Culture is too fluid to be defined. My culture? How can culture can be confined to one individual – it’s a shared thing. It’s constantly evolving – through time, over space, within place, between people. To offer you a definition would be like offering you a 2-d, air-brushed and dated snapshot that would lie stagnant in your mind rather than attempting to reflect the whirling, vivid 4- dimensional reality that we are a part of.
So instead of defining my culture I will offer glimpses of some experiences in the last month that reveal something about my culture. You decide what. I wanted to reflect on how I function within culture and how I process it. Even this will be more static than the reality that my head is swimming in, but I gotta write something!
I went for a jog. I eyed people’s garbage piles for useful items. Waste not, want not! Influenced by my “hard-done-by” Irish heritage? Or the trendiness of recycling? That most of my neighbours would stare if they saw me going through their trash indicates that this is not a culture they share. Well some neighbours might join me – collecting scrap metal to pay for gas and weed. But I don’t do it out of need, so we’re different. I see class divisions in this culture – they have names like white trash, skid, suburbanite, PTA parents. I see my family’s fear that we’ll be discovered. “Pick up the butts on the lawn and tell your friends to stop pissing behind the garage” they say to my brother.
We parked at the edge of the forest, packed up all our food and clothes and began to hike the road. It can be done, my uncles have done it before. I was in awe of the beauty of the spring thaw, filled with pride for the land I walked on. I was terrified of the bears. I looked at the huge clearances made by the loggers and shook my head. But that was all I did about it. It was a roller coaster of mud, snow and puddles, but we made it. It was worth it to be able to show him the cabin that means everything to me, to glide through the glass lake, to be rattled awake by the hammer of woodpecker.
We took my grandmother to church on her birthday. Church is not usually on my radar but as a 93rd birthday present? Sure. She greets the priest by his first name and they joke about their Florida tans. During the mass I stay inside my mind – I swell with pride thinking that my little brother has refused to take part in the sacrament of confirmation that the rest of his catholic classmates have just completed. I remind myself to renew my birth control prescription before the trip. I see this as cultural because I know it wasn’t a part of my devout Catholic grandmothers’ cultures. They each cranked out eleven kids. I use the term “crank out kids”. I think of “if I become a mother”. I don’t think there was an “if” for my grandmothers.
Everyday I am confronted with the challenge of understanding new parts of my friends’ cultures. When meeting people, I am on my toes; Will they greet me with a kiss? or two? or a hug? or a handshake? or a hello? I go shopping with a friend and realize how much our concerns differ when it comes to buying clothes. I see this as being a result of her Muslim background. Then I realize it could just as well be due to our different body types. Perhaps part of culture in Toronto is being hyper-culturally-sensitive.
I check my facebook. I add photos selectively. I get dressed. I think about who I’m seeing, where I’m going. Yes I think about the temperature, but before that I think about what I want to look like that day. What image am I going to project? Art student deluxe, maybe with a hippie twist? When did that happen? I get on the subway, as an art student. I sit beside yoga girl and straight up G. I watch people: Bay streeter, homeless guy, yummy mummy, high school ingenue, cougar, pothead. We put ourselves out in the world neatly packaged for labeling. Even if you don’t intend it, people will read you in one way or another. These images act as a fence, allowing judgement from a distance so that we can stay in our comfort zones.