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Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Being Cliquish

A year or so ago, we had a kerfuffle early in the Dickens season where one of the new recruits for Fezziwigs accused us Fezzis of being "cliquish and mean". I know we’re not mean to folks intentionally (though you never can tell how someone will take something you say), so that leaves the cliquish part to ponder. Since then I've been randomly meditating on what it means to be cliquish. It's not the first time that Fezzis has been described that way, but what does cliquish really mean? In high school, I always knew I wasn't part of the cliques the popular kids were in. So now to be on the inside of the clique (or of something that's perceived that way), what is it exactly?

Fezziwigs is a bit like going off to war. You become closer to folks than you ever would under normal circumstances because each day is it's own battle against having enough people to spread the work, avoiding disasters, picking up and carrying on when one soldier falls, and having folks completely fall apart or spectacularly rise above and beyond the call of duty. You see people at their best and at their worst over the course of the run. At the end of it, you have some amazing shared experiences to remember and stories to tell.

So looking at what defines a clique, wikipedia says:
A clique is an exclusive group of people who share common interests, views, purposes, or patterns of behavior. A clique is a subset of individuals from a larger group, who are more closely identified with one another than the remaining members of the group, and who exchange something among themselves, such as friendship, affection, or information. A clique has an informal structure, and it is composed of more than two people. All the members of the group have some type of relationship with one another, and thus the group is tightly knit together as a type of social network.

So yeah, that's us, more or less. We are cliquish. But it carries such a venomous connotation that isn't remotely defined there. Ultimately, we Fezzis have a weird subset of common interests: historical costume, vintage dance, and a spirit of volunteerism. But we aren't exclusive. Anyone who shares those interests is more than encouraged (begged, cajoled, and conned is more like it) into joining us in our special madness.

And I freely admit that we do play favorites. Those that seem to be always there, always ready to leap in and do whatever needs doing, and always ready to support others rather than always being in need of support, and always ready to do what we do with a loud, clear voice do get more respect and attention than others. It is favoritism, but it's pretty benign and merit-based favoritism in my opinion. Oddly, a lot of what we do at Fezzis requires having enough of a voice to adequately announce dances, teach dances, do Stagecoach, read telegrams, or (heavens forfend) step in for Mr. Fezziwig, Belle, or Ebenezer (or someone else in tableau). But even some of those folks without a big voice get noticed and have the full love of the cast for the thousand other ways they contribute to Fezziwigs.

More recently, my EE girls have been described as cliquish. My initial reaction is once again to react against the negative connotations of the word, but in reality, it’s an even more apt description than of Fezziwigs. We are exclusive. Estrogen Evening started because Elizabeth wanted to see more of us outside of Dickens, more than just in the winter season. So she invited five girlfriends to join her for dinner once a month. We added a book swap to dinner and even made up some rules like “Thou shalt bring a book to trade or return or, if it's really bad, burn” and “Hostess has the right to change the date if necessary.” And so, for the past four years or so, we’ve been getting together, noshing, trading books, and catching up on each others lives on a monthly basis. It is exclusive because we find that a group of six is just right for each of us to get a turn to tell a tale, and it’s also about the limit for easy seating at a restaurant or at each other’s houses.

So yes, we are in fact, the very definition of a clique. And yet, we didn’t intend it to be so and we don’t regret it and will not change it. There have been ups and downs over the years, but I’ve got to say, I absolutely depended on these ladies last year. And I also knew that no matter what happened, no matter how bad it got, I could turn to any one of them and say, “Um, things are bad. Help?” And they would be at my side in a heartbeat. When fathers died, we sent flowers. When moving happened, we helped. When escape was required, an escape route was graciously laid out. We work hard to take care of each other, and now, having done it for a few years, we trust each other deeply.

And that’s really the root of the matter. We’ve been friends for so long and we have things in common at a level that gives us a lot of short hand and a lot of inside jokes. Heck, Elizabeth and I have been friends for 14 years and I was her bridesmaid 10 years ago. We have lived through it all together. And though the term isn’t as long with the other ladies, it’s as valued. It must look terribly inaccessible from the outside, but we worked hard, laughed hard, and survived much to get to this point with one another.

So, after my high school years where cliques were bad things that other people did and that I was excluded from, I’m redefining this in my head. My cliques are some of the most valuable, healthiest things in my life. Yes, at least one is exclusive, but so many other elements of my life are so completely inclusive that I need to draw a boundary here because I couldn’t provide the level of support I do for more than five women.

Finally, I just have to say, if you want what we have, come join Fezziwigs. All are welcome (well, almost). If you want a monthly dinner with your girlfriends, invite them out and make it happen. There isn’t anything special about how we got here other than starting it and continuing to do it for a long time.


  • It's an interesting topic that I have felt on both sides.

    The negative connotation comes from when you are feeling outside of a group that you would like to be more close to. Where you feel like other people are making plans and doing things that you aren't involved in or invited to. There's some insecurity there.
    Your EE night seems like very good friends. I wouldn't call that a clique in the bad sense,

    By Blogger Chrisfs, at 10:37 AM  

  • As someone who's spent more of his life outside of the cliques than inside, I understand the sentiment all too well. It's very difficult and time consuming to break into an established clique. Forming your own has other challenges, including the fact that everyone else is already in a clique.

    It took me about a year and a half to become part of the dancing community. It mostly boils down to your fault for dragging me into fezziwigs after dancing with me at the plough one Monday night. That first season of faire was rough and I felt really disconnected, but I slowly felt more accepted and integrated into the dance community. That was, in fact, the first time I'd felt accepted and integrated anywhere.

    That feeling of acceptance and integration is something I still haven't managed anywhere else. I've done NFP for as many years as I have fezziwigs, but I still don't really feel comfortable inside that group, even though I've been around as long as anyone.

    I stopped doing SCA stuff because after 2 or 3 years, I still hadn't really become part of any group or connected with anyone. When you're having fun with your friends, you don't always notice the one out in the cold, watching your warm Christmas party, wishing to become a part of it.

    This is getting a bit long, and wil have to be continued in my lj, but it has sparked a gush of writing in me.

    By Blogger brookswift, at 11:14 AM  

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