Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise in 2010? (author: Cali Harris)
This prompt stirred in me quite a rueful feeling. Community, itself, is quite a beautiful idea; groups of people, bound together by common goals or ideas, hobbies or interests, jobs or social backgrounds. It evokes a feeling of fellowship and belonging; a smaller network of support in an otherwise unforgiving whole. It is commeraderie and help—both joys in terms of my rather Marxist ideals.
As I pieced together my personal definition of community, it became more and more clear to me that though I’d previously contributed to any number of groups that fit this bill, I’d only very few times felt as if I actually BELONGED to any of them. From the time I was a little girl, I’d always felt my “otherness”; a nagging idea that no matter how hard I tried, I would always be JUST THAT MUCH different than everyone else participating. Different than social anxiety or paranoia and their ilk, this feeling was more just a knowing that while everyone may be smiling to my face, behind those smiles, they just found me ODD; too odd to fit in, too odd to accept completely, to odd to continue inviting without the buffer of the person who’d originally introduced me.
Over the years I would develop ways to cope with this, and I’ve found that I’ve come full circle. As a child in elementary and grade school, I’d just let the odd out, not quite understanding that the jeers I was receiving were the result of my own actions and words. I was only just learning that in order to be a part of my school community, I’d have to hide the different way that I looked at and related to the world. In high school, I’d learned that lesson, and went the road of assimilation, hiding those things TOO well, denying MYSELF in favor of the most popular friends and parties. In college, I changed again and was struck with a hellish cognitive dissonance, trying desperately to find a middle ground between the two.
It’s only recently, in adulthood, that I’ve reverted back to letting my crazy out of the closet. Being someone else for so many years took its toll on me, and all the old coping mechanisms began to fall apart. As a result, I said “To hell with it” and decided that a true self is the best self. Do not mistake me; this choice did not lead me down a road of blissful social ease. The only difference now is that instead of children, they are adults who look at me askance, trying to no avail to understand my processes and the jerky way I fail to blend into my surroundings. “She’s nice enough, and fun” they say, “but sometimes, I just don’t know…she’s just, strange.”
Though used to the sidelong glances and the constant feeling that I’m being judged for my peculiarity, I’ve never become completely accustomed to the feeling of loneliness that it breeds. I stick up for myself, and I speak my mind in my own queer way. I embrace my oddity and prefer to define my personality as distinctive, but there is still the longing that overwhelms me sometimes to fit my square peg in everyone else’s round hole. This conflict is part and parcel of living in my skin.
I’ve encountered many communities in 2010 (not the least of which is Reverb10). All of them have lent something fulfilling and given me scores of knowledge and new understanding. From the knitters at my local craft store who helped me with my first “not a scarf” project to a couple on whose porch I sat a couple times this summer enjoying glasses of wine and countless cigarettes, I’ve injected myself into different scenes hoping for a fit; for a place to be entirely myself without needing someone to ‘explain’ that “That’s just how she is.” The fact remains, however, that I have yet to encounter a community in which I belong completely–sans judgemental smirks and curious looks, or even just the niggling feeling that “there is something strange about that girl….”
So I envy you out there belonging to your gay community, your writers’ community, your young, city-living community and your new parents’ community. I envy the ease at which you all participate together and support each other and present a united front towards those not-in-the-know. It looks warm on the inside and cozy, and maybe someday, I’ll feel comfortable past the front vestibule. For now though, I’m my own…a community of one.