Monday, 1 July 2013

Theme of the Month: Belonging

There's a coffee shop on the Northside that I used to frequent when I lived up there. I could walk down from my house, browse in the bookshop next door and sit drinking my peppermint tea in its summer-cool and winter-cosy interior.  I never really belonged there as I gave up coffee years ago and even then my tastes ran no farther than Maxwell House Mild Blend. Still it felt nice there and I'd often meet some-one I knew.

I went back there today, as part of my reintegration into society project. This month's theme is Love and Belonging and I wanted to go somewhere where there were people. The Cheers theme tune is running through my head.

I sat down, pulled out Gretchen Rubin's "Happier at Home" and proceeded to read. The place was as quiet as you'd expect for a hot Monday afternoon. And then a girl with blue hair came in. The temperature dropped a few degrees as she chatted with the staff. Being on terms with the wait staff and bar staff of the city is as much a measure of cool as clothes or job or even taste in music. They'd a chat and then another girl came in, they talked and then both the girls left before I did. It was getting busy, although most of the queue were ordering take-away iced lattes: the new 99 and a can of Tanora.

I thought then about groups and belonging and how easy it is, when young, to belong without being in a group. How just the casual being around town, maybe working in a job that brought you into contact with the public, like in a pub or a bookshop, sharing a house with people who knew people, the college friends, the friends of friends, their boyfriends, their girlfriends, once created a web of acquaintance. A web that can seem strong when it means knowing some-one on the door, when it's being at the gig of the summer or never having to think of something to do on a Saturday night. Or a Friday night. And if it's Wednesday it must be Freakscene. Back to some-one's gaff, walking home at dawn to bed. There's the nudge, shh of taking illicit substances, thereby joining one of the few clubs on Earth that's got more members than facebook.

For some that young web of connection grows deeper and stronger. They fall in love, they form real relationships and real friendships.  Some threads break but there are new webs then, of career, of sport, of the world's biggest club of all; parenthood.

There is no web for singletons in their late thirties who go out every weekend and hang out in each other's houses. Or if there is I'm not sure I want to join. Instead I've focused on joining Groups. I joined a running group and found something that can seem almost like a religion. I volunteer. I've thought about joining a book club. Groups are what is left when the habit of socialising falls away. Those who had sense were joining groups even before the network of connection fell apart. Like in college, they joined Dramat or played trad in a pub once a week. They say you're never alone if you have music.

So where do I feel I belonged? In school (in the school I went to for a year), to a small degree in the college bar but in college on the whole I didn't belong, I went to a different University then and I felt I belonged when I joined the arts magazine. I worked in a Dublin theatre and felt I belonged there. And I joined Campus Radio and really, really feel I belonged there. The only trouble was I simultaneously belonged in a certain pub down town, and in a couple of night-clubs, and in houses where parties happened three nights a week. I was just wallpaper there though, and it was in the station that I had a role and was useful. Usefulness is central, I believe, to belonging.

So that's this month's theme; to get out there, to join in, to belong.

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