Finding My Tribe

Twenty years ago this January I was at a writers and artists residency in Vermont. A month of nothing to do but write and play. It was like what I imagined summer camp to be like — only with sparkling powder snow falling every day like a Hallmark Christmas movie. I was in heaven.

Ironically, I didn’t hang out with the writers. I attended their first group meeting: they all seemed very cerebral and pinched and in their heads. Maybe it’s because I was the only screenwriter. Or because I’ve written in so many styles beyond literary prose. There was no sense of kinship or connection. They were kinda dull, to be honest. I never went to another writers’ meeting; I never even knew their names.

Instead, I hung out with a bunch of artists who were creating things in all sorts of media — with fabric and metal and film and clay and paint, lots of paint. It all felt expansive and multidimensional. Physical and unencumbered and brimming with possibility. It was more fun than sitting at a keyboard. They were more fun, too.

We’d hang out and talk about politics and culture and music. We’d laugh and dance and drink scotch. Go sledding and cross-country skiing. Steal late night snacks from the kitchen. We even made a weird little fantasy movie that never saw the light of day.

A quirky hyphenate artist-poet dubbed herself the “malevolent pixie” for the month. We shared a similar Boston/Bay Area pedigree, which manifests in a twisted combination of hardcore cynicism and earthy-crunchy spirituality. She pointed out a photo of me taken one late night and asked, “Have you ever looked so damn happy?”

I hadn’t. My cup runneth over with bliss that month. Actually, it was more like an overflowing bathtub. I’d found my tribe. Creatives who can’t be contained in a particular box, whose minds are a constantly buzzing hive of ideas. I returned home inspired — and had a pretty impressive run in the fickle world of screenwriting.

But that was long ago. Time and life have pulled us in different directions. I need to find a new tribe, people who inspire me and push me. People who impress me. People who get me.

Books on career transition consistently tout the benefits of networking, of connecting with a “community of practice” — people who are doing what you want to do. This is perfectly logical, especially from a “what do I want to do” perspective.

But this is more than a career switch for me: It’s a life transition. It’s much more than what I want to do. I’ve put a lot of effort into figuring out, clarifying who I am. Now my focus is on how I want to live my life, to manifest my mantra:

Explore. Discover. Share. Enlighten. Empower. Inspire.

I stumbled into my Vermont tribe through lucky accident. This time it’s gonna require more effort. And right now it’s difficult to find and connect with kindred-spirit strangers when you can’t even have a beer in a bar with a familiar friend. But I’m undaunted.

Luckily my potential tribe is broader than it was twenty years ago; there are many ways to reflect that mantra. I’m excited to “explore and discover” them.

A key part of a major life transition is understanding who you’ve become, redefining who you are — and then feeling confident and comfortable in that new skin. I’m definitely there.

Now the next step is to find a new tribe that I’m comfortable in. I probably won’t have marathon sledding sessions with them — but I’ll definitely feel more alive! And after the hell of the past year, we can all use that.

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