“Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself.” Plato
Last month my book club read Catfish and Mandala by author Andrew Pham. The memoir chronicles Andrew’s bicycle trip through Vietnam in search of answers to the death of his transgender sister. Throughout his journey, which is less a log of his travels and more about finding a place where he belongs, Andrew laces his family’s past (their flight from war-torn Vietnam, their time as refugees and their eventual settlement in the United States) with his present-day life and frustrations.
Pat, a long-time member of our book club chose this memoir and led our conversation. She asked a number of great questions to facilitate our discussion of the book, but the one that stuck with me had to do with individual defining moments. She asked us if we could identify the one thing that we believed made us who we are today.
We went around the table. One person said that being uprooted often as a child impacted her adult decisions. Another spoke about the death of her mother. A few others mentioned how difficult it was to leave Quebec for Toronto or Vancouver.
When it was my turn, I wasn’t sure I could pinpoint one defining moment. How could there be just one? And what did it say about me? My primary caregiver was my grandmother. She died when I was four. My family immigrated to Canada (smuggling out their money and belongings which was prohibited by Egyptian law at the time), we didn’t resettle in Greece as most Greeks did after their businesses were nationalized in Egypt, but rather moved to Calgary where there were few other immigrants. We didn’t speak English. We had wanted to stay in Quebec. My mom was French and we all spoke French, but the Canadian government was settling the west and west we would go. My father didn’t have work when we first arrived but he kept trying to find something and eventually he did and then rose up the ranks.
I thought about these early experiences in relation to my own life. I’ve always liked creating; doing something others hadn’t tried before. I suppose that is why I’ve had such a varied career, why I started the Whistler Writers Festival, and it’s likely how I found my way back to writing (my first love).
My childhood experiences are also responsible for my many moves. I’ve never lived in one place as long as I’ve lived in Whistler nor have I ever had one job as long as I’ve had the one with the Writers Festival (it must be the lucrative pay. Not!). Have I finally settled down? I don’t think so. It seems that both this community and the work I do stoke what I seem to need: movement, continual renewal, challenges, and the opportunity to be creative. Plus I think I’m still being defined by all the new experiences that come my way, both good and bad. I don’t think this ever stops, but that’s a discussion for another blog.
The point (and there usually is a point to my ramblings even when my husband doesn’t think so) I would not have given this any real thought (I’m a doer rather than a thinker) if it wasn’t for Pat’s excellent book choice (yes, I would recommend it) and her awesome, enlightened question. Thanks Pat for the opportunity to have a one on one with my soul.
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