saturday we had the privilege of attending an event I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It was AJ and Dani’s first dance performance, at a celebration called Malanka, a Ukrainian (and Canadian) tradition honouring the new year. The year is already well under way, but the original January date was cancelled because of, well, Covid. (Surprise.)

We don’t have any holidays or trips planned, and I can’t say I have a great desire to make any plans. Holidays tend to be framed as an escape from reality, and reality is just too real these days: I don’t believe there is anywhere you can go to escape it. But I had been anticipating Malanka in the same way I might have anticipated a holiday at one time. It would be an evening to enjoy the best things in life: eating at a big table, beautiful clothes and costumes, conversation, live music, and of course dancing.

One of the things that appealed to me about the dance organization where I enrolled AJ and Dani are the celebrations around seasons and holidays. I want that kind of ritual marking time. Without it, time becomes amorphous and slips away. I don’t know anyone who does not feel dislocated in time right now. Days feel like weeks, weeks like months, memories sink to the bottom of consciousness like soggy blankets in a swamp. It takes physical effort to dredge them up, to explain coherently what I think I was doing last week. But when I can look forward to a New Year’s celebration, a spring festival or two, a year end show….well, somehow the future becomes something I can grasp, and the present fills up with interesting details.

Friendship, celebration, a little exploration of the Ukrainian half of the girls’ cultural identities, which we hadn’t really introduced them to previously: that’s what I had in mind when I registered them for classes in August. It sounded delightful, and it has been. They are both loving their classes. As February went by and Covid was waning (or something) Malanka looked like it would really finally happen. The girls’ first ever chance to perform, the first event in two years for the organization. Amazing! Then February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine.

I had been almost totally oblivious, not going to lie. When I started paying attention to the news, I realized my daughters, and by extension me and Mr Turtle, were in the middle of a community that was intensely, personally affected. We don’t know anyone in Ukraine, ourselves (people sometimes ask now). But many in the dance organization do. The board of directors struggled with the question of whether to carry on with Malanka. They decided they would. It would be a show of solidarity, of hope.  And of course a fundraiser. I was glad they decided to go ahead with it. If my children are to develop a connection with the people around them, some understanding of what they are going through, it has to be through experience.

Plus, I still wanted the joy and celebration. For the girls. For the family members I’d invited. For myself.  For the children who had been working so hard on their dances. I love that they hold hands and dance together in formation. In the era of Covid that is (was?) considered a risk: if so, it’s one that’s completely worth it, in my view.

A few days before their performance I thought I should discuss with AJ some things she might hear talked about at the event. “Oh, I know about the war,” she responded to me. Of course, that was what her teacher had been telling her group about when they were sitting solemnly in a circle at the beginning of class. She told me one of her classmates knew someone who had died in Ukraine. AJ is still very gentle in how she expresses herself. Anyone doing something unpleasant through to violent is “rude.” So Russia is being “very rude.” We talked some more. I remembered the time AJ was quite a bit younger and had found models of battlefields at the local museum. She had asked why so many of the toy soldiers were lying on the ground. Certainly we have talked about war since then, but this time was much more immediate. And of all things, it is her dance class that has made it personal.

At long last, the first weekend of March was here. The girls had picked up costumes; I had learned how to put them on; they had posed for studio pictures in them. I had bought and distributed tickets to grandparents and uncles, sold my allotment of raffle tickets, been assigned a volunteer job, mostly read and remembered all the instructions. I got there and was still overwhelmed with a feeling of “How do we do this exactly?!”

Between taking tickets and getting the girls ready, I didn’t get to our table till the program was almost starting. With a celebration like this (and I had almost forgotten the feeling) it is like being inside of a story. What was going to happen? What part would I play? How would my children feel? How would they be changed? Because of course they will be. This is something they will remember their whole lives, whatever happens.

The first item on the program was playing the Ukrainian national anthem. I am not even used to hearing the Canadian national anthem any more. (Where do you hear it except at events with lots of people? There haven’t been many of those lately.) Now here I was with a whole lot of people listening to a foreign anthem.

The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished
Luck will still smile on us brother-Ukrainians.
Our enemies will die, as the dew does in the sunshine,
and we, too, brothers, we'll live happily in our land.
We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom
and we’ll prove that we brothers are of Kozak kin.

Well, that puts the news into context, I thought as I listened. All the people, including me, who had been shocked by news of war really shouldn’t have been. Clearly, this is a conflict that has been going on for a long time. Also I wondered what exactly I had gotten my family involved in. Was I going to hear a recruiting plea for foreign soldiers next? That would be a bit much. My mom is descended from Russian pacifists  (you can imagine how popular they were in their homeland) and my dad was deeply disturbed by his experience of war and strongly disliked nationalism. Also, the most assertive line in the Canadian national anthem is “O Canada we stand on guard for thee.” Canada must have one of the mildest, least rude national anthems ever composed.

But though the tone was set, the program moved on. There were a few short speeches, and children and youth representing the dancers were given the last word: “We don’t have money to give, but we can dance with joy and lift your spirits” (words to that effect). And talking with AJ afterwards, I found myself reinforcing this point: yes war is terrible and suffering is real, yes Malanka had the goal of supporting Ukraine in the conflict.  But the thrill and kinship AJ and Dani feel with their fellow dancers as they move in synchrony, the affection and respect they begin to feel for the dances and their teachers: this is something older, stronger, and more transformative than any present conflict or problem. (So I want to believe.) Such power can temporarily be harnessed in service to a cause, but treated with appropriate respect, it tells a story that encompasses and transcends the events of the moment.

AJ and Dani were beautiful. I don't think Dani really understood that she was going to dance in front of everyone, before it happened. But she went out on the floor with her group of preschoolers, beaming, and they did their dance. AJ has a lot of poise already. Her eyes shine and her smile reaches out to everyone. After their part in the program was finished, both girls watched the rest of the dancers, entranced. When the band started, they didn't stop moving until we left. Dance, tag, hide and seek, chatter, laughter, mystery. It was a bigger party than they've ever experienced, they were among friends and deeply safe, and they made the most of every minute of it.

So what does this all mean? I don't know. Right now, I am reluctant to say of these experiences: "This is what it is truly about." All I can say for sure is that is whatever is going on, I am doing my best to show up for life.   What do you pay attention to when there is too much information? I live in a kind of enhanced sensory alertness, which can be exhausting and confusing at times. But it is infinitely better than being saturated in cortisol and anxiety. There are a lot of problems in the world, and I am not going to think my way out of any of them. Nothing is going to change because I am "informed," because I have the "right" opinions, because I take some kind of "action." I am not the middle manager of reality. But I am part of the story.

Sharing Malanka with my girls and all our family was a precious experience. I would do it all again, and I think we all grew, in one way or another. 

Thursday, 10 February 2022

One month (ish) into 2022

 So....I don't like New Year's Resolutions, but I like to have Intentions. Although I don't commit to anything in December, because January and often February are tough months. It's cold, it's dark, sickness is everywhere, people are stressed....so who needs more pressure? Not me!

But, having gotten through January, and suffering nothing worse than a suspected sinus infection so far, here are what I've been pondering as Intentions this year:

I've been thinking more and more about actively participating in culture, and in creating reality. Jonathan Pageau is so good at articulating why participation is important. Listening to his ideas has helped me to understand and clarify what I think is the best use of my time. This is not really a new matter. Starting around 2015, I have been less and less interested in passive entertainment. Of course I will go see a movie on a date or with the kids. But I have almost no interest in watching or "getting into" a show, for example. The big techno-cultural institutions have no clue how to entertain me, and (no) surprise, I don't care. The only unfortunate part of this is I lose a whole area of small talk. My answer to "Oh, have you seen .......?" It's soooooo good!!" is some version of "No....and I probably never will, but go ahead tell me about it and I'll try to find something to relate to!" 

So, what do I do for fun? Well, I'm reading books, though I now need a reason for reading one, some sort of context to put it in. I'm more interested in the values of the writers and how they are participating in culture. Reading fiction in particular feels like renting out space in my brain and imagination to another person. I still enjoy doing that, but I'm not just accepting anyone as a tenant. So I'm most likely to read books I've heard recommended by people I trust, or writers who I hear interviewed on one of the podcasts I regularly listen to. It's about depth more so than breadth. Any sort of filter will have its limitations and flaws, I'm aware of that, but I don't have the attentional energy for anyone and everyone, that's reality.

I'm aware of and appreciating my community groups more and more. My stepdancing group is still going strong, and I seriously hope I'm dancing with these ladies into my 70s. Our teacher already works with seniors and is a role model for participation and activity at all ages. I love that there is a performance aspect to this group, though I think of it more as sharing tradition/creating culture versus "people looking at me." Which is as it should be.

This year my daughters are also involved in Ukrainian dance. They have been enjoying it so far, and I'm enjoying being a (chill) dance mama too! I was never into competition, and neither are the girls so far. But again, the focus of this organization is creating community and tradition, and I'm loving it. I have to do things like volunteer for bingos. I was dubious at first, but then I really enjoyed just being in a novel situation with people I didn't know and having to figure out a job together. I appreciated the people at the bingo hall. They are 95% female, mostly 50 and over I'd say. I would not want to be a bingo regular myself, I don't think. But even being there a few hours, I could see that the staff and the clients have a relationship. The time they spend together is serving them a purpose, and it's not all cynical and sad, not at all. Finally, I realized it doesn't bother me when people ask me to take on responsibility, to make a sacrifice of time and energy. That's what I genuinely want! 

Of course, there is a cost. Participation is much harder work. There are evenings where I only want to collapse in front of the TV. But I have a commitment to get myself or the kids to dance class so off we go.  When I am actively involved with an organization, I am also more aware of how difficult it is to keep institutions and traditions going. It's harder to take things for granted or ignore people, and all their baggage. It's harder to close the door on the world, even when I want to. But....that's also good, in the long run. And the world I'm letting into my life is not abstract, not hostile, not fear inducing (most of the time). It's people like me. People I relate to, and/or give grace to. 

I'm really looking forward to the girls' first performance, which has been rescheduled once, but will hopefully happen soon on the new date. But, I have also decided that I am not going to be cheated out of anticipation, in the performing arts or in general. I am going to believe and work as if all the good things and events I look forward to will happen. If they don't, well that's sad. However, I still will have the fun of anticipating, practicing, working with others. If I don't believe anything is possible, then I miss out on all that, and that's worse than a few cancelled events. 

At work. Oh, work is always interesting and complicated. I have a great team, and I'm very grateful for them and I think they are a positive influence on me, and I truly bring value. We have some great complementary personalities. We share a vision and a work ethic.  There are also personality conflicts and stressors and tense meetings within the larger organization. I could write a novel! or a reality TV series. There are big problems we can't and won't solve alone, or at all. There are people at the edge of their sanity, and no bloody wonder. There are people whose ideas I disagree with, even though I'd walk through fire with them. Reality, right?

I guess if I was to sum it up, it would be to keep finding and working with the "Yes people."  You know when you have an idea, there are people who will tell you all the reasons it won't work, or why they won't commit, and then there are people who just hear you and add something, then you add something else, and on it goes? Maybe it ends in an amazing project, or maybe it ends in a belly laugh all around. Well we need everyone I'm sure, but damn, I love the second kind of people! I call them Yes people. And of course not all ideas are good or happen. But when you have a collective of Yes people, everything feels lighter. And we can admit mistakes, and face difficulties, and change direction, when necessary, without rancor.

I should add, being a Yes person doesn't mean you agree to everything or try to do everything for everyone. That is crazy (though we all are crazy sometimes, maybe more often than not). It's more about maintaining openness, when surrounded by forces within and without that are trying to shut you down (anger, fear, doubt, anxiety, lack of faith in yourself, etc). It's not easy, but it's better than fighting with negative forces you probably can't win against. 

Well, this is very long and rambly. If I was to sum it up? My intentions for 2022 are to be as involved as I can, in things that actually build up my life and others', and that can be part of my life for a long time. It's to be a Yes person and find the Yes people. When the Yes people get talking, then things happen. And then things fall apart, but you laugh and hold each other up through the chaos and the reality warping. And then things start to happen again.

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Turning 4

I remembered today I had written this entry about AJ the evening before she turned 4. So I took a couple of photos of Dani the day before she turns 4.

Four years ago? I was already asleep, but awoke at midnight to my waters breaking. A swift and straightforward labour followed (despite having a breech baby) and Dani arrived at 4:29 in the morning. There was a huge full moon in the sky.

Dani’s favourite food is still noodles, which we tend to  call by her baby word, noo-noos. Favourite movies are Chicken Run and The Croods 2. She likes the Frozen characters too. We don’t watch TV shows much but both kids like Battlebots (as do their parents).

Dani is bubbly and social and has a talent for comic timing. She is full of observations, some of which only make sense from her own perspective of the universe but which are always entertaining.

Dani takes Ukrainian dance along with her sister and enjoys it a lot, and will hopefully have her first performance in March. She goes to daycare and enjoys being with her friends, and is very good at keeping track of all her stuff: nothing is ever lost. She has learned or inherited my utter intolerance of any dirt on her clothes (sigh). She would also have made a very good 19th century lady as she likes to layer clothes on top of each other.

AJ and Dani alternate between being best of friends and quarrelling, but very obviously love each other. And they light up the house with love, and turn it upside down.

Tea party!

January is not my favourite month of the year, as I’ve noted many times, but the 31st is definitely the best day in it.

Happy birthday big girl!

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Venting and "Mad as Hell": A collage

Lately I had a couple of separate online conversations on the topic of anger and "venting", and some useful thoughts came out of it that I want to capture.

I think it's fair to say that there is a lot of....emotion...in our social world today (online, and off). A lot of negative emotion, a lot of frustration. I'm not passing judgment on the emotion itself or the situations causing it. The topic of who does or doesn't "deserve" to be angry is way too complex...if that even is a quagmire worth wading into, of which I'm not at all convinced. But either way, I don't have the attentional energy. I deal with things as they come up, and if I'm not directly involved, I try to give other people's anger a lot of.....space. For that matter, I try to give it space even when I am involved!

The first text is a quotation from from my (extraordinary) friend Diana. I read this and could immediately relate it to situations in my life:

"I think about the venting thing a lot, because I have moments I really want to just tell the world what I'm thinking and fuck decorum (which means, I think, fuck people's feelings). I've long believed that it's good to vent, but I'm not so sure anymore. That theory seems to be based on what we might call the Teapot Model, where we're like teapots that'll blow our tops if enough steam builds up, and venting is the only thing that will release the pressure.

I've been watching people and thinking about how they behave for a while now, though, and what I've noticed is that those who "vent" stay the angriest. It's almost like their ranting doesn't release the pressure so much as seek confirmation of their opinions which includes the justification of their anger. Venting also draws the approval of those who share one's opinions and anger, which also reinforces the sense that we *should* be angry.

I don't think that bit of received wisdom is right anymore. If there is a net positive to ranting or venting, I have yet to see it." (January 12 2022)

The next thing I read was a question from a friend: "Should we all be mad as hell?" I will leave out the context because honestly, anyone can think of something they could/should be "mad as hell" about. Like, go ahead and think of one....right now.

My friend also mentioned something unpleasant that happened in traffic, which I think is pretty universally relatable. So that was why I included comments on traffic. This is me:

 Traffic stuff terrifies me on a regular basis….though I continue to drive. (Avoiding driving caused such an escalation in my anxiety about it and irrational avoidance that I know that isn’t a good route to go either.) But I think about car accidents every time I get in the car (do other people do this? No idea how normal/abnormal I am) and I do something like pray….albeit not in a very ordered and conscious way, and often with a lot of profanity. I will add you to my driving prayers. Driving is probably THE most obvious example of individual action affecting collective well being, and vice versa (at least in cultures with a rule following ethic).

I’m not entirely sure of the direction of your thoughts in this post, but to address your question “should we all be mad as hell?” There is certainly plenty to be “mad as hell” about, but I’m less certain about manifesting that in the world. The most obvious problem for me is that it’s remarkably easy to be mad as hell, and that there even seems to be an addictive quality to it. By contrast calm people are harder to find, and stepping out of that anger cycle is much harder than stepping into it.

I also see people around me acting mad as hell, including many in cars (terrifying!) but I have no idea what they are mad about and what they imagine they are achieving by it. Perhaps they are mad about the same things I might hypothetically be mad about, and thus we are entirely in sympathy….but I can’t tell. There is no mutual understanding or responsibility.

Also, truthfully, the one thing that almost always alienates me from others is this “mad as hell” thing….for example I had to mute one of my group chats lately, because of the angry tone of the conversation and how people were choosing to express themselves. These are adults I consider kind and responsible, even exceptionally so. I have met them in person. We share a vocation and profession. I am deeply in sympathy with them and their struggles and frustrations, but….it was too much.

Do you (speaking to the person I was responding to) feel abandoned or excluded from the support systems in our society? ….or perhaps they are failing, the institutional ones at least. This is a serious problem. I don’t think anger is the solution, but it might be pointing to something important, something neglected. (January 15th 2022)

The final question is my attempt to find an alternative to shared anger, or to try to treat that anger not as an end in itself, but as a signal or signpost. Certainly, repressing or denying anger is not the (only) way to go, though it might actually the best choice in the moment. But constant anger or frustration is a signal of something that needs attending to. And if we are in a position to do so, perhaps taking some time to investigate is worth it. But, I think it is important to not just mirror back the anger, and if I feel a temptation to join in unthinkingly, well, I probably have to attend to myself first, before doing anything else.

Sunday, 2 January 2022

Painting in the New Year

Last year each person in our family made a painting that represented (perhaps) one’s state of mind or mood going into the new year, or maybe just in that moment: see here

We enjoyed it so much we decided to try to make it a tradition and do that same thing New Year’s Eve/Day.

Behold then, the Turtles’ artistic responses to 2021.

AJ: Magical Dreams of the Butterflies

Dani: Polka Dot Shape

Mr Turtle: You Hung It The Wrong Way

Turtle: Still Life With Crumbs of Joy

Mine was way harder than I thought it would be: I had this plan in my head that seemed simple, but that I soon realized had waaaaay too much detail when I actually started. There were so many objects and it was so difficult to figure out what should be painted in what order. 

However, I still enjoyed getting into the process and engaging with the creation in front of me on its own terms. Part of the reason I like doing something hands on like this is it reminds me that reality is not in fact all in my mind. I might have a thought, but I’m not only interacting with my own thoughts, I’m interacting with creation itself, and the painting inevitably takes on its own character apart from what I had imagined. I have to adjust my approach and vision as I work through it. It’s much the same as raising kids, actually….

AJ did the final step for me: the crumbs under the table. I love those big joyous crumbs. They are going to remind me to seize happiness where I find it this year. 

Onward to a 2022 as happy and hopeful as we can make it!