Feeling the Tribe

I still don’t live with my tribe.

And although this is hard for me, lately I’ve heard a lot of people from many different places say the exact same thing. Even people who live in notoriously cool places.

I heard a podcast this week in which a pretty famous writer said that even thought he lives in Austin, TX, which is a pretty  artsy place, most of the people he feels closest to live elsewhere, and he connects with them online.

It seems obvious that a yoga teacher living in Mansfield, PA, population 3600, might not be living with her tribe, but a writer in Austin,?

So maybe I shouldn’t think it’s so depressing to be living in a place with no grocery store, or art, or activism, or people with any obsessive passions whatsoever.

Maybe I just need to “Suck it up, Sally” and get used to ordering my organic food online (or drive to another state to get it) and get my art fix from reading about it on the internet, and console myself with written accounts of people living with passionate intensity.

Maybe this is what most people do. Maybe this is just normal and I should quit whining, thinking I am the only one.

Today I went to Ithaca. The last time I was there was in January for my Winterlude.  Ithaca is where I feel a strong tribal affiliation. The people are engaged and bright and interesting, because most of them are invested in some kind of project. And when I have even the briefest of conversations with anyone, and they sketch out their lives for me,  it always makes me feel amped and inspired.

But my biggest inspiration in Ithaca is Zee.

Today she gave a benefit reading at the Tompkins County Public Library, and since Sandy so generously subbed for me, I was able to attend.  The reading was stellar, but what was even better was the vibe of love for Zee in that room. She has built a particular tribe around writing, and the love of books, and reading, and creativity.

About 50 of us smiled and laughed as she told stories  (half fictional/half autobiographical) of a spunky, sassy girl negotiating the confusing, and often absurd world of family and friends.

When it was finished we gave her a standing ovation. The whole day warmed my heart. And the icing on the cake was that it was even a warm day: in the 60s and sunny!

It was so sweet, and so comforting to walk the .streets of Ithaca and feel a part of Zee’s tribe.

Thinking back on Elizabeth Gilbert’s post yesterday, I want to remember that even though some tribes are toxic and you have to abandon them, the power of true and deep belonging is as rare as it is transformative. And I felt that spark of transformation today.

Thanks, Zee.

Thanks, Ithaca.





A Few Thoughts about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook Post

Yesterday Elizabeth Gilbert posted a piece about Tribal Shame on her Facebook page. It’s about tribal affiliations and how when you don’t fit in with your tribe, this can cause a lot of pain and suffering until you are able to make a clean break with them. This is something I did a long time ago and never regretted. When the pain of affiliation is greater than the pain of being outcast, that is a good sign that you need to get out.

I never, ever fit in with my family. This fact caused me a lot of pain as a child, and the wounds from that, still, to this day, infect my operating system and cause my system to crash occasionally.

In her piece Gilbert says to say to your tribe as you leave them: “I am going to abandon you now. I am going to betray you now.”

I know the exact moment when I said this to my mother. Not in those words, exactly. Not in any words.

I had been planning my escape from her my whole life. My adolescence was particularly tumultuous. We’d have these rip-roaring scream-fests, in which   I would shout, “Someday I am going to leave you and never look back. And you will be all alone. And it will be the happiest day of my life.”

She would just laugh at me.

I plotted my escape for years. I applied to college without her knowledge, made my financial arrangements without her help or knowledge, got accepted, sent my deposit, and then, one late summer day, out of the blue, I asked her to drive me 5 hours upstate and drop me at a school I had never even seen. And, she did. I think she thought I was bluffing.

I took my stereo, my box of albums and a footlocker of clothes. I kissed her in the parking lot, and then watched as it suddenly dawned on her what was really happening: She wasn’t just dropping me off at school. This was it. This was the promised moment. Game over.

I saw it hit her. Her face went to ash. I was abandoning her.I was betraying her. She realized in that moment that I was never coming home again. I was leaving the tribe I was never a part of to begin with.

In that kiss, she knew it and I knew it.

She was devastated.

But I was finally free.

It was the best day of my life up until that point. We still kept in touch and she tried some lame shenanigans to get me back to the tribe, but of course they didn’t work. She knew I knew her game. She knew I wasn’t going to play anymore.

Some people think even being part of a dysfunctional tribe is better than outcast status, but I disagree. There is nothing worse than pretending to fit into a tribe you hate. It sucks your soul. It robs you of your integrity and your dignity. Far better to sleep alone, than with the enemy.

Good Business

Tonight after yoga class I sat with some yogarians, one of which I had not seen in 3 or 4 years.

Turns out this woman is doing remarkable work in the world as a fund-raiser.  She is operating as a full, authentic person of integrity as she asks people to donate large sums of money to the place she works for.

We had a wonderful interchange and we both agreed that the old business paradigm of  “The Bottom Line” is dead, or should be.  Business today is about building community, building Tribes, leading tribes and creating sustainable corporate cultures where the workers are respected and where customer service is remarkable.

I mentioned Google, as a model, and Starbucks, and of course, Zappos.  All these companies are using ethical business practices and fostering fun, amazing workplaces.

If you have the time, (it’s a bit long, but it’s interesting), watch this talk by Tony Hsieh (pronounced “shay”) of Zappos talk about how Zappos rolls.  He tells a great story about a woman who needs to return a pair of shoes after her husband dies.