Friday, October 9, 2009

Before we get started, a little bit about me…

A favorite college class was an introductory anthropology course. I’ve always been interested in people – why they do what they do when they do and how they do it. One assignment was rather thought provoking, and for my initial blog, it seems only fair to give you a feel for me. The assignment was to answer this question: Who would you be if you weren’t who you are?

Whoa! Let’s take a moment to ponder this. Who would you be if you were not you? This is an impossibly paradoxical question. Assuming that we limit the discussion to planet Earth, where was I born? In a hospital or a mud hut? What gender am I? What era or century is it? Which continent was I born on? What natural resources are available to support my existence? How far is the nearest water source? Do I schlep 10-gallon containers three miles to collect my day’s water from a dirty stream, or do I stroll three feet for a 10-ounce glass of filtered, refrigerated, chemically treated H2O? Which language do I speak, if I use spoken language at all? What socio-economic and religious ideology is instilled in me? Am I educated? If so, how? Is my household/community/culture androcentrically biased, or is my mother running the show? Are my parents rich or poor? Educated or not? Business mavens or subsistence farmers? Do I even have parents? Who or what is the dominant governing/political power in my immediate geographic area? And is that power localized or globalized?

As I told my professor, I’m not copping out here. I promise. This is only a sampling of the questions that any good anthropologist must ask long before delving into a project. It would be fun to embark on a hypothetical recreation of me, but even as the story builds, more questions would arise that would require answers, so let’s keep it simple. If this blog becomes what I fear it will, I’ll be spouting epistemological wisdoms for the benefit of my progeny, my followers, and future generations. If this blog garners a regular readership, which I truly hope it does, I feel it only fair that you, dear readers, understand from whence these little life lectures stem.

I was born into a close-knit family in Central Kansas. Famous for endless wheat fields, turbulent weather and sky-writing witches, the state’s economy was founded and remains indelibly rooted in agriculture. I was fortunate. My parents were college-educated school teachers. This meant that, unlike others in my immediate social order, my early life was diverse – part academic, part survivalistic – despite having every second of every day ruled by the weather.

My mother and step-father supported me and my three half-siblings on bare necessities and subsistence level luxuries. Christmas stockings were filled with oranges and nuts, not toys and money. There was no allowance, no video games, and very little television – and then only after all the homework was done and checked by each parent. We had chores to do before and after school because my step-dad had a farming habit that rivaled crack cocaine. He still does. We grew much of our own food, we learned to make our own clothing, we supported community (read “church”) charities, and we fabricated most of our own entertainment. We rarely bought packaged food, or shopped at clothing stores, or had movie nights, or donated to national causes. We observed Roman Catholic doctrine and customs. My little brother was an obligatory altar boy. There was church every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation, confirmation and communion ceremonies, lots of incense, baptismal oil, ashy foreheads, and Latin.

We girls did all the house work and other “womanly” chores, while my only brother went to the farm with my dad once he came of age. Until then, as the oldest, I was indoctrinated into both the stereotypical female arenas and the family business. Besides cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, I also was exposed to crop management, animal husbandry, and the economics of buy low/sell high come harvest time. Had daddy been a bit more astute, I probably would have learned effective financial management and money-making skills, but alas, he generally listened to his father, a grain buyer by profession, and bought high/sold low. Besides, I was a girl, so what did I really need to know about money anyway. From the gender perspective in that society, I was an exception to the rule because I was taught how to do everything expected of a male child, and I managed to physically and mentally accomplish each challenge except for the hardest, heaviest manual labor…and peeing standing up.

I learned the mating rituals of my mid-twentieth century, middle-of-nowhere farming community. Because blended families were not as prevalent then as they are today, I suffered the disenfranchisement of having a divorced and remarried mother in the 1960’s. I was taught that men are to provide food and shelter for their women folk, and that women are to obey their men folk. My high school guidance counselor strongly suggested that I marry a nice farm boy and pop out a dozen kids, but conceded that if I was hell-bent on college, I should forget about BA’s or MA’s and focus all my energies on getting my MRS because that’s a woman's true purpose.

I was told that books are acceptable entertainments, that comic books were just so much garbage, that Shakespeare is brilliant, but dead, and that the Bible is the only book worth reading because it is the source of my salvation. I discovered that God gave all man free will, and that He will burn your immortal soul in eternal hell for using it – but He loves you.

By 21st century standards this may sound like an impossibly hard, mundane and contradictory life, and in many respects it was. As a child and well beyond my awkward, rebellious teen years, I was so confused, so torn, and so unsure of myself, I’m truly amazed that I’m as balanced and rational as my friends and supporters believe me to be. Yet, it is each and every aspect of this devoutly religious, family dominated, agro-economic culture that instilled within me a distinct sense of duty, almost unattainably high standards, and rock-solid core values. It is this strength and sensibility that my friends flock to. I brag not. My friends and supporters tell me they love me because of my strength, so I must believe them even though I’m fully convinced that most of what I think and write is irrefutable evidence that I'm in dire need of serious psycho-therapy. Freud would have a field day!

This conundrum of an upbringing also fostered an unquenchable desire to learn and experience more of the world outside of the confines of my Central Kansas birthright. It is this boundless curiosity that sparks my intellect, spurs my writing, and sustains my soul.

So, who would I be if I weren’t me?

Oh! The possibilities are endless!