The wonderful Fennie who blogs at Corner Cupboard mentioned the idea of people belonging to a tribe in her latest blog. It got me thinking and ruminating about tribes and belonging. I am not a joiner of clubs, never was. I was just about the only girl I knew who wasn't in Brownies, resisted my parents' attempts to get me to go to Youth Club and even now would recoil from the idea of being a golf club member or in the Mothers' Union. It is not an objection to what any of these groups stand for, more a sense that I am happier being uncategorised (is that a word?) and preferably uncategorisable. It is not that I am a loner or an introvert, indeed whenever work throws up one of those MyersBriggs personality type tests I am always an extrovert, admittedly one who needs large doses of solitude to balance out a love of company. It is more that I don't like to be identified with a set of assumptions. I am happier on the outside, making connections with all sorts of people whose common ground is friendship with me. I am sure there must be deep psychological reasons for that but I have no idea what they are.
When I went to university I trogged round Freshers' Fair looking for things to join because you were supposed to. Eventually I joined the Film Society (went once, full of film geeks, never went again), the Rowing Club (never went, not sure why I joined, could have been a bet) and the Women's Group. I did trot along to the women's group for quite a while, had a lot of intense and inflammatory debate, learned how to use a cold and hard speculum to inspect my own private parts and made a couple of good friends but I just didn't really fit. I looked a right sight in dungarees (we are talking 70s here), couldn't be weaned from my mascara, actually liked men both in the individual and the general and was just far too likely to snort at earnest discussion of replacing the word "women" with "wimmin". There was a lot of good stuff in it. I read Simone de Beauvoir and "The Women's Room" and would still be happy to describe myself as a feminist even though it has become almost a dirty word but as a tribe it was not for me.
Then I graduated and married and went to work and was too busy for joining things. The next group I joined was the National Childbirth Trust. I went along to all the pre-natal classes and planned my perfect birth and determined to breast feed and had it all right and tight in my head. I had pre-eclampsia, had to be induced, bled and wept copiously into my milk while trying to feed before sobbingly tranferrring to the bottle and felt profoundly that I had been conned. Looking back now I think I conned myself as much as was conned but the vision of motherhood I had and which the trust promoted certainly wasn't how it was for me. I made some friends and had some support when I moved two hundred miles with a crying baby, but I also experienced far too many coffee mornings where mothers competed busily over their highly achieving babies ever to feel anything other than a smiling outsider.
After that there was no chance to do anything other than look after children and work and cook and shop and fail even to water houseplants for years. Work provided friendships as well as occupation and was a reliable thing to have in common, even with people whose idea of what to do with non-working time was utterly different from mine. I suppose I did feel for a time like a member of the working mothers' tribe, separated by mutual incomprehension from those who had chosen to stay at home, not that I felt in my time as a single mum that I had much choice. But other mothers desperately trying to juggle work and lunch boxes and parents' evenings and maddening requests for important meetings at eight o' clock in the morning or overnight attendance at conferences all understood the frantic rush from one thing to another and the constant sense that nothing was being done well. So maybe for a while that was a sort of tribe in its hugest and loosest sense but it wasn't a tribe which provided any great benefits from being a member.
Now I am slowly coming round to maybe being a joiner after all. I don't think that being in a Welsh class can constitute being part of a tribe although it is a reliable interest and pleasure and does give a sense of belonging in a way to a group who recognise that this beautiful country has its own language and its own history. Yoga class is similarly sustaining and companionable, oddly for something that one does in a private and centred way, working slowly and with focus on one's own body. Both of those things are important to me now but I would say that the closest I come to a sense of having a tribe is membership of a website called purplecoo. This is a real surprise to me.
The site is essentially a ring of bloggers, some blogging frequently, others more rarely or hardly at all. Most members, although not all, are women, probably ranging in age from mid thirties to mid seventies. Most, but not all, live in the country and this perhaps accounts in part for the use of the site in forums and chat as an additional string to one's social life. Most members are British with a strong Welsh and Scottish contingent but there are members in Canada and the US, in France and New Zealand. It is a supportive and friendly place. There is always someone to bewail with you the loss of a favourite chicken, to celebrate the birth of a child or a grandchild, to advise you on whether burning wood is eco-friendly or whether a new book or film is worth a read or a watch. It is a diverse place and it has taken me time to find my feet, to identify those with whom I feel a bond or have a lot in common, but it has created the oddest sense of a network of people, most of whom I have never met, who are now a part of my life.
So as a lifelong non-joiner I now feel that purplecoo is part of the fabric of my life. If it fills a gap it is not one I was ever aware of. Friends and family are the bedrock of life just as they have always been but if I look for a sense of membership of a wider group this is where I find it. Perhaps what I needed was a virtual tribe, such as is provided by blogging itself.