Thursday, 21 August 2008

Collapsing Circle Syndrome

Oh my, 2/3 of August gone without a blog entry. I blame my unknown neighbo(u)rs used to keep their internet service on and connected to their unsecured wireless router. Which I'd be happy to pay for, either jointly or individually once I get my house clean enough to let the guy with the cable box into my apartment, but that's a different story. I blame them because even though their router is on 24/7, it never seems to be connected to the internet. Except at 3 in the morning, when my computer automagically checks for updates, which since it isn't connected it shouldn't find, but somehow does.

The computers are getting smarter without us, and yet they still can't automatically attach files to e-mails that contain the words 'I'm attaching to this e-mail a filed called...'.

But this entry is about Collapsing Circle Syndrome, or CCS, not to be confused with the SCC or strict cycle condition in pre- and early Lexical Phonology, which I remember only because I read a longish manuscript about it where it was consistently abbreviated SSC (and struck out and corrected by hand--ya gotta love the old days when it was easier to correct manuscripts for distribution by hand).

CCS is finally, after 8 years of living in Winnipeg starting to happen to me. I'm both elated and weirded out by this.

Winnipeg is a fairly old, fairly isolated city, composed of long-standing neighbo(u)rhoods and seemingly arbitrary geographic vaguely ethnohistoric boundaries that 'everyone' seems to know about, but no one can explain to the newcomer. When you, as a newcomer, ask a Winnipegger how to get somewhere, or how to find something, you get references to landmarks that haven't been where they're being described for 30 years. "Oh, it's out on Tache, you know, across the street from that big red thing. The big red thing turns out to be the awning of a business that went out of business 30 years ago; the building hasn't been there for at least 15 years; at somepoint somebody put up a Starbucks there--a Starbucks by the way which everyone involved in the conversation has been to at least once in the last month; and by "Tache" they really mean "Marion", which is sort of in the same part of town, but Tache and Marion technically cross.

So anyway, my point is that it's not unusual for people to live within a mile of so of where they grew up, which is where there parents still live (or within a mile or so thereof), to be married to someone they went to high school with, and/or to be married to someone who went to high school with somebody's cousin, who turns out to be your sister's gynecologists's former spouse, who is currently married to someone who used to be in charge of street lights for the city, who lives in the same building as someone who was your college roommate's boyfriend and gave you your first STD. Or something like that. "Degrees of Separation" are very small in Winnipeg.

And as an outsider a) it's fascinating, b) it's frustrating and c) it's just out of reach, since you don't have the same point of view inherited from your Winnipegger parents as everyone else.

And considering this is a city of about half a million people, of whom probably at least 3/4s are 'locals' in some way, you feel like you'll never break into the circle. Which is comforting in some ways, and very sad in others.

So I've been living here for several years and until now everything has been neatly compartmentalized. I never run into people I know out of context. I never see people I know from the University at the Fringe. The nurses at my doctor's office don't appear at the grocery store. The people you see in the bar or the club week after week are not the same people you come across at the office, or at the dentist's or walking in the park. Because I'm not connected to anyone.

But if you're from Winnipeg, you are. I cannot express this strongly enough. My friend A is a Winnipeg Girl from way back. (Aliases being substituted not to protect anyone, since it doesn't take much to track down the relationships if you care to, but a) I don't want to be responsible for revealing anything that isn't anyone's business, but b) I need some way to keep track of who is who in the story.) So A and I take a visiting dignitary, B, out for lunch. B grew up in Winnipeg from the age of 8 or so, and lived here through her university days, whence she went away to become a dignitary. A and B are more or less of an age, but lived in different neighborhoods, went to different high schools, but I knew, I knew in my heart of hearts that sometime over lunch, even without trying, they would hit a point of connection. And it took less than 45 minutes. We weren't even into the second halves of our sandwiches when somebody mentioned music (they both currently sing in choirs), which led to other extracurricular activities. B dances. B has studied ballet since her childhood. A used to play piano for a ballet teacher. B names a name. Guess what ensues.

This is turning into a long story. So I recently started to experience CSS. I knew it was coming, but I wasn't ready for the cascade of correspondences which followed. To wit:

My new massage guy, C. Whom I called originally because he had an ad on the bulletin board at a club I go to sometimes. Business leader in the community, reasonably well known among his circles. Fosters kids. Is acquiring a Deaf foster kid. "I take it you sign?" I ask. Oh yes. Fluent. C used to be married to a Deaf woman, and has been taking in foster kids for a while and they needed somebody who signed to take in this kid. Now, my department is part of a program in ASL/English Interpretation certification, and I'm interested professionally in ASL and signed languages generally. I do not sign myself, and thus I haven't connected directly, in any meaningful way, with any of the local Deaf community, except a few who are involved in the interpretation program. But I can feel it coming.

C is in an odd position because he actually knows the family the kid comes from. The Deaf community here is fairly significant, but it's still classically an everybody-knows-or-is-married-to-or-roomed-with-or-whatever everyone else. So it's not so odd that C might know the family. It's vaguely possible that I know the family, or someone connected to them, but C is being good and I'm being good and we're not sharing a lot of information.

But now I know that C is connected to the Deaf community, at least peripherally.

I don't think I've mentioned that C works out of a chiropractic clinic. The two chiropractors, we'll call D and E.

So, last massage, I get more information out of C regarding his ASL. In fact, he mentions, he used to work as an ASL interpreter. Oh no.

So I go running back to my colleague F, who runs (our side of) the program. I've been telling him, as my closest connection to the community and to ASL in generally all these weird random ASL-related things I'm learning about C, just as a curiosity. But now F finally asks who C is. I tell him. "Oh, I know C. It's been 30 years, but yeah. Goes way back."

Now I don't want to know. F doesn't want to know. But if we put our heads to it, we could probably work out who C's wife was. F may even know. I'm not asking. We could easily find out which Deaf family is having enough troubles that the kid is being fostered out for a while. We don't want to know, and we're not asking, but it wouldn't take much to find out.

So what started as an 'I met a random hearing person who signs' curiosity ends up as a closed circle.

Here's where it gets weird. I had a student, G. G taught me a lot about Winnipeg. She is connected with the city in various ways. She's a member of two other ethnic enclaves in the city, so she knows everyone and everyone knows her. I happen to discover C on Facebook, and discover we have a mutual friend. Turns out to be G. Weird. So I e-mail G, "how do you know C?". "He shares an office with my partner.".

Now, I knew, vaguely, that G had a partner. I knew, vaguely, that he was a chiropractor. But now I learn that G is essentially married to either D or E. I said G was a student, but she had nothing whatever to do with the interpretation program.

So one social circle, to which C vaguely abuts, has collapsed with the ASL/Deaf/interpretation program circle, which already overlapped with the University Circle, and now has collapsed with the connection between G and D/E. Who are brothers anyway.

So if I can get one of these people to join me at the Fringe, and can somehow get someone I'm related to into the fracas, my entire social network scaffolding will collapse into one big black hole of Robness.

Which is both intriguing and terrifying a prospect.


D. Sky Onosson said...

Hee hee... look at my facebook friend wheel for exactly what you are talking about:

You are in what is probably the second-most removed section of the wheel.

D. Sky Onosson said...

Just today, I had someone explain the location of a business to me this way:

Him: "Do you know where X is?"
Me: "No."
Him: "It's right over there next to Y. You know Y? It's not there anymore. It used to be beside Z."

[slaps forehead]

Rob Hagiwara said...

is that you slapping your forehead, him slapping his, or (I hope) you slapping his. Probably him slapping yours. Why the hell don't you know where Y used to be. You're even from Winnipeg! ;-)