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...feed your soul with art & creativity!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Art of Building Community

We live in a time when virtual communities have widened our immediate community.  Some of the people in our virtual lives we have never actually met, though we often know intimate details of their lives and work.  The age of the Internet has apparently freed us to unburden ourselves of our deepest secrets, our most mundane thoughts and the trivia and minutiae of our lives which used to be reserved for those lucky few who comprised our "family" or friends.  Perhaps this is a good situation.  Perhaps it would be better for us all if we did not have this world-wide access to Every Man's Inner Thoughts.

Regardless of the debate of the good or evil of the Internet and Electronic Air Wave Community, the fact is that no matter how often we are online, in our chat rooms or boards, how many emails we send or receive, text messages that fly across the airwaves or posts of which we partake, we still need real, live contact with our fellow human beings.

Some people have chosen a life where they are born, live and die in the same location.  They have what I term "built in" community.  The stability of their community connections are deep and follow their own cycle of change, addition and natural attrition as they grow, their interests alter or they express or explore different avenues of work and play.  Most people in this group have at least a core of intimate connections and their community is solidly built.

Then there is the second group.  I call these the adventurers, the explorers and sometimes, the dissatisfieds.  I am of this group where I seem to have an inner drive to see new places, have new experiences and meet new people.  More than once, though I have deeply loved my initial core community, I have chosen to leave them.  Many of them have fallen away from my life.  It is very difficult, despite the Internet and virtual community access, to truly maintain closeness and intimacy from a distance.  The virtual world lacks the human touch component.

Since I was 18, I have traversed across the country several times and have actually lost count of how many times I have moved. Once I moved over 2500 miles from my home to a location with a population of over 5 Million people.  I knew exactly one person there when I arrived. It was a very different environment than the one I had left and the shock of the differences made it extremely difficult and slow for me to build community.   It's always been my choice to move.  Each time I have had to develop new community.  Over the past 28 years, I have refined the fine art of developing community.  Here is what I know:

1.  Start immediately.  Waiting "to meet" people spontaneously will happen, but it can be a slow road and very lonely in the meantime.

2.  Start by "joining"--find groups that share your interests--or interests you'd like to develop:  libraries and bookstores usually know of book clubs, churches and spiritual groups are usually quite welcoming to new members, take classes.  These are the three fastest ways I know of to begin to rebuild or develop community.  If you're one of those who have stayed in one place for a long time, this is still a great way to expand your community.

3.  If #2 is not yielding friends quickly enough (it does take time for people to open up and embrace us into their lives--the shortest period can be weeks or months but it can take some people longer), there are always support groups with which to start.  Find one that suits your needs--most people have something with which they could use some additional support.

4.  If you have a job, find co-workers with whom to have lunch.  It may take some time.  In one location I lived, the people at the large corporation were not used to a) taking lunch or b)having someone invite them to lunch.  In fact, when I would invite them, more than one person said "No thanks."  Eventually someone said, "No thanks. I'm not interested in Amway."  I said, "What?"  It turns out someone in the past had done lunch with people and then tried to sell them Amway.  Once I discovered this I prefaced everything with "No, I don't sell Amway.  It's just lunch to eat lunch and have some human companionship."  I began making friends.

5.  Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who don't have to work or have retired?  Volunteer.  There are thousands of organizations from which to choose.  Whether you are into life saving and crisis aversion, nature, literacy, helping save people from starving, art work, education, animals...no matter what your interests, there is bound to be an organization that could use your help and has other similarly motivated people helping them.  Plus it feels good to volunteer and help out.

We all need people.  We need family--whether it is our blood relations or those we love and care about most, friends and like minded connections with others.  While there may be some creative output that can result from the angst of loneliness, the output often is dark, depressing and sad.  There is a place for alone time and exploring those dark nights of the soul creatively, but I believe that it is true that "no man is an island."  We may feel lost for a while, but we must be able to connect with others.  We make art not just for ourselves and because we have that undeniable creative urge, but because we also have the need to share our creations, to help our community to understand life more, to give beauty and darkness, to document our humanity and our striving to be something more than these meat suits we wear.  Art and creativity are ingredients we humans need to keep our communities thriving and expanding.  We need art.  We need community.  We can never have too many true friends or too much art.  I challenge you this weekend to meet someone new and start developing a new friendship.