HannahSpeltBackwards

Content Writer Hannah Miller

Category: writing

On Birthdays

Last month I went to my first Philosophers’ Cafe. An event where attendees are encouraged to informally discuss a topic from a philosophical point of view. The topic was “Why do we celebrate birthdays?” and it inspired me to write this letter to notify my friends of my stance.

Dear Friends,

We are socially networked here today, so that I may notify you that I am not someone who remembers birthdays. I have felt a kind of disregard for the obligation of remembering birthdays for some time and have realised that it is time to share this information about myself formally.

Let me make it clear that I mean no offence. I love you all. I do wish that you do enjoy the day designated for the celebration of you and not always you alone each year. I am ever so glad that you were ever born and that you are still alive. I just probably won’t remember to tell you so on that particular day.

Because really, I wish you goodwill – everyday.

It is nice that sometimes Facebook reminds me and then I will send you a little howdy to let you know that I am thinking of you. But I think of it more as a handy reminder system of who is still on my friends list. Of those who I may not see regularly but do still think of fondly. It’s this birthday thing, the philosophy of it that I’m not sure I’m down with.

Many years ago, our lives as humans were hard. We toiled daily to survive and gained sustenance only from the food sources we worked hard to produce. Our lives were shorter, disease was often deadly and mortality was at the forefront of our existence. And so it was that we counted the years that we survived; every single number being of immense importance to us.

We were children once too. The original birthday is a beautiful celebration of a new life. The anniversary birthdays of the early years are important because children get gifts that adults wish they could play with. Children grow so quickly and the difference from one year to the next is so clear, so apparent that we must celebrate it to try to hold it there, to pin it in place right before it, and childhood is lost. We celebrate the milestones of childhood and adolescence because we pine for our own. Thus, if you have a cute small thing in your family, and Facebook, or my mother reminds me of its birthday, I will thoroughly enjoy bestowing a gift upon it. But once the appearance of ageing plateaus and milestone birthdays grow to be about a decade apart (from 22 onwards) what need do we have of birthdays?

Speaking of my mother, she is someone who acknowledges birthdays. I have developed a theory that makes her birthday-remembering history make sense. As a newlywed, she moved from Victoria to a small mining town in North West Australia and began to breed amongst other things. Being isolated from her family, she would mark all their birthdays off on a calendar every year and dedicatedly send cards. This was not unusual, of course. I have many birthday cards from family and family friends from the first decade of my life. Mum kept each and everyone for me. Birthdays functioned as a way for her to be sure that she kept in touch with everyone important to her.

Obviously, the internet has changed this, making it easier to feel linked to friends and family with a few instant sentences. But at the same time, whether it is a generational thing or not, I have a more casual approach to holding on to friendships. I’ve always been of the mind that the most wonderful friendships are the ones that you may neglect for some time, but that you know, whenever you get together again, it will be fully charged and ready to go just as you left off, all cylinders firing. And for this assurance, I don’t rely on particular dates.

Birthdays do fulfil a social function of bringing people together physically, and without them my poor mother would have to battle even harder for our regular family dinners throughout the year. Plus, birthdays are the perfect excuse to have a celebratory drink with friends.

My sister is very attached to the celebration of her birthday. I realised that this was to continue when she planned a celebration for her 22nd, after already having the typical big deal of a 21st. I try to understand why it matters. We all have birthdays. No one’s birthday is particularly more important than anyone else’s, yet why the egotistical practise of yearly self-acknowledgement? Doesn’t the fact that everyone has one, and they even double/triple/etc up, kind of nullify the importance of one’s own? One possible explanation is that without mortality as a major factor until later in life, birthdays might function to make us feel significant in our crazy, infinite world. Every single person can feel their own significant presence on Earth for just one day. And maybe that yearly reminder will inspire us to treasure life that day, and maybe even the next.

For me though, at this point in my life, the passing years are an unwelcome reminder of how far I haven’t come. But since you know me, you know I have a tendency towards pessimism, so this will come as no surprise. For a positive spin on my pessimism (ha), lets say it’s a side effect of aiming higher than is always practical to reach.

Maybe it’s gifts you want? It’s not the gift giving part of birthdays that’s a problem for me. Gift giving I really enjoy. When I find something perfect for a particular person, it makes me all warm and happy. But then there’s no escaping the societal obligations that turn that joy into anxious consumerism. If I get one sister something wonderful, I will have to find something just as amazing for other family members. If I get you something that appears to be very expensive (not very likely), you could feel obligated to get me something of the same value. And what a downer it is that giving could have such an effect.

I have met two particular people in my life that were determined to memorise birthdays. And I link this habit with other qualities they shared, to conclude that I am wary of trusting people who remember everyone’s birthday. Sure, when someone remembers your birthday you feel special, really special. Then you realise that you aren’t special because remembering birthdays is their thing. And the way they doled out friendship was the same. They knew how to give you a false sense of security in the friendship, just when you were feeling all close and cosy and ready to divulge your secrets, you realised that that was how they treated everyone. It’s like the gimmick of a car salesman who constantly addresses you by name. You’re going to end up duped.

So, in summation, if I don’t remember your birthday, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. If I find a gift that makes me think especially just of you, I may save it for your birthday, or I might give it to you tomorrow. If you have a birthday cake at our shared workplace, I will most delightedly eat it. If we go out for drinks I may even buy you a shot. But if you don’t work with me or invite me to your party, and I don’t log into Facebook that day, I will probably forget.

Please take this letter to wish you a Happy Anniversary of Your Birth when the day comes and an ongoing Happy Existence.

Much love,

Hannah

PS If you should like to acknowledge my birthday, all wishes will be welcomed. Especially those that come in the post!

The Vancouver Makerverse

Vancouver Mini Maker Faire

I’ve been volunteering as part of the media team for the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire. If you are not familiar with the ‘Maker movement‘ it basically encompasses anyone who is engaged in the act of making. The Maker Faire is a yearly event that began in California. The Vancouver event, which happened this past weekend, is one of the satellite events that has sprung up in Maker Faire’s wake – hence the ‘Mini’. So a Maker can be anyone with a DIY mindset, whether they come from a background of arts, craft, engineering or science. The event featured an abundance of robots, 3D printers, interactive projections, circuit making and bending, quilting, embroidery, paper craft, vehicles, surfboards… and the list goes on. It’s basically like a science fair for adults. I helped out by interviewing makers for ‘Meet Your Makers’ blog posts. As you can imagine, it’s given me access to some truly fascinating interview subjects.

I interviewed Drawbot maker, Dan Royer,

amateur perfumer, Barry Shell

and crafter and creator of the Mighty Ugly project, Kim Werker.

Internet Curation


I’ve become an obsessive poster over at my tumblr and pinterest of all the inspiring art and fascinating creative projects that I daily come across online. When Lost At E Minor – a site I regularly visit amongst my hefty blogroll of similarly attention grabbing content – invited me to submit multiple posts, I was eager to put some together for them. But then I kept discovering more and more amazing stuff, and found it hard to limit myself. What really blew my mind? What had me revisiting for a second look? What truly represented me and my taste?
I finally narrowed it down to plugging a couple of friends whose art really impresses me, some Australian projects to give it a local flavour and a couple of extras that I felt were quite relevant to my own art and interests. See what I posted here and for all the overflow (and less proofread words), check out my tumblr Not The Same Backwards.

No Crying Over Spilt Yolk

Dodgeball

I’ve been editing the content for Issue 2 of Still Warm and I can’t help but reminisce about our Post-Incubation issue. My story about a summer games day made it to print but hasn’t yet appeared online. Here’s an excerpt.

– The egg and spoon looses its innocence.

Childhood games: some encourage team work, some test our wobbly developing limbs, our balance and our coordination, but all of them contain a significant dose of competition. Within the blissful bubble of childhood we may manage to stay sheltered from the concept, but of course there comes a time when we realise that winning is important. Usually this message was reinforced for me with each pelt of  a dodgeball until I began going to the sick bay every time the bag of balls was brought out for PE.

Some children will triumph and some will be picked last. The egg slides from the spoon into a gloopy mess on the ground, gleefully trodden in by your peers as they pass you by.

A somewhat unhealthy combination is an uncoordinated, vertically-challenged child who stubbornly can’t diminish her competitive nature. Yes, through school I must have learnt that sport would be a lost cause and I would be better off whooping ass in the more nerdy arenas.

But I suppose it was this competitive strain that allowed me to push any memories of the misery of loss aside when my adult (sort-of) friends had the brilliant idea of reliving school sports day at our local park. It was to be a day of coloured teams, sweat bands, fun and games and coveted first place medallions. I certainly don’t regularly engage in any athletic pursuits that would give me reason to believe that I could easily take on these games with any better results than in the past.  But my inner child beckoned to me. And there was always the factor of excessive alcohol intake that may set my friends/opponents at a disadvantage.

It all started out with the retro flashback of the egg and spoon race. We lined up with our eggs and spoons at the ready and clarified the rules; one hand only, thumb not allowed to hold egg in place, other hand behind the back. Ready-Set-Go through the megaphone. And we’re off. Oops, my balance is bad and the egg rolls off. But, aha, it doesn’t break on the grass – not having far to fall due to my short stature. Pick it up. Not remembering if a fallen egg means starting again I allow myself to take in my surroundings. My peripheral vision registers a mess of limbs and colours and eggs. Instant free for all. I set off towards the half way mark, already behind the pack. From my right, an arm swings under my spoon and launches my egg through the air! I am indignantly stunned. What happened to the rules? I should have known that one adjudicator and at least twenty racers means that the appropriate level of rule monitoring would be impossible, but somehow I was still trusting the nature of my competitors. How could I be so naive? Whilst I did glance my foe, I still have eyes only for my egg, which again has not broken. Following its path along the ground I scoop it up and continue. All around me eggs are flying. I pass a marker post and am on the home stretch. I put up my defences, more aware of people around me now, but she gets me again! The same person! My egg shatters and I trudge to the finish-line in the midst of the egg and spoon chaos.

Evil grins were splashed across the faces of the cheaters. Eagerly they confronted their victims. Claims came from all around me.

“I got you”

“I just ran with my other hand under the spoon.”

“I was holding my egg and spoon in my fist.”

Thus, in the short few minutes of that race, my opponents had molested my inner child, taken her candy, cut the strings of her helium balloon and run over her dog.  But I patted her on the back, wiped away her tears and pep-talked her for the next race.

Photo credit: Lauren Olney for Still Warm