Stepping Inside Another’s Space by Shelley Robinson

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The Immersive Visit:  When we immerse ourselves into another’s space, we have a rare opportunity to share an intimate experience with another person inside his or her world, and, in turn, we can sometimes see our own lives differently in this new context.  Typically, we surround ourselves with our own paraphernalia of worldly possessions, tools and mementos within our own familiar walls.  These things serve to help us and, in some cases, cocoon us in our daily routines.  It is not until we slip into someone else’s life for a few days, that we experience a different way of breathing new life in and expelling old life out.

It is quite special to try someone else’s skin on for awhile and feel its fit.  When we slip into his or her linen at night with perfumed pillows and listen to the sounds of the home and neighbourhood inside of and beyond new windows, life becomes poignant in its unfamiliarity.  The cars and sirens on the road sing urgently.  The music blaring in the neighbour’s garage is foreign even when we recognize the melodies.   The ornaments on the dresser tell unknown stories and the dust bunnies under the bed have inherited the dirt of other people’s feet.  The dog of the house curiously peeks in to love new company.  The books on the shelf express another’s interest in biology and science fiction.  Who are we here in someone else’s room?

We Become Connected:   It is in these special visits that we become connected to our hosts in powerful ways.  We ask different questions of them prompted by the stuff of their lives.  “Who is that in the picture?  Where did you get this…?  What a lovely picture?”  They have let us into their personal space.  We shower in their bath tubs, and sit on their toilets.  Our skin touches the soft bath towels that have cleaned their bodies many times before us.   “Why have they chosen this soap with tiny granules of salt and apricot nut?  What a pretty picture of what looks like the Grand Canyon to pause at while I do my make-up?”  I notice when visiting a friend’s home that I am engaged differently by my morning nuptials, using the bathroom products chosen by somebody else and for different bodily reasons such as cleaner teeth or filing down calluses with interesting pumice stones.

We talk longer because we have the luxury of the whole day.  The challenge in this intensive visit is to consider how to navigate the twenty-four hours of one or more days together when we are used to squeezing people into a coffee visit for a couple of hours at the most.  What will we do?  What will we talk about?  Somehow, the days pass fluidly and we find our groove.  We learn each others’ likes and dislikes and we align together in compelling and memorable ways.  The visit becomes a milestone of our relationship because we disclose more than we thought we might, and we trust each other more because of it.

Being the Hostess:   As life-changing as being a guest can be, so too, can it be to invite someone else into our homes.  I feel my day-to-day experiences keenly when I welcome someone into my space and re-visit my own way of being through their lenses.  I clean the house carefully to consider their potential cleanliness standards when I know that my own day-to-day complacent routines can sometimes overlook details.  I feed them my paleo diet, and explain its benefits as others politely nod and drink my homemade chai tea made from fragrant Moroccan spices.  My fluffy ginger tabbies jump up on them and demand cuddles, and I set the furnace thermostat higher to consider their comfort when I have gotten used to wearing sweaters to combat the moist morning chill of the Canadian West Coast.

We walk on forest trails that bring me peace despite the bears that make them look around tentatively.  I tell them stories of a mill town that has seen better days.  We take naps in the afternoon, and after dinner, we enjoy some blackberry liqueur on the veranda while contemplating the peach hues of the Powell River sunset.  Humming birds stop by for a buzz and then quickly flitter away.  The older gentleman neighbour walks by with his dog and waves at us as if he has known us for years.  My houseguests wonder how I handle the privacy of this little life in this small town while my husband ferries away working on Texada Island everyday.  “I like it, ” I explain, not quite sure how to explain that I feel bigger here, not smaller; safer, not wilder, “I like it…until I don’t, and then we go away somewhere until we want to come back again.  As well, it affords me time to think and to write.  I have joined a writing group.  I have always wanted to be in a writing group, but have never had the time before.”  I catch them wondering if they could manage the isolation away from the urban grid in this beautiful forest life.  It can be lonely and people do not really like being alone.

Couch Surfing:  Many people couch surf around the world.  I think that they enjoy it not only for its affordability, but because it brings them this rare opportunity to see life from their hosts’ perspectives.  Sharing personal space with someone else can be very game-changing as I know many people who have made major changes in their own lives upon returning home by adopting some of the diets and day-to-day skills that they have learned on their trips.  For example, they have begun composting; taken up new hobbies; started listening to new music and much more.  The Dauntless Jaunter (2012) explains that there were over 4 million successful couch surfing experiences reported in their data and research (https://www.dauntlessjaunter.com/travel-tips-advice-how-tos/couchsurfing-complete-guide/5/).  There is always risk involved in this type of whole-hearted leap of faith into someone else’s home, but the rewards seem to be plentiful.

The Value of Full-Immersion:   I remember being told by my friends who had gone to other countries to learn new languages that they had come back not only learning the language better than they might have done from books and a teacher in a classroom, but they also learned about the culture within which the language was used.  They were forced, in some ways, to try new things that they might not have done otherwise.  I remember learning to appreciate olives when visiting Spain where before I found them bitter and distasteful.  All of a sudden, I liked dates after tasting them in smoothies in Bali.  Where I was initially shy of public baths and massages, I learned to embrace new spa experiences in different bathhouses around the world.  The Turkish bath was the most aggressive exfoliation and massage of my life.  In another case in Chiang Mai, after a Thai woman jumped on top of me and moved my body in uncomfortable positions, I walked away from the stretching experience being able to move my hips without pain.  Vietnam set my feet on fire with reflexology that had been passed down as a science from one generation of masseuses to another in the city of Hanoi.

By immersing myself into other people’s lives and customs, I have found new ways of living my own life.  So often we are caught up in living life second-hand through books, social media and other forms of media.  Unfortunately, in relegating most of our relationships to this type of pseudo-connection, we do not gain the profound opportunity to be truly in touch with each other.  It prompts me to write this article to invite people to come and visit me more often, and to remind them to invite others into their own homes for these special kinds of visits where we can explore ourselves and our relationships in new and authentic ways.   Immersive visits are very important gifts to share with our friends and, in some cases, strangers, and I encourage us to take off our shoes at the doors of other people’s homes and step inside to become mindful guests with an open spirit.

“I thought it peculiar how one new experience can alter your perspective on places you’ve known your whole life.” M.J. Prest, Immersion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geography, Generation and Relationship: The Power of High School Reunions by Shelley Robinson

 

Taking a Leap:  Recently, I decided to fly to Tennessee, United States from my little home up North of Vancouver, in Powell River, Canada.  An old friend from high school (a fellow alumni from our class of 1983 from Calgary, Alberta) started talking about her home in Humboldt, Tennessee (near Memphis) at one of our recent school reunion gatherings.  She had a lovely way of describing her neck of the American woods in her strong Southern drawl, and I was intrigued to learn about the music, food and wineries that she described.  It got me thinking about how nice it would be to experience the deep South of the United States known for its musical culture, civil unrest, and the hot sub-tropical climate, while reuniting with a person who I had always thought was very interesting.

We really had not hung around each other much in high school.  She was one of the prettiest girls in school, and was part of the “in-crowd”; whereas, I was someone who enjoyed the company of different groups of friends, and was likely deemed a band nerd.  When I told some of my old classmates with whom I still stay in touch, that I was going to see her, they were somewhat surprised because we had not been associated as friends back in school.  However, over the years, we started to connect at our alumni gatherings, and realized that we had more in common than we had originally thought.  I started to learn that “[r]eunions reveal friendship potential that have not emerged in the past.”  (Beta, 2011).  It is for this reason, that I, like Ambrose (2015) believe in the value of high school reunions (“Five Reasons to Attend High School Reunions”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elaine-ambrose/reasons-to-attend-school-reunion_b_6580028.html).  Facebook has also helped me reconnect with people from childhood, some of whom I know more about now than I did then.  Therefore, after 34 years since our high school graduation, I thought I would take the plunge and go and visit someone who I had only passed by in the school hallways.

Arriving in Nashville:   My husband and I found a place for us to stay in Nashville on Airbnb, and the plans started to take shape.  However, I did wonder, as I flew into Nashville, if maybe my leap of faith to spend an entire week (24/7) with someone who I did not know very well, was one of the best decisions that I had ever made.  The only thing that we really had in common was our high school connection.  What if we did not get along or did not travel well together?  I decided to let go of any worry or expectation and to just embrace the idea.  I felt that there must be some reason for reconnecting with each other at this point in our life journeys, and I just needed to trust what that might be.  I knew nothing about Nashville (she calls it Smashville) and Memphis and I decided to just enjoy learning about this historical state.

Let’s Dance:  What became apparent on this trip together through our discussions and behaviour was that where we came from and when we grew up had an incredible bearing on how we connected at this point in our lives.  Many of our mutual interests, values and philosophies about life were shaped by being raised in the conservative social climate of Calgary, Alberta.  Being born in the 60’s and being raised through to adulthood in the 70’s and 80’s by hard-working baby boomer parents definitely seemed to influenced how we viewed and behaved in our lives.  Each time she would recollect some of her experiences growing up, I could identify.  It had meaning to me because I knew about what she had experienced first-hand.

On our first day together wandering through downtown Nashville, we really came to life when one of the bands on Broadway started belting out some of “our” old rock and roll tunes from the 80’s.  We literally jumped onto the dance floor in the bar that we had only intended to peek into, and started dancing.  We had both been raised to listen to our baby boomer parents’ country, rock and other crooner music like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves and others.  As we grew older, we listened and danced to Stevie Wonder, Kool and the Gang, Michael Jackson, ZZ Top, Rolling Stones, Queen, Doug and the Slugs, Wang Chung, Wham, Hall and Oates, Whitney Houston, and so many others.   We agreed that the music from the 80’s was superior to all other music.  We were a generation that was Internet-free, and so our music was very important to us.  We listened to it over and over again on our radios, records and tape decks, and later in music videos on MTV.   We both remembered our high school dances fondly.  “We had dances where we actually danced!” we both agreed.

Home and School Memories:  We spent quite a bit of time reminiscing about how we lived “way back when”.   Our parents were frugal people having been raised in the 40’s and 50’s.  As a result, as children, we worked hard to support ourselves alongside what our parents provided us.  We both had jobs in our teenaged years.  There were no misconception about hand-outs and easy rides.  In fact, we both spent a lot of time on the city bus, riding our bikes to and from school, and doing a lot of chores for our families.   We worked hard and played hard in and out of school, and we remember that we partied (in different circles) and had our fair share of adventures and misadventures (albeit all pretty innocent, by the sounds of it).  Neither of us had particularly high grades because we were working, enjoying a social network, participating in sports and music, and we had family responsibilities.  As well, the pressure to perform in school seemed to be less rigorous in those days than seems to be expected of students now.   We both continued on into post-secondary school without much difficulty.

Generation X:   We marvelled over how a day in the life of someone from the 70’s and 80’s was very different from our lifestyles today.   We both only had one telephone with a long cord in our homes.  If we had a conversation on the phone, everyone was aware of it (and we could listen in to calls).  My father would give me a time-limit for talking with my friends so that I would not tie up the lines.  She and I agreed that people were very socially connected to each other in an era that was predominantly face-to-face or by telephone.  We confirmed each others’ thoughts on this trip that “the world was indeed going to hell in a hand-basket” due to being too plugged-in to technology on our cell phones and computers.   The world of our three-channelled televisions with rabbit ears seemed so much simpler.  The introduction of a micro-wave and dishwasher later in my teen years was a big deal.  The radio was also a big part of our family until we got a larger stereo.  I did most of my education on an old typewriter until I was liberated by an IBM type-writer given to me by my parents.   Each addition of some new technology into our homes was a major life event.

It was an age where we did not lock our doors.  The milk man brought us our 2%, and the mail was delivered safely to our doors.  We drove in cars that sometimes lacked seat belts, and air bags were non-existant.  I hung our laundry out to dry on the clothes line, and my idea of a good date out with a young man was to go and play tennis, or to go bowling.   She told stories of sneaking into outdoor swimming pools, and confided about some of the parties that sounded like a lot of fun.   The people that we remembered came back to life vividly in our collective memory as if they were with us just yesterday.

Do You Remember…?:  As we explored all of the sites of Nashville (Broadway, Cheekwood, and the Grand Old Opry area), and then Memphis (Beale Street, Graceland, National Museum of Civil Rights and the Peabody Hotel),  we shared our past narratives together quite naturally.  People who did not grow up in the same decades, in the same cities with the same people might not be able to do so as easily.   Our conversations often started with: “Whatever happened to so and so?”  or “Remember that place downtown?”  We would slip into memories of a city that had started out for us as a place with 300,000 people and has now grown to over a million.  We concluded that Calgary was a great place to grow up, but we both needed to spread our wings and had ended up in different places, with different people, following different life paths.

Having had similar life starting points launched us into different directions with an unbroken umbilical fondness for our childhood urban prairie home with the big blue skies and clear Rocky Mountains to the west.  It was a white-collar oil and gas town in the middle of a farming and ranching prairie community known for its Calgary Stampede.  How we began our lives formed much of how we now looked at life and operated within it.  As grown-up mothers of adult children; daughters of aging parents with typical elderly challenges; and wives of wonderful husbands, we had a lot to talk about.  Our common alma mater frame of reference was just a starting point for an emerging friendship.  We learned that as grown, responsible women, we were more than capable of navigating a week together in the beautiful State of Tennessee.  I learned a lot from the experience.  She drove me around in her red convertible Volkswagen to explore some of the pastoral countryside of large maple, poplar and magnolia trees hiding the elusive armadillo.  An adventure is typically an experience when we are not exactly sure how it is going to go, and therefore, it may involve some risk.  In this case, all roads ended in some very happy Thelma and Louis memories (minus the affairs and driving over the cliff at the end).

Our High School History:  1980-1983:   What do we have to talk about looking back at 1980 to 1983?  Pierre Trudeau was our Prime Minister and Ralph Klein was the Mayor of Calgary.  Both were controversial leaders in their time.  John Lennon was murdered.  Personal computers (PC’s) were introduced by IBM.  It was the launch of the first Space Shuttle.  There was the attempted assassination of US President Ronald Reagan.  U2 released their first album Boy.  The Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina.  The album Back in Black was released by AC/DC.  Prince Charles married Princess Diana and many of us stayed up late to watch the royal wedding.  Mount Saint Helen’s erupted and ash blew everywhere.  Aids was identified as a plague.  Everyone was playing with the Rubik’s cube (although I never figured it out).

However, it is more likely that we would try to remember our teachers and some of our favourite haunts in the city.  On this trip, it was most interesting to discuss the little details that we had experienced growing up in Calgary, like skipping class to go over to the Dairy Queen, or staying late to watch the rugby games and talking about boys.  Near the end of our trip, we looked ahead with some anticipation to a potential 35th reunion as another opportunity to see everybody and each other again.

Why Attend?  So many times, I hear that people do not want to attend high school reunions by saying: “I didn’t really know all of the graduates.  Why would I attend and see a bunch of people who I never hung around with before?” Or, “I didn’t have very many positive experiences in high school.  Why would I go back?”  I would argue, now that I have had this new experience making a new friendship with a former school mate, that there can be (not always) something truly magical about reconnecting with people who shared the same geography and generational starting point in high school.  I have learned, like Ambrose (2015) that we are humbler as we near the 40th reunion.  Life has touched us all in unique and profound ways and we have more empathy for our classmates.  We have stretched beyond the relegation of past high school personas and become unique personalities.

In reconnecting, we have the opportunity to reach out to people and look back at where we came from and consider our common history.   Our stories are interesting and worth sharing with people who really understand what we have experienced.  “Ya, I remember him.  He was that crazy teacher that kept falling asleep in class.”  Or,  “Ya, I remember that place up on the hill.  I had my first beer there.”  Going “home” sometimes has a powerful potential to re-visit our pasts and to look at them through more mature lenses.  We can see ourselves all over again in the company of the people who have walked, to some extent, a mile in each others’ high school moccasins.

“We grew up on the same street,
You and me.
We went to the same schools,
Rode the same bus,
Had the same friends,
And even shared spaghetti
With each other’s families.
And though our roots belong to
The same tree,
Our branches have grown
In different directions.
Our tree,
Now resembles a thousand
Other trees
In a sea of a trillion
Other trees
With parallel destinies
And similar dreams…”

Suzy Kassem (2010)