Guest Post

Guest Post — Shan Jeniah on Kinship

Today I am happy to present a guest post from Shan Jeniah, whom I met through ROW80, and had the pleasure of meeting IRL.  

Image from the University of Manitoba Anthropology website

Pondering Kinship

When I first accepted Elizabeth’s invitation to write a guest post, I  had no idea what I wanted to write.

A week or three later,  while I was driving somewhere, alone as I seldom am, the wordfeelingconcept flashed across my mind, with a vivid visualemotional awareness of Elizabeth, and I knew what I wanted to write about…

( I know that those invented words above aren’t real, and that they might even be gibberish, to some. But I’ve spent the last few years learning to distinguish the unique ways in which I and others experience life, thought, feelings, and the like, and, for me, this was an inspiration that flashed across a wide band of perceptions and awarenesses, all at once. Hence the words that describe what happened in my mind at that instant).

What was the word with all the diverse plumage?


Kinship, and a memory of the only time I physically met Elizabeth – sitting with her at the same table I sometimes share with my oldest, deepest friend.

Kinship, and the way the words she writes fall with soft power into my mind and my heart.

Kinship, and how we arrived at the cafe from different directions and at the same time.

Kinship, and the loveliness of her smile; kinship, and the way her eyes met mine, directly, but comfortably. Only an honest person can meet a virtual stranger’s gaze with openness and warmth.

It strikes me that I share that type of connection with most of the people in my life these days. We have conversations that range from the political to personal, erotic to profound. Sometimes, it’s nonsense chatter – but chatter that builds connection, and soothes spirits worn from too much depth.

Too often, kinship gets tangled up in the definition and connections of DNA – as though our kin are those to whom we are blood-related. And, maybe, then, people are wondering, as I did for many years, why they don’t feel a deep connection with their kin, why they seem to have so little in common that every meeting and interaction leaves them empty and cold – or worse, enraged or as though they had been attacked, perhaps shredded to their core.

When I think of kinship, I think not of those who share my genetic legacy, but those with whom I share connection based upon a mutually held belief that the relationship is beneficial, and who will accept that we are each as we are.

This interpretation of kinship was largely missing in my own upbringing, at least amongst my family of origin. There is a tendency there to look at life from the outside in – new acquisitions; rules and punishments; homes and cars; and outside accomplishments. The surfaces of things must look good, evoke a sense of success, hard work, and pride, and, hopefully, envy in others.

My own tendency to look at life from the inside out never quite fit, at the best of times, and, ultimately, it has led to the dissolution of several of these relationships. I tend to favor poetry, philosophy, and the pursuit of passion – the depths and breadths of life – rather than the surface. I love spelunking and scuba diving, mountains and canyons and forests and oceans and deserts, and pondering questions to which I will never learn the answers in this life.

Something about me led my mother, when I was 9, to refer to me as her “closet philosopher”. But I was closeted for a reason.  Often, there were harsh consequences imposed on me simply for being who I was.

Sometimes, when people learn that I am estranged from most members of my immediate family, they express sadness or a suggestion that we seek family counseling to heal the relationships.

These people mean well, but they don’t understand.

My growth has been a lifelong deepening and widening, usually below the surface, where it is not  easily seen. My perspective has shifted, and I will no longer hide the fact that I am not as I was, with them, or that my inclinations are very different than theirs.

We drive old cars, live in a humble home, shop more often at thrift stores and yard sales and on eBay than in department stores. We’ve chosen to allow our children to grow and learn in a natural way that focuses on autonomy and partnership rather than parental authority.

And, somewhere along the way, I  have become a vital threat to these family members, because, despite living very differently, we are a happy family.

The surfaces they value obscure the wide and the deep of my life. I have become poison to them, and there can be no reconciliation, because to accept me as I am would force them to question their own choices in a way they are unwilling to do.

I have many kinships, all of them with people who have room in their worldview to accept that mine works for me, and consciousness enough not to assume that living a fulfilling life based on my own needs and desires equates to demeaning those who choose differently.

True kinship must come with mutual, unforced respect of the integrity of the other self; and its undeniable right to be just as it is.

I am fortunate to have so many souls in my life with whom I can relate in this way, and to be able to learn and grow from my kinship with them.

And I am thrilled to remember the ease, warmth, and honesty that I felt, that day with Elizabeth, and to have the promise of other meetings and interactions in the future.

May you all find your kindred, and treasure them as they treasure you…

Please feel free to comment here or on Shan’s blog here.  For more about what you will find there, here is an excerpt from Shan’s About page:

I am myself.  Like most other selves, I don’t condense well into a few simple lines of text.  Like a schoolbook, these words can only trace the shape of me, hint at the light and shadows within.

There is far more to me than you will see here, on this page.

There are words that apply to me, although they don’t define me: writer, mother, lover, adventurer, wife, reader, seeker, learner, mentor, partner, intuitive, delver, playful spirit, ambassador, advocate, talker, listener. strewer of joy into the lives of others, singer, sensualist, awakening, passionate, faithful, spontaneous, strong, daring, caring, sharing, wide-eyed wanderer.

Read more here.