The image above is an early version of a portrait that was recently commissioned by a beautiful young woman I know as a wedding present for her fiance. They were married just this summer and the drawing was done as surprise, using a huge collection of family photographs. It was a wonderful project, and I think everyone loved seeing the two families brought together on paper. One of the interesting discussions around the creation of the drawing, however, was the decision regarding who would be included in the image... Eventually, it came down to bloodlines. Immediate family please: defined by blood. Simple right? Maybe. But there were, admittedly, some questions regarding the stepmothers and stepfathers, husbands, uncles, and brothers-by-other-mothers who wouldn't be featured....hmmm.
I've been thinking about the quirks and twirls of families. Particularly, I've been wondering at the amazingness (or potential horrors) of the relationships we hold with the people who count as FAMILY, and all the weird twists and feedback loops we get into with them. Fierce love, desperate hurts, blindnesses, and the greatest depth of feeling...how do we even keep it all together? What is this thing?
There are people in my life who've embraced me and welcomed me into their own family moments, sharing their tenderness and giving me a place at christmases and thanksgivings, when i was orphaned temporarily from my own. My clan, my family, are also the friends and community members of my life. My emotional ties smoothly flow across the world to Peru, to Korea, Ireland, and all across Canada from Smithers to Montreal. I think I love these people easily, with loyalty and pride, and I have some strange and unknown faith that each of them is mine somehow, belonging to me and I to them.
Recently, I've been growing a steady affection for another family grouping. These two, father and son, work together, drink coffees, and eat together in the same little shop down the street from where I work. Watching them together, it makes me yearn for my own flesh and blood. I crave my brother's solid presence, and feel guiltily neglectful of my delicate and graceful grandmother, living by herself at 95; an independent woman, curious, and delighted still by life. I talk to her regularly, but why am I so far away? Am I such a product of my time and culture, a shirker of responsibility and emotional commitment? or does it really matter if we colour outside the lines a bit, the lines that define the great sagrada familia.