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Put on a brave face

As I sit here, in the mind-boggling twilight of an arctic spring night, I try to situate myself. Rootless and floating, in-between. Friends set down roots, make decisions. And still I wonder when does my life begin, or is this as good as it gets? I try to imagine myself as a piece of ice floating out in the ocean, carried effortlessly from swell to swell, only to melt as the sun pierces in its relentless 24 hour, dizzying spin above the horizon.

I try to imagine what it was like for my ancestors, as they moved from continent to continent, from province to province. All that stands between me and ‘home’ is  a few plane rides (as terrifying as that is for me). But for my ancestors that picked up everything and moved to Canada, or for my ancestors that were pushed westward by Metis political realities, they faced a much more concrete break from ‘home’. What did my great-great-great-great Grandfather think about as he lay in bed, trying to fight off those endless boreal nights in Fort Wedderburn? Did he miss home? Who did he regret leaving behind?

I am a reluctant wanderer. Every fibre of my being yearns for stability, safety. To live in a comfortable, predictable way. But machinations beyond me (or the manifestation of my unconscious desires) keep putting me on the move. A modern day trader, maybe?* Whereas my ancestors traded beaver pelts, I trade in ideas, thoughts. And these take me all over the world. Ironically, sometimes my thoughts are just a deep seated distrust of those who trade in ideas.

It is exhilarating, but also lonely. As friends get married and babies are born, I always find myself on the wrong end of the country (or the ocean) to be able to celebrate with them. I just want to hold one of those tiny bundles of magic in my hands, welcome them to the world with hope and joy. Tell them that it’s not all bad out here, as much as we might complain. I wonder at the loneliness those who came before me must have felt. I wonder how they dealt with it. I strain my ears to the silent hills, the outstretched tundra, hoping for a whisper from times gone by, from grandmothers who can give me guidance.

The silence. Beautiful and bewildering.

Even if the song never comes, I’ll keep listening.

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*This is an idea that was inspired by a conversation on Facebook with David Garneau, so he deserves the credit. I’ve really taken to his suggestion to view myself as a trader in my anthropological work, since I was struggling to situate myself as a Metis person within the context of UK anthropological study. I am very grateful to him for listening to my concerns, and for providing a constructive and creative way for me to reimagine my relationships with my discipline, with the people I have been lucky to get to know through my work, and with the ideas I both encounter and transform through my experiences (and the ideas which transform me). I may not be fully grasping what he meant with his idea, but I am thankful for his willingness to share it.

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