My birthday falls a mere two weeks after Christmas, so I’ve always advocated for a meaningful celebration. If I don’t, people tend to be too broke and too “peopled-out” to care about getting together. In my twenties, I started holding “Lyssmas”, a holiday where I’d gather all my favourite people to eat waffles and chocolate, listen to the entire Propaghandi discography on vinyl, and explore outside. Upon invitation, many friends would ask who else was going only to discover that they didn’t know many other people who would be gathering. I’m a person with a variety of interests who occupies many worlds, so I would inevitably derive the guestlist from my favourite people from each area of my life. A couple friends from theatre, a couple friends from university, a couple punks, one or two friends from high school, a few friends I’d met through my partner, some other community-oriented artists. I’d trust that they would all get along just fine, and probably even swimmingly. It was at one of these Lyssmas gatherings that I overheard one of my oldest friends refer to me as a “friend curator”.
Being named a “friend curator” felt like the highest honour. I connected with people who shared my fundamental values and who brought their unique skills and overall essence to my life in a way I appreciated. I really value connecting with other human beings for who they are. I appreciate it from an emotional place, and also from a place of curiosity. I love learning about the inside of someone’s head, especially when their lens is clearly different from my own. When someone brings up an idea or initiative, I can almost always say, “do you know [so and so]? They might be interested in this – do you want me to connect you with them?”. In fact, this is often the most valuable contribution I can bring to a team.
Needless to say, I’m also interested in community. What is it? What does it even mean? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do we prioritize collective care while maintaining a sense of autonomy? What can I bring to the table and what do I need? Who is sitting at this table, who’s missing from the table and what barriers keep them from joining in? Why do the people showing up feel invited? I have a lot of ideas about answers to these questions, but I’m also clear about the fact that there isn’t one simple answer. What I do know for sure is that, when it comes to building community, being a friend curator comes in handy.
When I became a parent, I expected to be able to approach it as a well-connected anarchafeminst. As a friend curator. I expected to be able to meet with and connect with other parents who, again, shared my fundamental values and also brought their own unique skills and outlooks to any conversation around parenting. I expected to be able to reject ways of parenting that replicated the power dynamics that are rooted in disconnection, and therefore, oppression and all that comes with it.
Having expectations is something I struggle with, because my brain wants things to happen logically. Since I’ve spent nearly thirty years honing my connection-building skills, I expect that I’ll be able to draw on connection when I need it. Unfortunately, expectations don’t normally pan out that way, because they centre our own reality rather than the reality of another person/ other people in the relationship. It essentially actively undermines their autonomy and cheats everyone out of connection. Having expectations as a community-oriented, friend-curating new parent was a big mistake.
The advent of parenthood came for me on the wings of a global pandemic, a time when drawing on my connections looked entirely different than I’d expected, and this was disappointing. Regardless, in the first year of parenthood, I survived and found every gift I could in forming my own unique relationship with my son while redefining other relationships in my life: my partnership, my role as a daughter/sister/niece/grandaughter, my role as a friend, my role as an activist. I was able to come home to who I was as a carer without any background noise of trying to navigate external relationships in person. My world turned virtual, and with that, came the opportunity to practice stricter boundaries. Conversations about consent became more mainstream, as everyone navigated what level of in-person meeting was comfortable for them, depending on a multitude of factors. So many of those blurry answers to that question, “How do we prioritize collective care while maintaining a sense of autonomy?” became simultaneously collective and divisive. Through the pandemic, I continue to receive the gift of the opportunity to expand my own ideas around this question, while I model navigating it for my child. And as is the theme of pandemic new-parenthood for me, it’s a gift to embrace the completely unexpected.
The other gift that came from the urge to make connections during this time has been through prioritizing connecting with my child. Although I have felt disconnected in many ways, including from the general political climate we’re situated in, I’ve been able to channel that need for community and connection to be centred on my relationship with my child during the formative years of his life. The general culture we’re situated in discourages this level of connection through the focus on working outside the home in order to meet basic human needs. We’re all so busy trying to survive under late capitalism, that we’re fundamentally disconnected from our children from an early age. One thing about the effect the pandemic has had on the way our society functions is that it’s slowed life down in a way that forces us to be with the people in our own dwellings. This can be a good thing in some homes, although it’s also resulted in an increase in domestic violence.
I’ve discovered that there are both good and bad outcomes related to being connected to our children without the balance of connection with our greater communities. It’s been a few years since I celebrated Lyssmas, and I really miss it. I do. I feel the absence of gathering with important people in my life, to learn from them and share with them. Still, I’m grateful for technology, I’m grateful to have a place to live, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to build connection with my child. My hope for him is that this creates a radical sense of connectedness, confidence, and a deep well to draw from as he embarks on the work he’ll do in this world and the person he’ll be. My hope for myself is that I use this time to reflect on the same questions I’ve been asking myself for years with an entirely new perspective.
What is community? What does it even mean? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How do we prioritize collective care while maintaining a sense of autonomy? What can I bring to the table and what do I need? Who is sitting at this table, and why are the people who aren’t at the table missing? Why do the people showing up feel invited?
I’m going to keep asking these questions and gathering more thoughts in response to them. I’m going to continue to curate friends and to value them for who they are. And I’m going to keep on actively caring for and connecting myself, my family, and for my communities. From the outside, it may look like I’m doing nothing, but I can confidently assert that this is big work. Important work. And I’m proud to be on this destination-void ride.