My Hybrid Life
After seeing the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, I traded in my car for a hybrid. I love it. I love spending half as much as I used to on gas and decreasing my own dependence upon oil. I love reducing my carbon footprint. I love being able to squeeze into parking places I never could have before, and sometimes I am even able to create parking spaces where none existed. Everything about this car is better than any other car I’ve ever owned. I think the whole idea of hybridism is better – two or more diverse elements combining to become more than the sum of their parts. My car is a final formal manifestation of what I realize now I’ve preferred all long in all things, the hybrid. Without thinking within that specific concept, before popular use of the term itself, hybrids have always been appealing to me.
Thirty years ago, I chose my first hybrid – my husband. I grew up as a Southern, white, middle class Protestant in a homogeneous community of pretty much the same description. The boys I grew up with and dated were very sweet, but ultimately, all too similar and not very interesting. My husband is half Jewish, half Irish Catholic from New York City, and the first Yankee to marry into the family. He was like an exotic alien when I met him; thrilling in a weird way, like a kindly two-headed visitor from a far away galaxy. I remember my older sister commenting after meeting him, that “he‘s nice, but he sure is different from all of us.” He is indeed one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And different not only from us, but, as I eventually found out, even from his own family. He gets along with everyone, miraculously survived the seventies fairly uncompromised, and he never gets sick, not even a cold or a hangnail. The double cultures of guilt he should have inherited from both sides of his gene pool canceled themselves out, and he is an emotionally efficient and happy person. He has absolutely no neurotic footprint.
My next hybrid was a dog. I had always owned purebreds, and when this cutely unattractive puppy of indeterminate heritage showed up on my doorstep, my only thought was to find him a good home. When that didn’t happen after a few days, I stopped looking. There was something different about this puppy, something I had never experienced with purebreds. That something turned out to be the smartest, funniest, sweetest, most poetic dog I have ever known. And the healthiest. He could climb anything, open anything, catch anything, and eat anything with no ill effect. Unlike my purebreds, he did not come with allergies or attitude. He never did get pretty, but he possessed breathtaking canine efficiency of every stripe. I have had nothing but highly functional hybrid dogs ever since.
Twenty-five years ago, my art began to morph into hybridism. What began as “oil on canvas” is now mostly not. Technically, my work is known by the common term “mixed media”, but what’s uncommon about it is that much of those media aren’t even normal artists’ materials. Although I still use oil paints and canvas in many of my pieces, “domestic detritus” better describes what I work with, and there is a deliberate recycling component to my process. I’ll never forget an artist friend lamenting, upon seeing my first hybrid work, that I “used to be such a good painter”. I guess I moved away from traditional media and application because they just weren’t giving me enough creative mileage.
I now live in an outrageously hybrid neighborhood. It was once a white, middle-class neighborhood, and yet when we moved in fifteen years ago it was aging towards run down rentals and crack houses. Thankfully, it has since evolved into a better neighborhood of you-name-it. It is hard to imagine a richer mix of race, nationality, age, income bracket, sexual orientation, and lifestyle. We have multimillion dollar homes across the street from modest blue-collar ones. We have low-income apartments, historic garden homes, and at least one suspiciously meth-like house. We have a local policeman, a Buddhist cell, and several cat ladies. We even have an older couple living in a parked RV. We have people with walkers and electric wheelchairs, and kids on skateboards. We have mockingbirds and parrots. Many of us walk, with and without dogs, and when we pass each other we all smile and greet each other. We know each other and each other’s dogs by name. Even the people in the neighborhood who only drive wave and smile as they go by. I believe everyone means it, too. It is a disparately beautiful neighborhood, both physically and culturally; a community far greater than ever for the sum of it’s current parts. It’s a great place to park oneself.
It is encouraging that I am also living in an increasingly hybrid country. If my limited but positive experience with mixing it up holds consistent, then I think we can all look forward to a country that is less attitudinal for being as diverse and inclusive as it can be. A country where people are not allergic to each other. This is, after all, the kind of footprint our country was meant to have, wasn’t it?
Considering all this, I guess it was inevitable that I eventually become a hybrid myself. For fifty plus years, I have been father’s child, and now I am also his parent. This isn’t what any of us would have wanted, but I have to admit that it’s improving me in ways I never anticipated. Because my father has dementia, I am finally learning about living in the moment. I have espoused that for years, but it was all naive new-age rhetoric; I had no clue what it really meant until now. Living in the moment is not easy when my mind still wants to go in any direction it likes, but my father has shown me how to achieve that simple focus, and indeed it is lovely. Because my father’s food tastes run to the basics now, a protein and two vegetables for dinner, I am preparing and eating less yummy but healthier meals. I find I don’t miss the cream sauces that much, and I’ve lost that nagging ten pounds I hated. I am getting more exercise, too, some from running up and down the stairs more often, and some from taking him out for a bike ride everyday. I have developed absolutely profound patience; who knew I had that in me? I have learned that there is more than the normal 24-hour-clock kind of time to live by, and I think some of the other kinds are just as good, if not better. I am much more energy efficient these days, having no time for apathy or frustration, only for caring and kindness. As a hybrid I am getting much better consciousness mileage than ever before. I like to think I have dramatically reduced my selfishness footprint.