Tangled up in Each Other's Lives
I’d like to introduce my granddaughter Ruth Ann to the Chippewa Valley and indeed to the whole world. Ruth was born on Labor Day (insert your own joke here) to my daughter Julie; her husband. Kirk, and hero two-year-old brother, Harris. Ruth is the newest member of my clan, and that got me thinking about who else belongs to this group. Yes, most of my blood relatives and relatives by marriage count, but who else? Can clan members include close friends and other acquaintances?
The week of Ruth’s arrival, I swung by Great Harvest Bread Company on Eau Claire’s south side for my weekly loaf of bread (and scones) and shared the big news with Sara who works there. My wife and I got to know Sara a few years ago from frequent back-and-forth chatting, and we now look forward to our fun exchanges. Sara was very excited to learn about Ruth. We also talked about other important and not-so-important things in both of our lives. As I drove away, I thought “So, is Sara somehow a member of my clan?” On the same trip, I stopped at Mega Co-op and automatically headed for Cheryl’s checkout lane. I first met Cheryl years ago when we both worked at area libraries. On this day, Cheryl greeted me with “Hello, Grandpa.” Someone beat me to the punch with the news about Ruth. We, too, caught up on other things. As I left, I thought, “Is Cheryl a member of my clan, as well?”
“It used to irritate me to walk into a bar or restaurant and have everyone inside stop talking, turn around in their seats, and give me the once-over. I now think, ‘Hey, they’re just looking for clan members. And if we’re strangers, let’s get to know one another.”
Author Kurt Vonnegut was my go-to author in high school and college. I remember that his novel Cat’s Cradle introduced the concept of a “karass,” a made-up term that means “a group of people who are somehow tangled up in one’s life.” Perhaps this term fits better than “clan” to describe those who aren’t relatives but are still connected to me somehow.
I have a kinship with the folks at Volume One. Several of those connections started with the Running Waters Poetry Slams held in town more than a decade ago. Those connections also led to most of the tight friendships in my current writing group. Close contacts with people from my former library occupation and my current university job have established a karass-like feeling with my book club group. Karass is also a good way to define close friendships gained through the Wisconsin Library Association. It’s becoming fun just thinking about who else is a member of my karass.
My Facebook friends are certainly a different kind of karass. Some of them are folks I know very little about, but we certainly fit Vonnegut’s definition of being tangled up in each other’s life. Do they qualify to move from a karass to a clan? To keep this thought process from getting too heavy, I’ll use the two terms interchangeably from now on.
My own children’s friends have also become members of my karass/clan. Many of them gather for the Fourth of July up north at Sand Lake near New Auburn. They camp, play games, fish, and rehearse a skit for the lake’s annual holiday competition, all under the watchful eyes of hosts David and Janna Morley. My wife and I have joyfully joined the Morley clan, and they have joined ours.
Speaking of Dave Morley, I like watching how he works a room and instinctively looks for members of his own karass. Dave is very friendly and a great listener. He meets someone new and starts asking about their background, looking for that connection to himself that he somehow knows is there.
It used to irritate me to walk into a bar or restaurant and have everyone inside stop talking, turn around in their seats, and give me the once-over. I now think, “Hey, they’re just looking for clan members. And if we’re strangers, let’s get to know one another.”
I like adding new members to the clan. My friend Peter is one. We initially met through our book club and now eat out and hike together. Peter hasn’t met Ruth yet, but he will. I’ve come to the conclusion that the members of my karass/clan are the folks who are happy to know my granddaughter Ruth and to make her a part of their lives. They are the folks who I care about deeply. I light up when I see them. This includes my children, my grandchildren, my parents, and all of those relatives from their generation and the generation before, all other relatives, my close friends, certain casual friends, and even Sara, who sells me bread and scones once a week.