Here’s are the cliques I’ve of been a member of so far in this life.
In very early elementary school, I was the “new kid” because our family moved out to the country after I was in grade one, and so I started a new school for grade two. All of my schoolmates had known each other for two or three years already, and I was late to the party. It’s amazing what a dramatic effect this has had on my life, both positive and negative.
Later in elementary school, partly as a result of this, I was a member of the “loner guys.” We loners generally remained un-derided and un-teased by staying under the radar. This was a loose affiliation with an flexible group of other “loner guys” on the playground; sort of the playground equivalent of running as an independent candidate for U.S. President.
I stayed a “loner guy” all the way through elementary school, and through junior high. At its best this meant being a “lone wolf,” and at its worst it meant I was lonely.
In the last year of junior high — grade 8 — I was branded a “browner” because I was pulled out of regular classes a day every week for “gifted and talented group” activities. Can you imagine the stupidity of the bureaucracy that came up with that name?
In high school I was one of the “early bus euchre groupies.” High school started at 9:00 a.m., but buses arrived at our high school from abour 8:00 a.m. onwards. My bus was an early bus, and so I became a B-list member of a group of guys who gathered in the cafeteria every morning to play euchre. I was never allowed to actually play euchre, which was probably good, because it allowed me to maintain the veneer of being unaffiliated.
Later in high school I graduated to the “very slightly cool geeky guys.” I was President of the Computer Club for two years in the middle of my time at high school. Although this carried with it the same inevitable taint that being in “projector club’ would have carried, my Vice-President Simon and I managed to make the best of a bad thing by producing ever-more-outrageous announcements that we convinced our Vice-Principal Mr. Japp to play over the Public Address system every morning. Our tag line was “The Computer Club: Where the Future is Today.” I think we got cut off when our announcements, which often involved sound effects, music, and location recording, extended over the 5 minute mark.
On the first night of my one-year stay at Trent University, I went to a social event held in the riverside quadrangle. I was socially ill at ease, but tried to do my best. I guy from a neighbouring residence and I made small talk; he was going to the bar, and asked me if I wanted anything. I said “no, I don’t drink; I’m into Coke.” I never saw him again, and didn’t realize until much later that he probably thought me a n’er do well druggie. I generally remained completely aloof at Trent. I was housed in “staircase K/L” at Champlain College, on a floor the other residents of which were all third-year women. I was terrified of them, although they were very nice to me.
When I left university, I joined up with the a rag-tag group of anarchists, socialists and libertarians organized under the banner of “Projects for Change.” They were mostly older and wiser than me, but were a great and passionate group of people. I hung with and around them for almost 5 years. Under this banner I was a member of, a variety of splinter and side groups, including the Community Information Agency (CIA), Oxfam-Peterborough, the NDP (although only on the distant fringes; I was never a member), the “Fuck School” project (a long story), Powerless Books, the Peterborough Food Bank, and the Kawartha World Issues Centre. I headed up a campaign to bring full CBC Television service to Charlottetown, commited one act of civil disobedience, and was questioned once by the police. The common thread running through all of this activity was a general feeling about the need for “social change” of some description; the nature and degree of change required varied greatly depending on the players. In any case, there was a very clear distinction, socially, between us and the “regular straight people.”
I had a very brief time as a member of the “cool musicians” group in Peterborough, although mostly in my own mind, and really only then for about a week.
Moving to the Island, and having a wonky ethnic last name, automatically gained me free membership in the “vaguely suspected of being a terrorist” group, although never as severely as Island detractors made it out to be. After about five years of being here, I sensed a subtle “well, maybe he’s not a terrorist” change, although after we painted our house in Kingston bright yellow, Catherine did stop getting invited to the WI Christmas party, and there was a rumour that we might be “Catholic or French, or both.”
But seriously: when we were considering moving to the Island, we were warned, mostly by people who had never been here before, that this was a closed, insular place, where we would have no friends and always be on the outside. This has proved both completely true and completely false.
The last ten years here we have benefitted greatly from the kindness of our friends and neighbours in ways we never could have imagined when living in Ontario. Islanders have employed us, invited us to dinner, plowed out our driveway, lent us their table saws, cared for our son.
However it’s only this year that I came to realize that although we are accepted here, and can dwell here happily until our end, we will never be of here. I used to think, when people told me this, they were talking about some sort of secret conspiracy, a basic distrust, or a mystical quality; I’ve come to realize that mostly what this is about is time. The born-and-bred Islanders that I know and observe simply benefit from having know each other not only since Kindergarten, but also, family-to-family, for several generations. It’s simply not possible, being late to the party, to build the kind of relationships that are this deep; I’ll just never know all the stories, and the stories are what’s important. In a sense, it’s the same phenomenon I experienced in grade two as the “new kid,” and it’s got the same upsides and downsides associated with it.
Aside from all that, I guess the strongest affiliation I have here is with a rag-tag group that would probably best be called “mildly rebellious non-joiner designers.” By our very nature, we have no formal affiliation, don’t hold meetings (well, sometimes we hold meetings), and resist any rituals.
I also have associate membership in the “independent entrepreneurs” group, although I’m less entrepreneurial than the charter members, only employ one other person (and he’s my brother), and don’t drink coffee. It’s amazing the degree to which this group holds common beliefs with the hippies and anarchists from back in the day.
So the common thread, reading backwards as I write, is an affiliation with the unaffiliated, an appreciation for the rebels, and a position just on the cusp of the inside/outisde fence.
Not a bad place to be.