Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Tribes

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.

36 comments:

  1. This is a profound and moving post, Elizabeth. I find myself agreeing with almost every word that you have written. Purple Coo is a tribe and we have our (albeit virtual) rituals of dress and colour and language and history that characterise all tribes. Above all I think we all feel a strong sense of belonging.

    I did write in the 'suggest a homework'forum that we should all write down our favourite bits of Purple Coo's history and what we like best about our tribe - otherwise we may all forget.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this blog entry. I do feel a bit a kinship with bloggers all over the world who put bits of our lives out for the public to read.

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  3. Glad you have found your niche!
    I was a similar type of person to you for a long time were clubs & things were concerned & I had a similar problem to you during pregnancy.
    Still not mad about clubs. Prefer classes to learn things.

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  4. What a beautiful post to read. I hve no idea what puple coo is, and I've never been a mother, let alone a single one, but somehow the whole things resonates with the familiar...

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  5. What a lovely read. I have to agree wholeheartedly about finding Purple Coo. Being a loner and a somewhat introvert myself, joining a group of internet friends have opened up new doors in my life that I never knew were there to open.

    CJ xx

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  6. A beautifully written post, Elizabeth, that I can relate to. A collective group works,I think, when among people with the same broad Philosophy of life. I play a little enjoyable golf with some tennis friends, but I couldn't bear to be a member of a golf club. I am so happy in my Gardening and Tennis clubs, as we are all like-minded folk. They are small clubs with a sense of Community and our interests go far beyond the realms of Gardening and Tennis.

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  7. A satisfying and thought provoking post. I can identify with the sense of community bloggers share. Most of the blogs I subscribe to are art blogs or writing blogs and I've found blogging friends quick to share a smile, their expertise, their memories and their humanity. Sort of feels like the "old days" when most of us had a pen friend in a foreign country. We might never actually meet them, but they're no less real than the friends we see in person.

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  8. Interesting. We here seem more part of a pride than of a tribe. I'm off to look at the purple people.
    Good to meet you
    Jackie and the gingercats

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  9. Loved this blog - how true. I don't join "clubs" but I am not a loner - although I too enjoy being alone at times. I am not a Purple Coo member but follow some of your blogs and pop in occasionally to see what you are all up to. You seem a caring, friendly bunch of friends - keep on blogging!!!

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  10. Like Fennie, I found myself nodding all the way through this. Not a joiner either - though 'did' brownies (right through to rangers - how mad is that?)....
    The nearest I had to a feeling of kinship was when I used to go to a Jungian art therapy centre - but it wasn't a tribe. Yes, I think Purplecoo fits the bill rather well - and think you've described it pretty perfectly.
    Janexxx

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  11. Well put - spot on.
    I'm don't think of myself as a joiner, but I must be, I have a strange need to fit in and belong. If I do join I always end up somehow landed with jobs to do, I go from saying no to being Vice Chair in the blink of an eye (because everyone else says no and really means it). I'm always bemused.

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  12. You've struck a chord, Elizabeth. I've never been a joiner either. This link with all of you at Purplecoo, beginning as it did a little earlier in that 'other place', is probably the longest I've belonged to any group or club.

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  13. Excellent blog Elizabeth. I realise that I am very much a tribe person and have/do belong to many in my life. I wasnt as a child - also hated brownies etc. I must stand up for the NCT though - I was a member for probably 20 years and found unfailing support and friendship from the Trust itself and from inidividual members and the local branch. Of course our Purplecoo tribe is wonderful and something I never expected to find online.

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  14. Great insights, and reflections on your life. "Tribe" can be many things in many different aspects of our lifes. Our family is one of the first tribes we become part of. We learn how to enter into the world based on what this first tribe teaches us, and then we move into other tribes such as school, jobs, marriage and so much more. So not only is it groups that we "sign up for", but its also all the groups that we enter into as part of our journey through life. The blogging world presents us with a vast spectrum of people to connect with for all kinds of different reasons.

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  15. extremely well put, as always, Elizabeth. very enjoyable and, goody, another one I've missed to tackle below. Off I trot.

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  16. It's strange how many of us claim to be loners and so much of your post struck a chord for me. I'm absolutely not a team player, prefer to rely on myself and need time on my own to recharge. That part of me draws back from getting too involved with any group, even dear old PC, and yet I find myself caring deeply about people I haven't met. Lately, I've been very sad about a fellow blogger who is coping with the most devasting news and yet I don't quite know where this grief comes from or how to handle it. Thought-provoking post.

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  17. Elizabeth, this is such a lovely post - I have enjoyed it very much. It set me thinking about tribes, and where I fit and I have responded on my blog.
    K

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  18. Hello Elizabeth, I came by way of Karen at Artist's Garden.

    I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed and related to this thoughtful, beautifully-written post.

    Purple Coo sounds like a wonderful blogging tribe.

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  19. Nicely summed up, the purplecoo tribe !

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  20. As an outsider, that now late in life joins the mothers club, I totally get you.

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  21. Thank you for so many really interesting comments. I do think it is fascinating as chris says that so many people who are not natural "joiners" have found a sense of community here.
    Sorry Faith, didn't mean to attack the National Childbirth Trust which did provide me with friends and which I would certainly recommend to others, just that it was not my "tribe" in the sense I was thinking about writing this.
    Thanks for visiting, and I will get over to look at the blogs of those I haven't met before!

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  22. My head was nodding furiously throughout too.

    Love to think of myself as a member of a tribe!

    Well thought out blog

    xx

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  23. what a lovely, thoughtful post. i agree with you on all counts and even had to chuckle to remember the feminist group i joined back in the day, too. most were lesbians, and i wasn't, but it taught me some things about speaking up for myself and being self-reliant before it ran its course.

    i've seen many references to purplecoo; it seems that many of the women blogs i read are members, and i'm not surprised you fit in there. all are thoughtful and intelligent and interesting and sometimes funny--a wonderful group indeed!

    you summed up very nicely what i have found in blogging, too.

    perhaps we need to just find our own groups as we go through life instead of joining one that already exists.

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  24. I feel very much like you - not a joiner, preferring to go my own way with one or two close friends. Yet, like you I find the blogging community marvellous. Now in my mid-seventies I feel i have made a whole host of new friends and really enjoy the chat. Lovely post.

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  25. I agree with your every word Elizabeth and feel blessed to have found PC; they say like attracts like and it certainly seems so with we bloggers.

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  26. A lifelong non-joiner too, I'm now the proud member of two clubs: Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and PurpleCoo.

    Not sure that feminist is yet a dirty word. However, I do remember visiting the Peace Camp at Greenham Common with a friend. I went off with some bods to get firewood (I had a car) and when we returned my friend was having a blazing row with a group of women about how he was a feminist, they arguing that such a thing was impossible. As we drove away through Newbury (I think) he passed constant comments on the schoolgirls we passed. Yeah, right, I thought - typical male feminsit!

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  27. Beautifully said, Elizabeth.

    I left my tribe a little while ago and I miss them badly. When we first arrived in England I sat here, in the middle of a field in Hampshire, sobbing and snivelling and hiccupping with self-pity. Nobodyone understands, I wailed to the scudding clouds. Guy - with me trailing behind - was invited to dinner party after dinner party by friends from years before me. I found that when I dared to speak to the person sitting next to me, they would glaze over quite quickly and turn to their neighbour with a high-pitched shriek of relief to find someone from a similar planet.

    Then, with some trepidation, I entered the blogosphere and through that discovered the most wonderful world of purplecooers. Warm, funny, generous and interesting; adventurous and intelligent, they are indeed a tribe and I'm absolutely thrilled to be a part of it. No more howling in Hampshire now....

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  28. A profound post full of insight. As another non tribal person I've looked at purplecoo but thought I most probably didn't qualify for membership...maybe I should look again!

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  29. What a lovely, thoughtful post Eliz. Can completely identify with you over joining - the hideous NCT coffee mornings where I felt people were sizing up each others houses, cars, decor, choice of reading matter to see whether you ticked enough boxes - I was always way too left field. And my cakes were very hit and miss.

    Totally agree about pc - it's a very tolerant place, I feel, and one where differences are celebrated rather than stamped out.

    So glad you're there, too.

    xxx

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  30. Reading this really hit home with me. I have 6 children in my home and I often call them the tribe or the clan. I had only my daughters for years and then remarried to a sweet man with triplets and a daughter the age of my youngest. What was a quiet home became chaos overnight.
    My only real adult conversations are with bloggers and the other 2 people I work with!

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  31. Elizabeth, would you like to be tagged for a 6th picture meme? If you would come over to my blog and read all about it.

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  32. Hello - another PC tribesperson wading in here - a bit of a loner, a working mum - but havent we had a ball over the past 18 months?

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  33. Sorry I'm a bit late coming to this - trying to catch up!
    Well, you have just written my life experience of clubs and belonging - though I did have the good sense to avoid the NCT! But then, I had my first child in Italy and there can be no place better with their devotion to family and their love of children. You don't NEED the NCT. Did join the rowing club for a couple of terms till the early mornings and 200 percent commitment got to me. My father has always said he's not very 'clubbable' and I am the same. I love tennis but could never join a club. All those committee meetings, social evenings, internal politics and bulletins on the noticeboard. Ugh. Makes a chill run down my spine. Like you, and clearly so many other Purplecooers, I hate being categorised. I am just me. I do stuff that I want to do when I want to do it and I hate being forced into things just because that's how the club does it. And yes, Purplecoo is the only 'club' that I've ever enjoyed being part of. Maybe because you can dip in and out. Maybe because it is so diverse, but yet an empathy binds the diversity of the members. I only wish I had more time to join in with the homework and the forums and things. I struggle to find the time to write, being in the thick of the chilren/home/hard-working husband thing. That is the most frustrating bit for me with Purplecoo - just not having enough time to do it and its members justice! I will try and do better...
    But I treasure how it all came about - there was such a huge momentum and sense of solidarity in that and I'm so happy that I was there at its inception. Very special - and marvellous work by WW et al.

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