Earlier today, I overheard a man telling a small boy, “Boys don’t cry. Only girls do.” Lula heard it too and she piped up, “But Cy cries. And Daddy cries. Don’t all people cry?” Then she looked up at me for reassurance.
A few months ago, Lula declared she no longer wanted to be a girl but wished to be a boy. Knowing gender is fluid to small children, and it is common for them to make such a declaration at some point before the age of 5, I replied with an “Okay” and left it at that. Cy on the other hand was compelled to question her on her seemingly irrational decision. The idea of Lula changing her sex was first and foremost not possible in his mind. Secondly, he was upset by the idea of losing the sister he knows and loves for someone else. He was visibly shaken and told me in no uncertain terms I had to stop Lula from following through with this plan. I explained I didn’t think Lula was serious, but if at any point she did really want to be a boy, there was nothing I could do to stop her.
Then, I decided it was time to open up a discussion about gender identity and to introduce the topic of transgendered people. Having no real plan of action, I began by stating that some people feel uncomfortable in the body they were born in and they decide to go through a series of surgeries and treatments to change their bodies. Knowing Cy’s interest in science, I thought talking clinically about how one goes about changing their gender would calm him down and get him interested in the topic. I was right and he began to ask me questions about the surgeons and hormone treatments, etc. We talked about how it was pretty amazing such advanced technology exists to allow people to do something so radical. It led to discussing how prostetics and reconstructive surgeries can help people who met with tragic accidents.
When the excitement of robotic arms and runners with false legs waned, Cy reiterated that he would still be sad if Lula decided to become a boy. He told me he liked having a sister and thought she was pretty perfect the way she was. I agreed it would be sad, but Lula’s spirit wouldn’t change. She would still be the same energy/spirit that is with us now just with a different exterior. He still wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea but was willing to concede he would still love her, and that he would want her to be happy. Our talk concluded with him asking me if I knew any transgendered people. I replied, “Yes, actually, I do and they are people just like us who want love and happiness, peace and acceptance.”
One of my favorite novels is “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. A complex, haunting, powerful story detailing the many lives of a narrator as they reincarnate through the centuries. The narrator’s gender changes with each incarnation and is identified by a tattoo on the back of their shoulder.
Laura Esquivel’s book, "The Law of Love”, tells the tale of two lovers who find each other over and over again through many lifetimes. In one chapter the male character, Rodrigo, incarnates as the woman and Azucena is the male.
In “Green Grass, Running Water” by Thomas King, four Indian elders, Changing Woman, First Woman, Old Woman and Thought Woman, are perceived as male by all the non-indian characters.
Sometime in the Spring of this year, I watched this and I sobbed and smiled and sobbed some more.
Later that Spring, I watched this and I sobbed again and applauded because these are some good parents and kind souls.
An American Studies professor and I were sitting at her small kitchen table, sipping on bowls of homemade vichyssoise. While we ate and talked, she enlightened me to the fact that until the rise of the Judeo-Christian or Western philosophies, gender was a fluid concept held by most indigenous cultures. In the sacred texts of most native cultures, there are stories of the Spiritual Beings sometimes appearing as male and other times as female.
At a recent session with my naturopath doctor/therapist, we were discussing relationships. He reminded me that in most relationships the two parties send “representatives” to interface with each other while the “real” person keeps their distance. The key to connecting with the “real” person is to remember they are a spirit, a soul, an energy perfectly created by a Divine Power...just like me. Regardless of gender or race or culture, that other being is Divine Energy...just like me. I am Them and They are Me. Perfect.
Last weekend, we indulged our urban side and spent three days in Kingston. We watched Netflix on high speed internet, ate Chinese food, attended the St. Andrew Horticulture Expo (where I picked up my first bunch of orchids~) and got haircuts. Well, Cy and I got our hairs cut anyway.
Cy's was the typical cut a child gets sitting at home on the front stoop while a parent with scissors hovers overhead trying to get everything even.
My experience was a little different. I found myself in an uptown salon painted an outrageous pink hue and attended to by a young urbanite named Princess. My very presence created a silent awkwardness. Yes, I'm white. Yes, I'm foreign. No, I'm not here for braids with beads. Just a haircut, please.
Hair is a complicated topic. It's entwined with race. I've written a number of posts trying to express these complications and implications. I don't possess the eloquence to write in detail about how these cultural subtleties possess us, define us, unite us or repel us.
I know that my presence in the salon put Princess on the spot. She had to up her game. She was, after all, responsible for cutting and shaping a white foreigner's hair~that thing that we still use so frequently to define us. I don't blame her for her nervousness or awkwardness or general feeling of being overwhelmed. I would have been too. And I did feel weird because I represented the "other", the one holding the bar high, the one with the power to make this go well or to turn it into a disaster. I'm not comfortable being placed in this role, but I find myself in it quite frequently. It is all very subtle but I notice how the barristas change their tone of voice when they talk to me or how the bus conductor directs me to the best seat...
Princess liked that I liked my new 'do. She appreciated my laughter, my small talk and chit-chat. We connected through our humanness.
At the end of the day, we are all just people. People with hairs that need trimmed, ideas that need to be expressed, feelings that need to be understood, hearts that need to share love, friendships that need to be cultivated, bellies that need to be fed, families that need to be cared for, insecurities that need reassurances, minds that need to be inspired.
Are you connecting on that most basic human level?
My business minded husband has conditioned me to think in terms of "quarters" and to set goals, mark time, assess budgets and the what-not accordingly.
The First Quarter of 2015 has passed and has set the trajectory for the rest of the year. I have officially started a family business. I have also completed a small business training program for a community project I'm involved with. We've planned our family vacation, created a family budget, made projections, made plans for the kids' birthdays, scheduled events and activities and yadda, yadda, yadda. All of that happened in the First Quarter. We congratulate ourselves because we've been busy. We've accomplished things. Crossed things off "The List".
I appreciate this orderliness to life. I like to be able to say that I've done "stuff". But I wonder sometimes if this parsing of time and dates and schedules and goals go against the fabric of living? Or place too many demands on meeting expectations?
In the Third Quarter of this year, I turn 40. FORTY. That sounds like I've reached a pinnacle. I'll be in the Middle Quarter of my life so to speak. I'm supposed to be wise and accomplished or at least own property and have assets.
In many ways, I'm not prepared. Or at least not prepared to face the 40 that carries with it all of these expectations. I'm still very much in the throes of figuring this life thing out. But then I remember that time is a construct. This timeline is self imposed. We make more lists and set benchmarks according to our age: By 25 I will do this, by 30 that. Some of us are so good at list making that we forget to allow room for life to happen.
And life does happen. We cannot foresee or plan for or anticipate each and every little occurrence.
Are you making room for Life?
I have written honestly about the struggles my family has gone through during these many years. Struggle is part of the human condition, I understand that now. I also understand that there is a fine line between struggle and opportunity. It is what you make it.
Recently we got a pet cat. While this may seem like a mundane ocurrence to most families, I feel like it is a milestone for ours. Taking on the responsibility of raising and caring for an animal means that we have reached a point in our family healing where we can look beyond our selves, our own needs and incorporate the needs of another living being.
It also means that we are living in a place that supports additional life. In other words, we have the physical space for a cat to roam, play, explore and be happy. Not only does the cat have room to stretch, but so do we. We are able to open the door wide, invite in the breeze and take in the view of the mountains or the ocean, depending on which way we look. The kids have free range to explore Nature’s playground.
Samson, yes, that is his name because as Cy says, “I don’t want a wimpy cat”, is a marker in our family’s journey. We are strong. We do overcome.
I admit, I was enamored with LOST. I watched it religiously, passionately, voraciously. Caught up in the symbolism and philosophy, I would analyze each and every episode (usually in a phone conversation with my sister). So now it is that I live on an island and I often find myself thinking, "What would John do?" (that is, the John before he got possessed by the evilness). Maybe these things are inherent to life on an island? At least, life on a tropical island...
1. People actually say “off the island” when travelling abroad. For example, “Sorry I wasn’t able to return your call. I was ‘off the island’ for a week on business.” I often want to ask if they left the island by secret submarine or weird time travel portal.
2. There are two types of people here. Those that think it is better “off the island”, like Jack and those that feel it is better to stay, like John. A former colleague was in the Jack camp and pulled me aside one day to exclaim, “This place (Jamaica) is a sinking ship. How do I get out?” She then proceeded to grill me on Canadian immigration laws (of which I know nothing).
3. Older ladies make strange prophetic statements. When we first moved into our apartment in Kingston, our landlord was an elderly woman who suffered a severe stroke. I met her only once in the parking garage and she had these words for me, “The apartment was waiting for you.” She died 2 weeks later.
4. I found The Source. It’s an organic farm and home to a stream with a waterfall and all kinds of good positive energy, though no Hurly to guard us from evil.
5. The “Others” exist. I’ve seen their ruins but instead of abandoned industrial ‘hatches’ filled with scientfic experiments gone awry, they are broken down sugar plantations and former great houses...experiments in colonization gone awry.
6. While I have yet to encounter a polar bear clamoring through the jungle, I have had many oddly divine encounters with birds. (You can read about them here and here.) And since moving to the farm, I have encountered giant spiders, hop toads, scorpions, owls, hawks, mongoose and bats though I think the scorpion was the only one with a message.
7. Almost all of the expats I’ve met feel like they have been reborn in Jamaica. The person they were before landing on this island and the person they are here are very different from each other. Redemption is around every corner and one is able to redefine themselves to (hopefully) be a better person in their new island life.
8. Tangled web of association or 2 degrees of separation. This place is small and everyone is connected in some strange way either in this island life or in their previous life abroad. These connections are always brought up in the most enigmatic ways. For instance, just last weekend we were at our local farmer's market where we met a lovely woman with whom we chatted. Suddenly, she turns to my husband and exclaims, "But wait! I know who you are. Yes. I know who you are!" We both looked at her stunned and nervously frightened. I was thinking, "Tell me, please. Who is he??? An alien? A ghost?"
9. There is no black smoke here to chase you through the jungle in a heated panic, but there is Kumina and Obeah which could have you looking over your shoulder.
10. The gorgeous landscape. Each morning I get up and watch the sun rise over the Blue Mountains. In the evening, I watch the sun set over the ocean. It's stunning, breath taking, awe inspiring. It reminds me that there is a larger force at work here and that if we are open to it, amazing things will happen.
It has been more than a year since I have written a post for this journal. And wow, what a year it has been!
I have been away for so long because we were experiencing many changes and going through many transitions. We (I) needed the protectiveness of a cocoon to be quiet, get settled, find solid ground so as to hear the Divine voice of wisdom and reason.
So where are we and what are we doing? Are we beautiful butterflies now?
We are still living at The Source Farm Ecovillage. The experience of living in a community dedicated to education, environment and community service has been rewarding. We have upgraded from the tiny one room cabin pictured in the last post, to a modest house with a back porch (our favorite hangout spot). We also have a modest residence in Kingston to facilitate our fluid lifestyle.
The children are AMAZING! Yes, AMAZING with all caps! Their creativity, kindness, compassion, ingenuity and all around amazing-ness fill my heart. They enjoy endless freedoms for discovery and play yet are some of the most responsible children I've ever met. The school they attend has animals of various sorts that the kids are responsible for. They race to do their chores and fight over who gets to carry the compost bucket! I am grateful that they still find joy in these daily tasks. It is something I am still cultivating in myself...laundry anyone??
And speaking of laundry, I have been making and selling laundry soap and other natural cleaning products at our local organic farmer's market. The venture has surprised me with its success! In fact, the business is GROWING! It's officially a family business now with the addition of my sister and brother to the team. We have also recruited a talented cousin to be our graphic designer. We are moving the brand into the international market and look forward to this new phase. You can follow our adventures here.
'But I thought you were an artist?' I am. I had a number of successful shows over this past year both in Jamaica and abroad, namely Switzerland. My creative practice is no longer confined to just "painting". I have opted to live a creative life and bring my design sensibilities into my every day world. It makes for better living.
And that's what I'm all about these days, better living. A year ago, I was in search of just that...something better. In fact, the search for something better is what prompted this whole move to Jamaica. It's scary to look into the great unknown and jump off the ledge. But I did it. We did it. And I'm happy to say, we have learned that we have wings and that we CAN fly. Maybe we are butterflies after all.
This is me on my 39th birthday...the last year of my 30's and life never looked so sweet! Live your best life.