by Bob Turner
This child is a tennis champion. That child has joined a criminal gang.
This child is a soloist in a choir. That child is silent and uncommunicative.
This child cuts her arms to feel something. That child is the leader of the chess club.
This child is having a party. That child is not invited.
How did these children get this way? In all probability, it was an accident of birth. Children are born into an intergenerational box of accumulated domestic and socio-economic values. The definition of the box can generally be described as a “feel for normalcy.”
The feel for normalcy begins in a child’s infancy, when his parents consciously, or unconsciously, pass on the specifics of their particular belief systems and cultural norms. The specifics of the particular family unit are evident in the infant’s day-to-day experiences, including the food he eats, the voice tones he hears, certain scents, sounds in the environment, which programs the parents watch, and so on.
These experiences come to define the child’s association with what is “normal.” In effect, this so-called normalcy becomes the child’s comfort zone, regardless of how pleasant or horrible the environment may be, and remains in place until the individual takes “baby steps” out of the box, or the environment is dramatically altered. Growing up, the child will have to overcome his feel for normalcy, including its assets and liabilities, for his perception of normal holds both his potential and limitation. The child’s “job” is to become an individual, to become an active participant in his own identity and ideally find his own voice.
Historically, finding one’s unique voice has primarily been associated with, although not limited to, the work of artists. This voice creates an unmistakable signature, an identity not based upon the box we are born into, but one created from our accomplishments and trials. Our accomplishments are a measure of both our self-expression and our interaction with life in unique, successful, and appropriate ways. Having found one’s voice, susceptibility to cults, gangs, ideologies, dogma, schools of thought, and religious groups is far less likely. In short, any group or individual that supplies the child answers does not reflect a personal accomplishment on the child’s part.
The child must summon his courage and put on his little catcher’s mitt, throwing and catching, making gestures, and eliciting responses from the world out there. The child must gravitate towards independence, with or without encouragement, and learn from the
consequences of his choices and actions. These consequences, the inevitable result of dealing with life on his own terms, will lead to a chain of events that will shape his future. The choice to attend college and/or play in a rock and roll band must be his alone to make. Rock and roll and college are typically dramatically different disciplines that involve different characters, institutions, and venues. They are different processes, which are likely to produce significantly alternative outcomes. Only in making these choices will the child find his unique voice, replacing the comfortable feel for normalcy that the intergenerational box provides.
In a world of diversity, what is normal? From a behavioural point of view, there is probably no such thing as normal, whether it is a normal life or a normal day. Normal is a statistical probability, a bell curve.
Question: Where did it all begin?
Answer: The institution of the family.
Question: Who does this affect?
The feel for normalcy takes me back to my days of parent participatory infant care at UBC from the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s. Consider 20 multi-ethnic families attending university with the convenience of user-friendly infant care. Let’s look around the room and see what we have. Each child has one or two parents, extended families notwithstanding. At the university infant care centre, the three major religions were represented and the demographic included hippie single mothers, drug users, alcoholics, not to mention the same-sex couples, the crazies, and the spoilers – they may not be there all the time, but, in time, they will be there. There was also a wide range of people of dramatically differing degrees of economic and social status. And there was also spousal abuse. In short, we have a representative cross section of world culture. Yet, each one of these families has more in common than one would anticipate. In my view, what they all have in common, with a few exceptions, is “the box.”
Question: What box?
Answer: A clone of the box the parents are in.
This box is based upon limited experience, ignorance, and cultural bias. It exemplifies intergenerational abuse in all of its characterizations. All of these boxes in one room bringing their assumptions to the table are a sight to behold. The work of planting the seeds of options and alternatives for the possibility of expanding the box and nudging the child towards his own voice is a necessary, vast, and important job. From the perspective of individualism, if this job is not done, it defaults to status quo, intergenerational abuse. The child of a religious family is destined to remain in the religious, intergenerational box unless he is presented with options and alternatives. Experiences will present themselves, but will the child have a wish to explore the alternatives, or will he be so completely indoctrinated that diversity is not part of the equation?
The abused child is another matter. The abusive parent may be contacted to bring reason and logic to the table, and there are community standards that must be followed. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but if all else fails, legal action will be taken. In short, if there is evidence of abuse, education is possible. Then, there’s the “everything’s cool” crowd – cat shit in the sandbox but everything’s fine; infants’ teeth rotting: honey in everything because sugar is bad for you; pot blowing through the nursery. These problems can be rectified because there is actual evidence. Education, therefore, is possible. Reason and logic can be brought to the table. Alternative behaviours can be cited. These problems can be “social-worked.”
The crazies and the spoilers are pretty much out of range, but the law and child protective services can step in and take the child out of the box. The problem is that they sometimes have a horrendous box of their own, but it can still be a step in the right direction.
Question: Does it matter which box you were born into, or how abusive your childhood was?
Answer: Yes and no.
The extent and nature of the abuse created by the box defines the nature of the problem getting out of it, because no matter what the nature of the box is or was, everyone has to get over it and get on with it. Charlie Chaplin said that life is a local affair. I would agree with him and add that life is a current affair. No matter what it is that makes a person “run,” eventually it must be shrugged off. One must move forward. Or not.
The secular daycare service provided by the university offered childcare to a wide range of people who chose it because it was convenient. I often think of an Iraqi child that I cared for, for about 18 months while his father was completing a doctorate in nuclear physics. I wonder if he is still alive. I wonder if his early childhood experiences at UBC played a role in how he thinks and lives in Iraq today.
The eclectic artist
Vancouver-born musician and composer Bob Turner has a lifelong interest in communication and the arts. His extensive involvement with the arts spans some 40 years, ranging from promotion to performing in local arts events and playing with noted jazz groups.
His career as a bass violinist includes extended stints with Bob Murphy, Ron Johnson, Henry Young, and Almeta Speaks, and he has played electric bass in various rock bands, including the legendary Blacksnake. His electronic music represented Canada at both Expo 86 and Expo 88 in Australia. Turner has composed music for dance and theatre (Paula Ross, Linda Rubin) and for a number of performance art projects. He founded and directed the Theatre Performance Gallery in Vancouver (now called the Theatre Gallery) and has independently produced original compositions, resulting in many cassettes and CDs, which he performs on midi-keyboards, flute, and bass violin.
Turner’s work took a pronounced, humanistic turn when he became involved with childcare at UBC from 1977 to 1983. This care-giving component, coupled with his passion for electronic music, led him in a new direction that focused on an integration of science, art, and humanistic care.
During his tenure as artist in residence at Simon Fraser University between 1989 and 1991, Turner realized his ideas to empower disabled musicians to connect with making music by directing the design and development of digital electronic components. Subsequently, the midi-modem-midi device was perfected so that musicians who are immobile could musically communicate with other musicians in real time from city to city over a telephone link through digital technology. He was also instrumental in assembling several performance groups comprised of disabled musicians and recording and videoing their work. Notable full-length productions include Spinal Chord (Dave Symington and Sam Sullivan), funded by the Vancouver Adapted Music Society and Frank Popow, funded by Access Arts Canada.
Turner has turned his efforts towards working with mentally disabled artists by producing music cassettes, and by establishing a venue to encourage performance integration in an area fraught with cultural bias. The Primal Mental Health Production Association has provided funding. His interest in electronic composition has evolved from assembling a music production and video studio into the field of multi-media computer technology and website development. In 1995, he and his computer-programming partner Jeff Koftinoff launched their Internet filter software to address concerns over issues of censorship and freedom of expression.
Bob Turner continues to move in an unlimited realm of ideas in his search to contribute to the community as an artist, and as a facilitator linking the arts with science and technology. To hear Turner’s music and view his video productions, visit www.turnercom.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org