Tag Archives: community

Moving Away From The Collective

I’ve been re-watching Star Trek Voyager lately, so this has a deeper meaning for me right now.

When I started this blog I felt like I was moving into a place where I was going to be a more integral part of several groups: a neighborhood, a workplace, a church.

I felt like I wanted an online place to gather my thoughts, gather my friends, gather individual energies into a common space. A “tribe.”

But lately I’ve been wanting to journal privately again. Even though I feel really over it.

What would it mean to let go of this dream I’ve had to belong to a tight-knit group? What would it mean to just take things as they come, be alone if necessary, engage as appropriate, work the crowd or connect with a single soul as the opportunity presents itself?

Sometimes I feel young and old, wise and clueless, in the same instant.

Good Deed Day

It never ceases to amaze me how everything happens at once.

Yesterday unfolded as a good deed day. I had four different neighbors come to me and ask for my help.

I enjoyed the day immensely. I love knowing that I’m part of a community where people can count on each other for different things big or small that might come up in their lives.

Each small favor I did yesterday was pretty insignificant in the scheme of things, but in the big picture, I think helping out neighbors helps the whole neighborhood, because when you alleviate the sense of isolation that people tend to feel, you draw them out into the community and get them to be a part of it.

If I can do a little thing here or there, it not only shows the person (and most importantly their children) that they can count on others, but it also invokes a sense of obligation to pay it back, not to the specific person who did the favor, but just to whoever might need help. They can’t say, “Well screw everyone, I’m not doing anything cuz I have to handle my own business all by myself.” I have definitely felt this kind of angry isolation before, and it is fairly toxic to everyone.

So when good deed day rolls around for you, remember what an important thing you are doing to build community, and enjoy the opportunity to be part of it all!

Lahu New Year

I meant to get pictures, but as it turned out, I wouldn’t have had enough hands free to push the button.

I took my three youngest kids, ages 9,4 and 2. Not to complain, but, as usual, the little ones pretty much ruined it and resulted in us leaving early. Actually, the 2 year old was pretty well behaved for the first hour and a half, but when she joined the 4 year old in his ungodly pithering, I knew I was done.

The 9 year old had a great time since some of the neighbor kids were there. We have quite a few Lahu families in our neighborhood, and one of them had invited us to a celebration with dancing, singing and food. It was extra special to see so many of our neighbors there as we are still fairly new here (3 years in this town, 9 months in this neighborhood) so to be a part of it, even as spectators, felt great.

Although the 9 year old did more than watch. Her friends got her dressed in a traditional outfit and had her out there dancing with everyone.

I highly recommend that everyone expand beyond their usual sources of entertainment and take advantage of the wonderful cultural events going on around you, especially if you have kids. Sure, they will prevent you from enjoying the event as much as you could, like when you’re trying to balance two plates of food and a toddler and you only choose foods you know THEY would like and pass up all the interesting stuff because you’re hoping if you can just get some food into them they’ll stop their infernal whining and you can stay a little longer.

But at least you all will have opened eyes and hearts to something besides the same old same old.

It’s Not About the Candy

Our first Halloween in our new neighborhood.

We didn’t get too many trick-or-treaters, apparently because the thing to do around here is to drive to another neighborhood and get “tons and tons” of candy.

But here’s the thing: I can buy tons and tons of candy at the store, and I can get EXACTLY the kind my kids and I love.

Trick-or-treating is not about the candy. There will be candy at home, one way or another.

It’s about dressing up, parading around your neighborhood, getting the chance to knock on everyone’s door and have them shriek/coo at you in your costume.

It’s about hanging out with your family, enjoying the spoils of your jaunt around the neighborhood and waiting to answer the doorbell.

It’s an excuse to get together, let loose, be silly, appreciate the company of friends new and old.

While there certainly must be candy involved (and there must be chocolate, because nothing else actually counts as a “treat”), there does not have to be “tons and tons” obtained by exhausting the children on epic treks through strange areas of town.

I’d love to get back to the idea that, it’s better to have a little less candy and a little more community by hanging out in one’s own neck of the woods.

Tattoos and Quitting the Game

I am having a recurrent thought: “Just tattoo your face and get it over with.”

I don’t have any plans to carry it out, and it’s not been something I’ve ever truly wanted, although there are a few tattoos I’d like to get in other places.

Hypothetically, if I were to do such a thing, it would consist of tribal spirals along the edge(s) of my face. Nothing seriously freaky, but still, an out-of-the-ordinary body decoration, no matter how subdued the art.

I think this thought has been occurring repeatedly because it represents a permanent signing off of the Game. Not the Game of Life, a gauntlet of physical and mental tests from birth through growth, acquiring skills, illness, endurance, etc., ultimately ending in death, which I find to be a fulfilling challenge. A facial tattoo would have almost no effect on this Game.

I am also not speaking of the Game of Family, Friends and Community, which involves the trials and joys resulting from establishing and maintaining intimate connections, which give purpose and depth to existence. I think a tattoo on the face would present some small but certainly surmountable issues in these Games, if played with truly loving, wise individuals. It would definitely weed out the shallow and the severely judgmental, and how could that be bad?

I’m talking about the Game of Society, the artificially dangerous labyrinth of red tape, licenses, diplomas, renown, accolades, credit scores, retirement packages and insurance policies. I’m fairly certain that a tattoo on the face would be quite near a guarantee that a person would lose this Game. I think an intentional walk off that cliff would be a lot of the point.

I currently have a tattoo on my wrist which I can hide with very long sleeves. And I do, for job interviews and the like. Hide who I am.

When it’s visible, there are times when people will be talking to me casually, say in the grocery store, and they will have the normal, blank, polite smile, then they glance over and see my tattoo and their face kind of lights up with a fresh attention. They look back up at my face and they aren’t sure anymore. They were certain of something a second ago, and then everything shifted. I’m not sure what it would be like to just start from that point.

The message with regards to “reputation” would be: I quit. I refuse to submit to random regulations in order to scramble for some of the crumbs you allow to fall from your ivory tower. I hate the Game and I’m not playing, so don’t even try to make me. There are obviously other things, outside of your cruel and soulless box, that mean much more to me.

The message about identity would be: You don’t know who I am or what I’m capable of. If I have this much disregard for the most basic rules of how to participate in polite society then all bets are off. Get to know me or walk away. Pay attention to what I say and what I do or leave now and forever wonder. I’m not an anonymous pawn. I’m not a timid cog.

Granted, there is a lot of anger in those messages. There is a lot of responsibility in moving beyond that point of no return. Right now the idea is serving as simply a way to vent some of my frustration, and a mental exercise in examining possibilities. One thing for sure, it would definitely be a gamechanger.

Equality in Cuteness

This perspective is difficult to admit, even to myself. But maybe I’m just getting old and that’s the way my point of view naturally shifts. Maybe I’ve studied and contemplated the Buddhist approach to reality long enough that my world view must inevitably shift to see things in a whole new light. Maybe my husband’s tendency toward the curmudgeonly has rubbed off.

The latest leap came yesterday as I was surfing blogs. I ran across page after page of mommies cooing about their kids in the sweetest way. These parents are so excited about their new little bundle and they want to chronicle every tiny moment, share every second with the entire world. Up until yesterday it warmed my heart to see other people appreciating the magic that is parenthood.

But yesterday, as I scrolled past the umpteenth photo of edible baby toes, the epiphany came: All Baby Toes Are Equally Cute.

This is an innocuous enough admission, until we begin to examine where this observation will lead: Your Child’s Adorable Toes are Not a New Revelation.

Can a person get bored with baby toes? Has my heart grizzled to the point where I am no longer wooed by such an amazing manifestation of life’s gloriousness?

I know that for the rest of my life, whenever baby toes are in my immediate vicinity, I will always take advantage of the opportunity to appreciate them, whether they are attached to my own child’s foot or the foot of a stranger’s baby.

But is this what I am wasting so much time in front of a monitor for, to witness the minutiae of another parent’s trip? Is this why we enter the online universe, to obsessively chronicle each step of the journey? Are we not trying to get to a different place, a “What Does It All Mean” Big Picture?

I know — harsh, dude. Not trying to be a buzz kill. Like I say, maybe it’s age. I remember wanting to freeze every second in an immortal record, to share the awe-inspiring experience of a new being. I remember being so deeply inside the connection with a newborn that the whole rest of the world became fuzzy and pointless.

And as a new parent, that’s exactly where you’re supposed to be.

But after having many, many of those experiences, and observing that others register a similar experience, I feel done with the newbie exclamations of intensely personal awestruck amazement.

Maybe I am just ready to take this fact of, yes, we as parents are incredibly lucky to be part of such a wonderful thing, and see what’s up around the bend. To witness the larger implications of the extreme adorableness of baby toes such as these:

I guess where I’m going with this new perspective is to remind these parents, enamored with the bits of flesh and bone that grip the plush carpet in their nice home (because aren’t most of us bloggers the privileged people who can afford to have a digital camera, computer, internet connection, and the time and energy to use them?) that they need to do more than swoon and take pictures.

When they encounter a rude teenage boy, they need to remember that his toes were once as cute as their own little tyke’s. When they are stuck in line with a cashier who is having such a hard day she can’t keep it together enough to be friendly or helpful, they must keep in mind that her child’s toes are just as edible as their own child’s. When they must deal with an old person driving too slowly down the road, they must appreciate that this person’s DNA is likely the blueprint for an entire clan’s worth of adorable digits.

Go beyond the rules, social guidelines, habitual rage and narrow perspective that we all get caught in and base your worldly participation in baby-toe-cuteness, because you as an aware parent know personally, on a visceral level, that it leads you to a new place beyond labels and the limiting pettiness of social conformity.

Take your awestruck gooeyness and make it count.

What Kind of Neighbor Are You?

I was raised to keep to myself, and I’ve been searching ever since to find some kind of community in which I could participate and feel a sense of belonging.

Civil War Reenactment - Hickory, North Carolina - 2009

The representation in film and literature of tight groups, whether composed of soldiers, medieval villagers, gangsters, prisoners, or some other version of interdependent coexistence, I find irresistible.

Here in cyberspace it’s easy to be the perfect community member (although it’s near impossible to find the perfect community); you can edit your posts and comments before anyone ever sees them, you can show your best face and even avoid the internet altogether on those days that you know you would just be a bear on a rampage.

But in a real neighborhood, you will see each other on your worst days.  You will see each other chasing the dog across the yard in your p.j.s, you will run across each other on that day that you just wish the whole world would be vaporized, you will have to make nice when you just wish everyone would shut up and go away.

Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina - 2007

Our impending move has me pondering — besides thinking ahead to where to put the furniture, how to decorate, what to do with the yard, and all the physical details, I have to wonder, what kind of a neighbor will I be?

Now certainly this depends partly on what kind of neighbor everyone else is.  Everyone will be part of the Habitat for Humanity program, so we will have at least one thing in common, some sort of foundation for introductions.  Almost all of us have kids, and since I have a whole age range myself, I should certainly be able to relate to most people on that level.

What makes this really different for me is, I’ve never owned a home before.  I’ve always rented, and been around mostly renters, in which case, there is a lot less pressure.  You can think to yourself, maybe one of us will move soon, so why even strike up the first conversation with that weirdo over there?  You have the luxury of tolerating the temporary.

But we will all be there as homeowners in our Habitat neighborhood.  Not to say people won’t sell and move someday, but the possibility exists to a much greater degree that we will all be neighbors for the rest of our lives.  Like marrying someone you’ve never met, only it’s not even an arranged marriage where your parents see some kind of merit to the relationship, but an almost purely random wedding between complete strangers.

San Francisco, California - 2006

But we Americans are used to dealing with strangers, especially out in the Wild West of California, where we know just how to treat neighbors – like the suspicious strangers they are.  Don’t get me wrong, I did have a few good neighbors over the many years and in the many neighborhoods I resided on the West Coast.  I got a taste of what it might be like to live among friends, or at least comrades, or perhaps just among other individuals that you’ve established a polite civility with.

But it has to start with me.  What will my attitude be?  How will I present myself and my family?  How open or guarded will I be on a day-to-day basis?  Will I encourage bonds between my own children and the neighbors’ or will I try to be a barrier to keep my kids safe against the unknown?

Snow day for the neighborhood kids at Family Student Housing - Eugene, Oregon - 2007

Will I give in to my idealistic desires for community and try to be everyone’s great friend, or will I give into my ingrained fears of people and hold everyone at arm’s length?  Or will I walk a wise way balance somewhere in between?

Tell us, what is your neighborhood like?  Have you dealt with much conflict?  Have you developed techniques for dealing with the more unpleasant aspects of being a neighbor?  What kind of neighbor are you?

Finding a Spiritual Community

Should you join a church in which you like the congregation (a lot) but feel completely uninspired by the leadership?

I very much resonate with the principles, the vibe and the people at the UU church I have been visiting, but the regular minister as well as the visiting minister are not at all impressive, in my opinion.  How much should that matter?

The regular minister’s method of speaking is to ask questions he already knows the answers to and elicit all kinds of incorrect responses from the congregation before he finally tells us the right answer.  That annoys me when teachers do it and it annoys me when preachers do it.

The visiting minister’s style is to drone on and on until I want to fall asleep (ironically her sermon was about listening).  Her mechanical sing-song rhythm combined with her tired, cliché messages (I’m pretty sure we know already that we have to keep quiet with an open heart to actually hear someone) are the opposite of inspiring.  If you’re going to remind people of something they already know, for heaven’s sake throw in some new, fresh angle or compelling characters or amazing story, or at least deliver it with passion.

I thought I’d finally found a church home, but now I feel I’m back to square one.

Do you have a church home or other spiritual community?  How much do you like the leader?  How much should your like or dislike of the leader impact your attachment to the congregation?

Commitment to an Online Community

I’m currently part of two different online communities which coincidentally both declared that things had slowed too far down and they were interested in boosting participation.  After the leaders declared this, there hasn’t been any show of renewed commitment from them and the posts that I’ve written in response to their call for assistance have gone unanswered, even by them.

Is online community some pie in the sky vision that lots of people imagine would be cool but no one likes the reality of?

To me the advantages, while not outweighing actual real-time community, are many:

  1. The chance to meet and interact with an infinitely broad range of people
  2. The chance to communicate at any time of day, even when it would be rude to call someone, and your words can be accessed when it is convenient for the reader
  3. Developing a network of people who can help each other, offer advice based on their individual expertise and/or experience, so that whatever issue someone is having, someone will know someone who might be able to help
  4. Permanent community that won’t be affected by any kind of relocation in the real world – so that if change your job or move to another town or whatever, the online community will be in the same place and easily accessible, whereas with coworkers, neighbors and such, it is usually “out of sight, out of mind”

There are surely other positive aspects that I just can’t bring to mind yet.  I myself have tried to start Wise Way Tribe in a couple of different forums, but just could not get anyone to give enough of a crap.  Sometimes it would hurt my feelings but other times it just seemed like that was the way life was.  You can lead a horse to water, kind of thing.  You can’t make anyone share your vision.

So with these two communities, supposedly in renewal, it is someone else’s vision, which I am taking seriously and trying to throw my energy behind, and not even the admins are taking it seriously.  On one I even applied to be a moderator of a forum and it’s been almost 72 hours with not a word.  Shouldn’t an admin strike while the iron is hot?  Get that person on board before they lose interest?  (Of course, it’s entirely possible that they are not accepting my application, but that seems even more ridiculous.)

It makes me feel like a  naive little girl, thinking that a tea party would be fun so she gets the table set and her party dress on, but no one shows up.  Now I’m here with the tea getting cold and the cucumber sandwiches curling up at the edges, and it’s not even my party.

The Last Puzzle Piece

My 8 year old daughter and I recently did a 300 piece puzzle together.  It’s a really cool one with animals doing all kinds of silly things, the kind of puzzle where you grow attached to the various little characters and scenes within the whole picture.

So when we got to the end and we were missing a piece, I was quite disappointed.  “Great, we lost one!” I said (probably too loud) and proceeded to spend the next two minutes looking all around, even in other rooms, since the baby is notorious for taking off with little important bits and eating/losing them.

Just as I was giving up in despair, my 8 year old giggled and produced the piece from under her seat.  Grrr.

Now, she comes by this joke honestly, as it’s a tradition for my Dad to pull this trick on my Mom and I, but when he does it, he is standing at the ready as we put the last couple pieces in.  He doesn’t let us look around for it, he just swoops in and takes the glory of putting in the last puzzle piece.

My daughter and I discussed how this trick might be more fun for all in the future, and causing Mama extra stress is not part of the equation, but the whole experience made me realize that though there are 300 pieces in the puzzle, the most important and special one is the LAST one.

And how, don’t we all want to feel like the last puzzle piece?  There are billions of people in this world, many, many individuals in our communities and families and schools, but don’t we each want to feel like the one who will be missed if we aren’t there?  Don’t we each want someone to panic and search desperately for us?  Don’t we want to feel so precious that the whole project of life will be incomplete without us?

How often do we intend to make someone else feel like the last puzzle piece?  Our child, our partner, a dear friend?  And is it something we can do for a stranger in the grocery store, to look into their eyes and smile like they are the small bit we’d thought was lost but then we found it?  What joy!

I hope when you are here at Wise Way Tribe, you feel me reaching out across the time and space that separates my typing from your eyes moving across the screen, and that we can meet with a true connection.  I hope you know that your presence makes my puzzle complete.