Tag Archive for: community

I decided to take advantage of the Indian Summer we are having in the Seattle area today and finally pull some of the weeds in the yard.  As I squatted in the dirt, my beloved hori hori (Japanese weeding miracle pictured above) in one hand and an enormous pile of dandelions and chickweed piling up next to me, the neighbor’s toddler began to scream.  Great, gulping wails of sadness punctured every few sobs by a blood curdling shriek.  My sequence of thoughts went a little like this:

  • Thank God that’s not my kid.
  • Poor dear. He sounds so sad.
  • I wonder what’s going on in his head right now to make those screams necessary.
  • Thank God my kids are too old for naps.  I’ll bet she’s just put him down in his crib and left so he’ll sleep and he’s crying it out.
  • I wonder if she sits in the kitchen and cries like I used to.
  • And just like that, I was transported back to those incredibly lonely days of parenting a toddler. The days where I never really felt like I knew what I was doing and yet I had convinced myself that I had to present a confident picture to the world and my child.  The days where I woke up determined to follow the parenting books and let her cry herself to sleep so she would learn to soothe herself and caved somewhere around minute two, going in to lay down with her and stroke her back and kick myself for giving her mixed messages.  
    I hoped that my neighbor didn’t feel angry or scared or frustrated. I hoped that she felt like she had a good plan and didn’t feel a searing pain in her core each time her baby cried so dramatically.  I hoped she didn’t feel like this was more than she could handle. 
    I remember visiting my grandfather the week after my high school graduation.  He had been caring for my grandmother in their home as she struggled with Alzheimer’s Disease and was coming to the point where he would have to make a decision about whether or not to move her to a nursing home.  I was there to party since he lived in Southern California near all my cousins and he had an extra bedroom.  Thanks to my grandmother’s dementia, he also had an extra car I could use.  
    I was shocked at my grandmother’s decline.  She was confused almost all the time and prone to wandering off for hours on end.  For someone who could barely remember her name, much less her address, this was alarming to say the least.  My grandfather had been reduced to a prison warden in his own home, watching his wife of 50 years waste away physically and mentally and having to scratch all of the grand retirement plans they had made together off the list of possibilities.  He was sad and a little bitter.  One night as we sat chatting after dinner (grandma was asleep on the couch in the living room clutching a bottle of Butterscotch schnapps), he talked about his frustrations.  I didn’t know what to say. I had no life experience to draw from and I was at a complete loss.  I opened my mouth to say I don’t know what and he cut me off.
    “Don’t you dare say what your mother did. That God never gives us more than we can handle. That’s a load of bullshit! This is more than I can handle and I don’t believe that God stuff.  I only went to church  because it made your grandmother happy!”
    I was stunned.  I hadn’t been anywhere near about to say what he anticipated, but I suspect that what I was going to say would have been as cliche and useless as what he thought I would say.  I simply put my hand on his freckled arm and squeezed, my eyes full of tears.  
    And so, knees in the dirt, I contemplated that platitude – that we are never given more than we can handle – and found it lacking.  I can count many times in my own life where I felt overloaded with grief or responsibility or pure ignorance in the face of obstacles.  Everyone I know has felt that way multiple times.  
    I decided that, instead, we are often faced with more than we can handle and maybe this is by design.  I know that when I find myself in that position what I have learned is to ask for help.  For most of my life I thought that asking for help was the definition of weakness and was determined to figure things out on my own.  The messages I got from my parents and the media and society as a whole informed me that independence is an important trait. That people who do things on their own are revered and praised.  I was in my 30s before I realized that the only thing independence got me was isolation and a deeper hole.  I felt lonely and less capable than ever when I tried to handle everything by myself and, while I may have eventually found my way out of that hole I was in, I didn’t do it in the most efficient way – often reinventing the wheel as part of my process – and I was bloody exhausted by the time I got out.  
    Human beings are social creatures.  We draw strength and information from each other.  Even those individuals who may be examples of pioneering spirit and a can-do attitude didn’t truly do anything on their own. They built on the successes of others who came before them. Or they benefited from the support and love of their family and friends.  Maybe being routinely faced with more than we can handle is the Universe’s way of ensuring that we continue to find ways to work together, to ask for assistance.  
    And when assistance isn’t possible, perhaps this overwhelming feeling serves another purpose – innovation.  For people who are struggling with lack of finances or mental illness or disabilities for which there is too much bureaucracy or too little empathy to find help, maybe the mounting troubles prompt action.  No one person is going to effect policy change, but if your difficulties spur you to action, to build community around your cause in an effort to make a difference, to rally voices loud enough to be heard by those in power, I’m not going to say it was “worth it,” because, honestly, we all wish we could simply sail through our days with fewer challenges, but maybe it serves a purpose.  
    Some of my closest friendships have been forged through the process of asking for help or being asked for help.  The people I most trust are those who recognized when I was in trouble and offered a hand without judging or mocking me.  And so, in that light, maybe I can appreciate (just the slightest bit) being given more than I can handle on occasion, if only to remind me that I should reach out and ask for help.  If only to help me recognize how much farther I can go when I am supported by others, buoyed by their wisdom and love.  

    Bubba told me when I headed off for a five day trip to New York City to attend the BlogHer Publishing Network’s Annual Convention that day three would be rough.  Even with all of his business travel, he acknowledged that, “Day 3 is the hardest. That’s the day homesickness kicks in. I feel like I ought to be headed home and if I’m not, it sucks.”

    I guess I’m an overachiever, because by the evening of Day 2 I was a mess.  Day 3 dawned with a near-panic-attack that I talked myself out of until I hit breakfast.  I filled my plate with the meager offerings for those of us who can’t eat gluten (scrambled eggs and fruit) and scanned the massive ballroom for an open chair.  I am one of the few women who came on my own, not planning to meet other bloggers I know or friends I have known for years.  Spying a spot near the middle of the room, I moved in and set down my plate and stowed my computer bag and purse beneath my seat.  I looked up to see if anyone had noticed my arrival and was met by the sight of eight other women whose faces were glowing.  Literally glowing. Lit by iPads, smart phones and laptops. It’s a theme I’ve noticed throughout this entire event.  Nobody can focus on just one thing. Even if you get lucky enough to meet someone new face-to-face, they are clutching a phone that will instantly alert them if a friend or follower Tweets or texts them.

    In a crowd of 4,500 women, I have never felt so alone. I left the room without meeting a soul and went for a long walk in the sticky humidity of the city.  I had to acknowledge that I feel out of place here. A fish out of water. A square peg in a sea of round holes.

    I came here not to learn how to use HTML more effectively (although I probably could use some help there).  I didn’t come to learn how to use Twitter to promote my blog or make more money from it. I came to make connections with other writers.  To find out how to build community.  What I’ve learned so far is that this is not how I want to do it.

    Thankfully, there is a member of my existing community that happened to be in the city this week.  I walked over twenty blocks to find her.  In the mid-day heat (93 degrees), without walking shoes on, I pounded the hot pavement to find a girlfriend from home – a friendly face.  She is in town for a completely different reason, but when she opened the door and gave me a hug I burst into tears.  She listened as I poured out my frustrations and convinced me to accompany her to Bloomingdale’s for frozen yogurt (yes, Bloomingdale’s apparently does have EVERYTHING).  By the time we had walked the four blocks and ordered our towering sundaes I was feeling centered.  She didn’t pull her phone out once and Tweet something. She didn’t check her email or her Facebook status. She hugged me and met my tearful eyes with her own and cracked jokes and acted horrified at all the right moments.

    After a few hours, I headed back to the conference to give it another shot.  And the twenty blocks gave me time to think.  So many of the women who came to this conference came to party. They came in blocks and cliques (mommy bloggers, craft bloggers, food bloggers) and fully embrace technologies that enable them to connect with others digitally.  While their blogs may impart personal information, their Facebook and Twitter accounts are peopled with followers who get superficial bursts of information and are addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with knowing there is a crowd listening to every digital utterance.

    I set out to find my people somewhere in this mass of conference-goers.  I realized that I am first a writer and then a blogger.  I needed to discover the writers in the group.  And with that simple shift in intention (to seek instead of flee), a little magic happened.  I discovered the ‘Writing Lab,’ where other writers came to talk about how to do interviews and copyedit and tweak their posts to sell as essays.  I discovered others who are serious about making a difference in the world and are just as afraid of Twitter as I am.  I had passionate conversations about women’s rights and healthcare and clean air and I listened to bloggers who work for philanthropic organizations talk about how to turn ambition in to action.

    I won’t say that I still don’t feel overwhelmed by the entire scene. (I get sensory overload at Costco, though, so that isn’t a surprise.) I won’t say that I’ve come around to embracing Twitter and Pinterest and am committed to using them in my own life.  I won’t even be attending the closing night’s party (but my excuse is that I have to fly out early tomorrow to get home).  But I am glad that I stuck it out and managed to connect with other writers and activists who gave me a different perspective than the one I first got.  And I’m certain that my yogurt-loving friend saved me from going stark raving mad simply by reminding me how good it feels to connect on a personal level with someone who cares about the same things I do.