It’s been a long time since a conversation has provoked such a strong reaction in me, but last night, sitting in the Duke of Duckworth, it was all I could do to not give a slightly drunken speech about how fiercely loyal I am to Newfoundland.
It’s not something that often comes up in conversation amongst my group of friends, and my family simply knows what I am about to say to be true of me, so I don’t need to tell them, again. I tried to explain what I felt to the people sitting around me, last night, and I failed miserably, of course. While I was walking home it occurred to me that I’d been the only Newfoundlander sitting at the table at the time, and it made me feel as though I’d like to travel back in time and do myself, and Newfoundland, a little more justice. While I’m sure that the very well educated, insightful and wonderful people who were sitting around me are more than able to approximate what I meant, and they have probably been party to more than one conversation on the matter before, I feel as though I should write this entry for my own good, and for the good of anyone else who might be wondering how it is I really feel about Newfoundland (yes, all three of you).
The first thing that I always think of when people who are from Newfoundland talk to me as though they genuinely dislike the place is: so, does that mean that you have some inherent dislike of yourself, too? I estimate that there are few people who would jump to that question right out of the gate, but I always do. There’s a lot of pseudo-hating that goes on, of which I am also guilty, but when I know that people are really just hating on their home, I am constantly thinking, “but, it’s part of you, so you must hate that bit of you, too.” Perhaps, however, that’s simply because where I come from has always been a big part of my identity, so I can’t quite fully understand when that’s not necessarily the case for someone else.
I grew up with a solid base of understanding and appreciation for Newfoundland culture and history that was taught by my parents and fostered by my curiosity and the rest of my family. I was never forced to listen to the traditional music, but I love it (or at least some of it, but that’s a whole other blog entry); I was never force-fed jiggs dinner, but I love it; I was always happy to listen to stories and be around for kitchen parties and the foolishness that inevitably ensued. I guess one could say that I grew up with the rhythm of Newfoundland, naturally, and because it was never made to be a big deal, I accepted it and loved it because it made the people around me happy.
Everyone’s got a different bone to pick about the place they grew up in. I would never say that Newfoundland is perfect, or without fault, or anything of the sort. In fact, I’ve got some pretty big bones to pick, but lots of times those bones are permanent fixtures in the culture and there’s really nothing you can do other than pick them. I do have a problem with the self-perpetuating bayman-townie arguments that some people make light of, so often. I definitely have a problem with the egregious amount of Fox Racing gear I see when I go anywhere outside St. John’s, but that’s neither here nor there — it’s a personal taste issue more than anything; that, and it represents a brand of society to which I can barely relate, let alone be a part of, versions of which can be found in any province or country. I have an issue with rural education and how, still, it tends to be minimal in scope, which lends the young minds coming from rural Newfoundland to thinking they’ve only got a handful of career options at their disposal. But the biggest issue I have, perhaps, is with people who are over zealous in their love of Newfoundland and its culture and people.
The insular, incestuous folksy people who seem to have this masturbatory approach to Newfoundland writing, art, film, etc., once annoyed me so much that you’d most certainly think I was certifiable if you got me started on them. I have since calmed down about it all, and while I think it’s a good idea to keep the folk scene alive in Newfoundland, and it’s absolutely important to hold onto the history and life of the province, I am of the opinion that some people take it too far, and are far too purist and insane about it. Newfoundland is Newfoundland, yes; it’s not like any other place on the planet, sure; but Newfoundland is also in the world — in the modern world, no less! — and while being a folk nazi has its place and time, there are a few people I would like to smack into the 21st century.
With that rant over and done, I will say that there are a few more bones lying around that I gladly pick, and regularly, but none of them bother me quite as much as to develop a hate for the fantastic things about this province. One of those fantastic things is, in fact, the sense of identity that Newfoundlanders develop growing up here. I say that in acknowledgment of the fact that that identity can sometimes lead us to be hard on one another, as well as foster a great sense of loyalty and family toward one another. During the conversation that sparked this blog entry, I was talking to a table that was surrounded mostly by by people from Ontario. One of them made mention of the fact that, when one is from Ontario, one does not necessarily make note of that until outside the province. Essentially, there was no real identity or loyalty or, well, sense of belonging that went along with being from Ontario. I attribute that to the size and scope of the province, myself, but we didn’t really get into that. I find this concept fairly easy to understand, but I will never be able to know what that’s like. I am a Newfoundlander, and as fellow Newfoundlanders can attest, that is either something you view as being a good thing or a bad thing, but you always have that stamp, that label, that name.
Having the chance to grow up, or live, in Newfoundland is a pretty amazing opportunity. It comes along with so many happy things: a sense of safety, and culture, and history, and all on a backdrop that makes people swoon. Newfoundlanders are known as the butt of a joke to some people, sure, but they’re also exceptional people. We’re hard-working, loyal, funny, intelligent, gifted people who happen to live on an awesome little island in the Atlantic. We have some amazing stories to tell, and we’re generally pretty damn good at telling them. I think we’ve got a rare perspective on the world and we should cherish that, and all its glories and failings.
Being a Newfoundlander is not something you can escape. Or, at least not easily. I know people who have tried, and who are still trying. I happen to be one particular Newfoundlander who is happy to be such, and I will stand up for that title and all that comes with it to anyone who dares to talk down to me, or any other Newfoundlander in my company. Above all else about me, I have convictions that stand true and are most definitely not easily shaken. I’ve always fancied that there was something romantic about that. I’ve never been a fan of people who half-assed viewpoints, or opinions. There’s no need to force an opinion on someone, but if you’re going to hold that opinion, hold it! And so, I hold this one, and though I sometimes wish I was anywhere else but here, I’ll always be a Newfoundlander, and I’m absolutely proud to say so.