July 30, 2010

It begins in earnest

I have begun a kind of countdown: one year from now on July 30, 2011, my doctoral exhibition will open, supposedly marking the end of a journey and an accumulation of knowledge. I say, supposedly, because I have come to realize that what defines my life - and more importantly - what defines my place of belonging is that the experience of each moment marks a point in a continuum that tells my ancestral story. That I am here is testament to that continuum and locates my story within a narrative that stretches back to the beginning of time. Mine is not an original insight, yet the profundity of it's impact on how I perceive myself to be connected and related - how I belong - is so great I can't help but wonder why it is something I have not always known, but had to learn.
     I have been on a search for belonging for as long as I can remember. For so much of my life I have envied Dorothy her ruby slippers. How wonderful it would be to click my heels three times and say "There's no place like home" then suddenly there I'd be - back safe and snug in my own bed - surrounded by the concerned and attentive faces of those who love me best. Inherent in that desire was always the sense that while this might not be the place I belonged, that place (or those folks amongst whom) I could settle into belonging existed somewhere else.  The problem was that I could never quite imagine where that place was. While some felt wonderfully compelling or familiar, no particular landscape drew me entirely in; while some memories offered the relief of a safe harbor, a part of me longed for the unknown and for the wanderer's life of freedom; while freedom offered the exhilaration of  adventure, part of me longed for the security of home and tribe. Much of what I yearned for seemed mutually exclusive. How can I belong here, if I am forever drawn to wandering there? How can I belong if no one place claims me, if no one clan claims me, if I cannot choose between this or that? There have been many times when  I have thought that a more apt title for my travels might be "A 21st Century Knucklehead's Search for the Improbable".
     And then it dawned on me - perhaps it was a slow dawning - that I might experience belonging just as I do states of grace, flushes of love, or the cyclical movement from happiness to sadness: that both connection and alienation, belonging and non-belonging are present in every moment. All it required was a shift in perspective: from one in which I experienced the world according to binary distinctions - the either/ors of here versus there, self versus other, belonging versus non-belonging - to one where the distinctions - if they exist at all - might coexist in the same moment. I began to recognize that my deepest sensation of belonging happened in the alert moments of presence I experienced while I was literally lost: when I had no idea of how here and there related to each other. It was from within this experience that I began to recognize that my place of belonging was defined by movement - rather than from place to place and moment to moment  but across places and through moments - and that those movements, not only write my own story, but weave themselves in and out of the stories of my ancestors, picking up threads of their longings for adventure, their drive to create and their love of words. At one point in this adventure I said that I felt as if I represented the pivot point between the past present and future. Yet this defines what we all are: the culmination of all the people and events that have converged to bring us here, lived though our own stories and continued through the legacies of offspring, philosophies and deeds we pass on. It makes every moment important if only to highlight the question posed by Drew Dillinger (Angels and Ancestors):
                  "What kind of ancestors are we?"
     There are still times when I experience moments of alienation, but they are quickly followed by the thought that even my experiences of alienation define how I belong within our collective ancestral story.
     These days I am more likely to say, "I am already home - here, now, as I am, in this moment".  It may not seem like much but to me it has made a world of difference.
    July 30th is the anniversary of my father's death. I chose it as the date of my exhibition opening as a way to honor him.

February 28, 2010

Mom would have been so proud

I'm not one to spend much time thinking about (or watching) anything to do with the Olympics but this spate of Winter Games brought something that would have thrilled my mother to the tips of her toes. None other than the Norwegian Men's Curling Team and those fabulous pants.

     My mother was inordinately proud of her Norwegian heritage. I say inordinately, because it was not based on any direct experience or connection - she never managed to travel to Norway, nor did she keep up a correspondence with any of her Norwegian family. Nonetheless, her Norwegian-ness was a source of deep pride and every now and then this would manifest in knickknacks, odd foods and bits and pieces she would bring into the house: yet another bit of Viking-style pewter, a set of Akavit glasses or a Norwegian-print tablecloth. Her sense of Norway had never encompassed the sport of curling, but if she were still living, it would now.

     My mother was one of the least athletic people I've ever known. She swam with her neck craned to keep her hair dry and well out of the water, she avoided most any activity that would have caused her to break a sweat. My father and I would arrive home from a game of tennis beet-red and sweaty and my mother would look at us like we were quite out of our minds. There were only two times that I know of when my mother felt inspired to take up a sport. The first was in High School when she joined the skeet shooting team (and  earned a Varsity letter for her efforts). 20 years later a new sport would flame her interest - curling. I suppose it should be said that we were living in Canada when she took up curling and did so because a group of her friends asked her to join their team, but at the time and for many years afterwards I thought of curling as the most ridiculous of sports; the sport of ice-bound housewives; 2nd only (in ridiculousness) to synchronised swimming. The height of absurd without any semblance of cool.

     That is, until the Norwegian Men's Curling Olympic Team hit Vancouver and captured the world's imagination with those fabulous pants. Over half a million people are signed on as fans of the pants (and incidentally the team that wore them) on Facebook (I'm one of them). Matches featuring the Norwegian team drew celebrity spectators - everyone from the King Harald of Norway, to Donald Sullivan and Pamela Anderson and tickets for curling finals were being scalped for $500+. Suddenly the sport on everyone's lisps was not ice dancing or aerial skiing, but curling and though the powerhouse Norwegian team didn't win the gold (they lost to the Canadian team in the final), they won silver and lifted their sport from embarrassed obscurity into proud and stylish prominence.
Mom would have been so proud.

* pants photo from nationalpost.com
* medal photo from The Norwegian Olympic Curling Team's Pants Facebook page