“Tribe” by Sebastian Junger, digital bookclub (blog)

tribe sebastian junger

During the next couple of weeks Me and My Friends will embark on a bookclub discussion of the latest release from Sebastian Junger, titled “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.” Part of the conversation will be facilitated through this website, while more discussion may occur on Facebook.

I have already cracked the book open and discovered that it is a short, quick read. Therefore, I am proposing the following reading/discussion schedule:

July 2 – July 9
Pages 1-70

*** If you live in Portland, meet to discuss in person at the Horse Brass Pub on Saturday, July 9 at 3 p.m.

July 9 – July 16
Pages 71 – 138

*** If you live in Portland, meet to discuss in person at the Horse Brass Pub on Saturday, July 16 at 3 p.m.

I’ll come up with some prompts during each of these one-week periods, but invite others to do so as well. Post thoughts and comments at any time! I am really curious to learn what everyone’s collective experience is with the notion of homecoming and belonging. In the meantime, I’ll share a little bit about why I was interested to start this bookclub. (Note, I am writing this from my hometown.)

* * * * *

I met Sebastian in 2011 or so. I had manifested a connection with a Portland literary organization called Literary Arts in an effort to introduce Junger to my friend and favorite author, Bill Carter. I thought the two of them might have a lot of rapport over their experience in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. The director of Literary Arts kindly enabled a meeting between the two, and I tagged along out of curiosity.

When I remember events, I don’t remember much in the details, sadly. More typically, I remember emotions I felt at the time – and I felt awestruck to be sitting with two heroic, noble literary idols. They quickly delved into their mutual experience in Bosnia during the war, and I ate it up. I nervously clutched my Heineken and was overwhelmed by the incredible stories, anecdotes and life experience I was privy to. After I finished my beer, I recused myself, feigning another commitment – as if something could even take precedence over such an experience. But the reality was that I felt any contribution I may have to the conversation would only serve to bring the awesome level down about 10 notches.

When I learned “Tribe” would be published, I read the earliest reviews and thought it might have special relevance to my life and experience. I grew up in a small Victorian Seaport in Washington State, lived in the same house for the first 18-years of my life, and had little experience with ideas, cultures or communities from outside of our little Peninsula. Conversely, as an adult, I haven’t ever recreated the feeling of community I experienced in Port Townsend, a place where most faces were those of people I’d known (or known of) my entire life.

Heading off to college was a shock to my system. Suddenly I was cast into a different community to make new friends and relationships and to carve out my own way. Needless to say, it took me awhile to rise to the challenge. I spent most of my waking hours during my freshman and sophomore years glued to my computer sending emails and maintaining relationships with people back home. I spent the better part of four years there, but have no relationship to that town and haven’t been back since.

I moved to Portland in 2005 and ran into much the same dilemma. I combated my isolation by joining a band, and we were able to get a little network going, but after over ten years I haven’t successfully replicated the wholesome feeling of community I experienced growing up. I live in a transient neighborhood and don’t know more than a handful of loose connections. The nearby connections I do have are exclusively waitstaff at the pubs I frequent and one ex-girlfriend that has no interest in talking to me anyways. I have many friends and acquaintances throughout the city, many more than I ever had growing up, but they are spread out over an area that is many times greater than my hometown.

And being in my mid-30’s – most of my friends are married, have children, have other networks and responsibilities pulling them in different directions.

My reaction to the urban environment has been to make myself incredibly busy so I don’t have the time to recognize or remember that something feels a bit out of balance in my world. I’d argue that I went back to grad school to both recreate community (which I have, to a degree – no pun intended) and to use the time commitment to block off the vacuum I feel inside from a lack of community and personal relationships I once enjoyed. Whether or not what I feel can all be attributed to this explanation is to be determined.

But that is where I am starting from. Junger addresses these things in the first 70 pages, but I’ll get off my soapbox for awhile.

To join our discussion group on Facebook, click here.