DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Read, speak, connect: Your tribes are out there

THIS KID JUNIOR is one of the great heroes of literature.

Near the close of Sherman Alexie’s novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” Junior lists some of the tribes he belongs to.

An obvious one is the Spokane Indian Tribe, he writes, but he’s also a member of the tribe of teenage boys, bookworms, Pacific Northwesterners, tortilla-chips-and-salsa lovers.

He belongs to the tribe of poverty. And the tribe of beloved sons.

Nancy Pearl, world-famous Seattle librarian, reminded me of this “True Diary” passage the other night when she gave a free talk in Port Townsend.

Pearl traveled to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Alexie’s book was selected as a community read — across the nation.

In a public discussion of it, Pearl learned that even in this divided place, people from opposing groups could come together via Junior’s story.

A few days after Pearl’s talk, I attended an event at the Madrona MindBody Institute called “SpeakUP about Community,” billed as an afternoon of communication games.

Jessica Tartaro, Ph.D., a newcomer to Port Townsend like myself, was our coach.

She marveled at the turnout — eight men and 12 women — and invited us to “lean into your edge.” In other words, don’t hang back in your comfort zone.

With professionalism and warmth, Tartaro guided us through exercises in which we talked about what community means, how we felt meeting a bunch of strangers like this, and why we showed up.

We had a good time chatting, but I wondered where all this was going.

After the break, I found out. Tartaro checked in to see how everyone was doing, and then began another exercise.

Walk with me, Tartaro began, if you’re good at making things seem smooth and effortless on the outside, while on the inside you feel unsure and wobbly. As she spoke, she stepped into the circle of people and walked around inside it.

Several stepped in to walk with her right away. And yes, they were people who looked perfectly put-together.

Next it was our turn to say, “Walk with me if you [insert personal experience here]” and see if anyone stepped forward.

“Walk with me if you love the Rose Theatre,” one man said. After several other lighthearted turns — “Walk with me if you like to howl at the moon” — came deeper stuff.

“Walk with me if you’ve lost a parent.” “Walk with me if you’ve ever been homeless.” “Walk with me if you moved here in the past six months.” “Walk with me if you wonder whether you’ll ever find home.”

People moved in and out of the circle, and at no time was there one person alone on his or her walk.

Regardless of our obvious differences — age, ethnicity, physicality — we had unexpected stuff in common. In that room, we enjoyed a moment of solidarity.

It took a while to arrive at the point where we were willing to reveal such things about ourselves.

But with Tartaro accompanying us through the afternoon, we could relax. I saw how real connection is possible, even in a roomful of people who met a couple of hours ago.

Tartaro plans to offer weekly SpeakUPs starting in March in Port Townsend; for information, find her on Facebook or email [email protected]

But what about the rest of us in Port Angeles, Sequim and the West End? How can we get together, in a lighthearted way, to listen, learn and talk more about the things we share?

I don’t know the definitive answer. For me, shyness gets in the way.

On the other hand, I do know we each belong to a bunch of tribes. We just need to find our walking companions.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Feb. 21.

Reach her at [email protected]

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