Archive for March, 2013

The end of an era – and a difficult relationship with my father

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by onepercentyellow

And this is a post I have wanted to share for quite some time…. Back in the summer when I was reflecting on the digital life I create here, I was leery of sharing my own experience of my father’s struggle with cancer.  Partly because my family is a rather closed group who does not share their struggles openly.  Adding to that my estrangement from my father, I felt it wasn’t right to write the reflections on his struggle that I would not share with him in person.  So I refrained from using this space to explore those feelings.

But now I have just been called back to Canada from my time in Peru because my dad returned to the hospital and passed away.  I was able to make it home in time and was able to play some music for him in the hospital.  It’s what I really wanted to do.  With his passing I feel finally free to explore some of the difficult feelings I have about him.  My relationship has been conflicted and for that reason, largely absent for the last 15 years, but at his funeral I was able to give a eulogy I am happy to share here.

As @cogdog – one of the great sharers – told me, it’s just “slowly letting people around you know what you’re going through”.  And in my time searching for other difficult eulogies to write, I thought, perhaps my sharing will help another girl in another library somewhere in that great wide world recognize that she can also remember the good things while giving space to acknowledge the bad.  This is one of the most important things for me to remember.  It’s ok to feel angry and frustrated by the actions of others.  This is what teaches us how to draw healthy boundaries that protect us.  Some of those walls are between ourselves and those closest to us.  Many times those are the most important ones to draw!

So on February 27th, I stood and sang one of my favourite songs – one that has been deeply connected to my year – In My Time of Dying, by the Be Good Tanyas, and I read this eulogy for myself and the people who really understood.

I am standing here as Brian’s daughter to pay tribute to the life that passed.  This is a difficult eulogy for me – not because it is for my dad, but because I have really only known him when I was a child, as I have been largely absent from his life for the last 15 years.  There are many of you here who have entered his life more recently, and I hope that my memories of him ring true to the Brian you knew as well.

Of course, every parent hopes to pass some wisdom to their children, and dad, I’m sure, was no different.  As I sat and considered what to say today, I focused on the lessons I have learned from him.  I am a student after all – a lifer, I’m afraid.  So what did dad teach me in his time here?

The first lesson is one of the earlier ones I remember.  Respect for the natural environment and for our animal brothers and sisters.  I recall one of the regular trips out to Laurier Lake.  Derrick and I and some of the other kids had gone down to the pier to do some fishing in the afternoon.  I’m sure I was only 6 or 7 years old at the time, but I knew how to cast and how to jiggle the line to keep the fish convinced that they were chasing after a tasty treat.  Well, I caught one, and reeled in a mid-sized fish!  While I was old enough to fish on my own, I was not yet old enough to remove the fish from the hook – a dangerous and difficult job.  One of the other kids ran up to get dad to come and take the fish off the hook for us.  In the meantime, we discovered that when you had the full weight of a fish on your line, you could cast the line much farther than with the tiny weights!  When dad came down, we were casting and recasting the caught fish into the lake, teasing it with a continued struggle for its life.  He was furious.  It wasn’t right to treat the fish this way – we had to respect the fish and treat it properly because it was a living thing.  Even though I was young, and my memory is terrible, I remember that day.  Later on, in reflecting on the parts of his life I did share, I saw that love of nature and respect for the natural world in the ways he farmed and took care of the animals on the farm.  Don’t get me wrong – we were always the top of the food chain – but there was no place for the unnecessary suffering of animals on the farm.  Even if that meant one animal would have to die to curb the suffering of the rest of the herd.

Dad had lessons to teach me about people as well.  Dad had space for people from all walks of life, and while he would tell jokes like the rest of them, everyone was welcome at his table.  I remember regularly visiting and staying at various Hutterite colonies around the Western provinces, and heard his stories as being accepted as a white member of the first nations groups.  In particular, I remember visiting him in Valleyview and meeting Little John and Donald, two first nations brothers who lived in a schoolbus in the bush.  Whether we were picking them up hitchhiking on the highway, going out to check their traps with them, or having a special meal at the house, these guys were invited into life as anyone else was.  Dad simply wasn’t the judging type.  It took all kinds of people to make the world go around, and he shared his life and ours with everyone.  I think this is one of the reasons I find it so easy to walk into about any culture on the planet and fit myself into the normal rhythms of life – even though I often stick out like a q-tip in a box of pencils.

Maybe it was because he came into contact with so many types of people that dad found himself a jack of all trades.  He experimented with his career, trying on different hats and taking in the breadth of what there was to offer.  From his early days of selling vacuum cleaners, to driving gravel truck, to farming in Daysland, to running the infamous Bald Eagle Inn, to farming just about any animal he could find up in Valleyview, to driving taxi to working construction, to owning a store and running a rototiller business, to his later days of equipment operating and buying and selling property, Dad certainly tested his hand at a wide variety of work.  I’m sure he took pride in his ability to do the work he needed in order to make life happen.  I’m certainly happy that I approach even menial tasks as an opportunity to shine – a trait I see in my brother and sister as well.

The last lesson dad taught me, was one of the most difficult, but one of the most important I think I will learn: we cannot outrun our demons.  Now… When I started my masters program, I had an experience with my first professor that almost spelled the end of my program.  We locked horns and my stubbornness nearly led me to quit.  I recognized that I would need to exercise a bit of humility if I were going to reap the benefits of having a learning relationship with my professor.  A trip to India introduced me to a custom whereby young people are affixed with bangles that are meant to distract the demons that are known to visit us – especially in our teenage years when we are least rational.  I adopted the custom, attaching 12 bangles to my wrist – bracelets that do not come off (to the dismay of the security people in the airport), They only come off when they fall off or are broken. They remind me that I am a student, and in order to become a great teacher, I must first learn the humility of a student so I will later understand the power my students will give me. When I lose a bangle, I know I am one step closer to beating the demons of my own pride.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I have not been a part of dad’s life for a number of years.  I have made my own life and have often wondered how I would react at this moment.  In writing this, many places have opened within me, revealing long hidden spaces where both anger and joy lived.  And in that mess of emotions, I have found a lot of pride.  In moving past that pride, I have found a way back to the dad who taught me to take joy in the natural world.  I remember trips down the river and hunting excursions, camping trips and all the wonderful animals on the farm.  He taught me to take an interest in all kinds of people, the community in Valleyview that recognized us as the farm family of the year, the touring musicians at the Bald Eagle Inn, the people from all sorts of backgrounds who remember dad as a warm and generous person.  And I am able to celebrate the ability to embrace whatever kind of work life throws your way.  I am warned in his passing at the vice of pride – a deadly sin that keeps us from knowing the world – that keeps us afraid of knowing the world in an authentic way.  While I do not propose that I am beyond this life-long and difficult lesson, I will lay down one of my demons today and move forward with these valuable lessons from the teacher who was my dad.

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the two wolves revisited….

Posted in Uncategorized on March 5, 2013 by onepercentyellow

I have been struggling with the significance of this digital realm over the past year, and in particular my last post.  I went from super-mega-uber-digital-connection – participating in #eci831, stalking #dtlttoday, writing on identity and autobiography, digital post-colonialism, and spending inordinate amounts of time on #ds106radio – and then I began a new journey in South America.  Travel made connection difficult, and then, as I mentioned, I drank the draught of Tristan and Isaeult – the cup of romantic love – and forgot about everything else.  In fact, I welcomed this life of extreme presence, and now, on the other side of this life-changing experience, I am left considering the effect presence has had on my digital life, my theories about learning, and my decision of where to share.

So, at the end of this relationship I decided to commit digital suicide – (at least Facebook suicide!) – as I began to evaluate how I interact in the digital world and why.

I came to realize that my asynchronous consumption of the lives of my friends and family through FB was actually preventing me from being close to them and drawing the emotional energy I needed in this time of extreme turmoil.  By knowing what they were doing, seeing pictures, and seeing their “likes” and brief comments on my postings, I was duped into believing that I was connected.  In fact, this post by Jeff Utecht helped me frame this language of consumption vrs. connection – and I think the level of engagement as well as the degree of synchronicity are key in moving toward the connection end of the scale.

Facebook gives you many levels of engagement – the short post of twitter, the lasting groups of photos, the video, the email message, and the chat all in one.  You can look over and “see” folks hanging out on FB alongside you, check on their most recent adventures, either from their own posts or others, and feel as though you’re living in the digital space right alongside them, but unless you are taking the time to send those individual messages, or making the time to meet up in other synchronous ways (Skype, or gasp telephone!) you’re not really sharing your energy with them – or at least I wasn’t.  I realized that I was stalking instead of talking to my family.  I was allowing them to glean the goings-on of my life from my wall posts, and I was feeling lonely even though I spent so much digital time with their avatars.

Somehow I don’t see my other platforms this way.  I wonder if it’s because when I write here in my blog, I’m putting much more time and consideration into a post – reading and looking back – revising and exploring my own verbose expression (to the chagrin of my readers, I’m sure!).   And here, I’m writing a lot for myself and am pleasantly surprised when someone takes an interest.  I’ve never fooled myself into thinking that this is the space to get that energy of connection.  On twitter, I am connected to my digital people – folks I would not know how to reach otherwise – and I am largely speaking directly with others around topics of common interest.  Keeping conversations ordered means that I will continue a discussion under a #hashtag that I may allow to slip down the FB stream into digital oblivion.

I find myself engaged in these other spaces in a way I was not on FB.  I feel these other spaces are a better indication of who I actually am, where FB was increasingly becoming a production of a life for others to consume.  So, I’ve left the blue box and returned to these other spaces – and have been instantly rewarded!  Time to spend listening to my #ds106radio friends, time to write direct emails to people, time to create music and participate in asynchronous jams.  This is the thing I keep remembering – there is only one clock, and the more time I spend on a manufactured life made for FB consumption, the less time I have to share life in the analogue and digital spaces that give me energy.

Will I return to FB?  Likely… at least to have my musical profile up there… but I won’t add my analogue friends there.  They can find me in my other varied spaces – and hopefully I’ll get some more emails!