A few days ago I was reading an email with one of those supposed “live your life better” points and I came across an interesting statement, “find your tribe.” They meant it as a go forth and meet new people who like the same thing as you, but instead it got me thinking about the people that I already know. I get a lot of these emails form various list serves and most of the time they are filled with fluff about how I should meditate, go to the gym for 6 hours every day, drink my coffee at a leisurely pace, and buy whatever product or course they are selling. But every once in a while you come across a gem that makes everything click into place, this was one of those times.
The concept of “tribe” may seem very foreign in our society, but if the nomenclature doesn’t fit then try substituting the word family. Most people have two types of families, the ones that they are born into and the “family” of friends and associates that they choose. I suppose that for me the term tribe works better, since my groups of friends are constantly moving, flowing and evolving like the American Indians of the plains. I suppose that it also works since I am closer to some groups than to others, and form alliances and associations with tribal type bonds. I have a huge tribe full of fraternity brothers, a good sized one full of professional associates, a small but powerful tribe of friends, a group of beer lovers, and lately I have been trying to build a tribe of comedians. The great part about thinking of these groups as tribes is that I can create new groups and connections without having to deal with the messy terminology.
I suppose for those that know me assigning nomenclature to disguise my connections is a bit out of character. I have never gotten into petty terminology of who is a “close friend” or a “best friend” but I have always been pretty clear with how I view people if not how I call them. I like most people work on a tiered system where as I get to meet people and they move through the stage such as acquaintance, associate, friend, and confidant or some such hierarchy. I suppose that the best way to move up this chain is to belong to intersecting groups that I spend my time with. It is a bit like having a Venn diagram of where I spend my time, those in the green area where the yellow and blue circles overlap are my closest friends. No real surprise that my closest friends are beer drinking fraternity brothers who like to laugh at my jokes.
For most of the past decade most of my friends have followed a similar pattern. They were at one point in time in pharmacy school, or dated/lived with/were close to one of my friends. Based on that distinction they were mostly white, middle class, moderate to highly intelligent, internally motivated, and probably a little full of themselves. Having only friends from the same mold is a double edged sword, since you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with, buy it also limited my scope and made me uncomfortable when I met people who aren’t in that mold.
During the first few years after college I was so caught up in the work too much sleep too little cycle that I never took the time to develop new contacts in my new home towns. I would work 60 or so hours a week then run off to Albany to spend time with my friends or to camp to spend time with my family. While these trips were great release valves and gave some balance to my hectic and stressful life they prevented me from putting down roots. It wasn’t until I moved to Middlebury and got to know a few people and develop a few routines that I was able to expand my circle. Part of that is due to a more forgiving work schedule which allows me to go out and do different things after working a full day, but I think that part of it was because I reached the point that I no longer want to be as much of a nomad. Don’t get me wrong, we always want what you can’t have, and I still long for a life of freedom and a no responsibility, but I know that the best option is for me to settle in and develop a life for myself.
I have always been consumed by my passions. I latch onto something and pour every ounce of energy into in. Over the years most of these passions are solitary endeavors like writing or photography, but the ones that I have picked up recently have been more social ventures. Pursuing craft beer and visiting breweries gives me to opportunity to strike up conversations with interesting people from all over. Sometimes it is making small talk with someone while waiting in line, other times it is being the only one hanging out with the brewer. Since I am a middle of the road beer geek I have a lot more knowledge than the layman but a lot less than the brewers and serious geeks I can walk into every conversation either taking in or imparting knowledge which makes for great discussion and a worthwhile feeling. I pride myself on being a beer geek rather than a beer snob because I enjoy all types of beers and don’t feel the need to look down on others for their lack of knowledge or divergent tastes. I hope that this makes me seem like less of an asshole when referring to hop varietals or using terms like “catty” and “roasty” but then again maybe not. Most of my friends are into beer and we spend a lot of time discussing out of the box beers from far away breweries and bragging about how we have a friend of a friend who is able to ship us some. In the end it makes for interesting conversation and a welcome feel good atmosphere. Even the few beer snobs in our tribe are unobtrusive enough that they don’t put off the rest of us too much.
Over the past few months I have been lucky enough to meet a whole bunch of new and interesting people through comedy. I have always been a bit of a loner and putting myself out there is a step WAY outside of my comfort zone. Taking a chance and doing something new like comedy opened me up and allowed me to meet people in a comforting and easy going scene which has really been a blessing. Going from meeting 3 non work related people in the past 5 years to meeting dozens in the span of a few months is a big step. Simply making new acquaintances and starting the getting to know you process is a welcome step. Hopefully as I continue my journey through comedy I will continue to meet new people from all different backgrounds and walks of life and the tribe will keep on growing.
One of my favorite movies is SLC Punk. In part of the opening act they introduce a character named John the Mod who “moves between the tribes.” Set in Salt Lake City in 1985 the movie focuses on the rigidly defined class structure of the underground, mods, punks, heavy metal guys, new agers, the like. And though this brightly colored hierarchy never resembled my life, the sense of moving between groups and acting as an ambassador always appealed to me. As tied as I may be to a few groups I take pride in the fact that I am not a one trick pony solely locked into working with one set of people. Being able to move between groups and spend time with different sets allows me to maximize my time and keeps me from getting bored. Maybe because I have a unique appearance and a booming voice but people tend to remember me and readily seek me out, which in turns brings me into their group and allows me to form even more new connections.
The past year or so has been focused on personal growth and trying new things. Through that process I have been impressed with my ability to switch between personas. It isn’t a psychopathic thing, but embracing who I am when surrounded by different groups. I guess it is part of my development of a stage persona that is an amplification of myself. I have been able to work on making that mental switch in the same way my professional pharmacy attitude used to come on whenever I put on my labcoat. This grasp of self awareness and knowledge of who I am supposed to be when is different settings is something that develops with time and is something I keep striving to get better. As great as the idea of “just being yourself” is it doesn’t work for all situations.
This essay has turned longer than I anticipated, and I think that I could probably keep going. The net effect is that I am pretty happy at where my tribes have taken me and I am looking to find other tribes and to grow as a person. I like finding new outlets and pursuing new passions and meeting others who share some of those passions. I look forward to expanding these groups and having them overlap, as far as I am concerned the more I hear “So how do you know Owen?” the better.