Where’s your community?

By Caitlin Kelly

With the New York Times trivia team --- the year we won!
With the New York Times trivia team — the year we won!

So I’m a member of an on-line women/writers’ group, now my go-to site, a place I waste spend wayyyyyy too much time.

It’s a place where women across the U.S. and Canada, from the UAE to India, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, with varying views on sexual preference, ranging in age from 20s to 50s (very few of us!) rant, rave, laugh, weep, share, support and are forging some powerful emotional bonds.

There are women with multiple tattoos (I have none); women in graduate school and women teaching college; women working on some of the biggest television shows out there (!), those happily pregnant and those who never want to have children, and women frustratedly un or under-employed.

In American culture, at least, it’s rare to find a group of women who both raucously and respectfully disagree, let alone share stories and support that are not exclusively focused on one issue.

We talk about everything: work, men, women, family, drunken misadventures, marriage/divorce/dating, how to navigate new situations…Interestingly, we rarely talk about the mechanics of work. We have plenty of other places to do that.

Some of us finally met face to face last week. What a joy!

It was such a pleasure to just sit for hours and get to better know an eclectic, smart, funny, passionate group of women.

A view of my town, Tarrytown, NY
A view of my town, Tarrytown, NY

The one thing I’ve always craved, sought and struggled with is a sense of community.

Most people think of a geographic location when they use that word, but today, thanks to social media, we’re often much more connected — emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, professionally — to people we have yet to meet IRL (in real life), yet who passionately share our convictions, values and/or interests.

As I’ve written here before, I live in a place — the wealthy suburbs north of New York City — where I typically fail to connect meaningfully with many people. Women my age are corporate warriors with high six-figure salaries and husbands to match or stay-at-home mothers in enormous mansions grooming perfect children.

I don’t have children and we are not wealthy.

Not my crowd, for sure!

I began attending a local church in 1998 that Jose and I still visit every few weeks or so. But it, too, is too safe, white, wealthy and non-political for my tastes.

I also have been working alone at home, with kids or pets, since 2006. That solitude and isolation can start to feel claustrophobic without the company of others.

So community matters deeply to me.

I also left behind my country, culture and friends when I moved to New York in 1989. As a professional writer, I belong to several groups, on and off-line, that revolve around our work. But they are often simply transactional — Who’s the editor? What do they pay? — not social.

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus
Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

I recently began teaching at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and have already attended a four-hour orientation session, where I met a fellow instructor, a lively, friendly young woman. The school’s president invites us all to his home in mid-September for a reception, and I attended a celebration of their new MFA program, a two-hour affair (after four hours of class that day!)

It feels good to be welcomed, even as an adjunct, into a new, thriving and creative community.

Where, when and how do you find or build a sense of community?


16 thoughts on “Where’s your community?

  1. i’m happy for you caitlyn, it sounds like your community is coming together for you nicely. mine has been hobbled together with a mix of work colleagues from various jobs, and parents of children i’ve taught and have become close to. they’ve been a great support system, and people i can just be myself with.

  2. In May I met up with other fellow English speaking bloggers living in Germany. What a crazy and fun day talking about everything and nothing. Us from all over the world sharing the highs and lows of blogging and living abroad.

    How is teaching so far? Exhausted yet? 😉

    1. That sounds amazing! It’s so fun to finally meet people face to face.

      Why, yes! 🙂 My writing students just turned in their first assignment and I consider it a huge win that only one missed the deadline. They seem a really interesting mix and the campus is so beautiful it’s just a pleasure to be there in fall.

  3. What a good question. I work from home and my colleagues are more often in South Africa or Europe than in the United States. And yet–some of them are my community. My local friends, a couple of quite good ones, are another. And then there are the oldies but goodies–people who’ve known me since way back when. They keep me grounded, that’s for sure. I’ve never really been a posse gal–those women who travel in a pack. Never much liked women who travel in a pack anyway:).

  4. lexc13

    I used to participate a lot on an online poetry site. While the focus of the site was poetry and writing it also had a chat that many times went to very different subjects. Participating helped me through some difficult times. I got to meet a couple members in person but as time passed I found myself spending less time on the site or engaging in the community. It was easy to neglect with real world relationships and responsibilities taking up my time. I’m not sure I took my connections online as seriously. I favor relationships where I can meet face to face and do things together, or just chat. The online stuff was just something to fill time and space when I had nothing better to do. I’m starting to see that differently now and have been planned on spending some time connecting with people through that site again. This post convinced me that I may be losing out by neglecting that online community.

    1. Thanks for sharing this…

      I agree that real-life, face to face time is much more pleasurable in many ways….but I find my on-line relationships can also be quite profound. I do, of course, hope to meet many of them when possible.

  5. I love this post! It’s such an interesting question in this digital age, and a pertinent one for bloggers and other writer types who may work from home.

    I have developed a great online community of mothers–we had all chatted while pregnant on a big pregnancy/child-rearing forum and then about 12 of us broke off into a private Facebook group. It has been such a source of support for me, especially as an expat also living in a big city where it is difficult to make in-person connections.

    I also keep in touch with many friends via Facebook. I really appreciate that I can connect with these people that I don’t see in person very often at all because I live so far away.

    Many people lament the superficial nature of social media, and while I do think that this characterizes the majority of interaction in this space, it doesn’t have to be this way. I think it ultimately comes down to what you put into it.

    1. You’re also in Toronto, as I recall….my hometown….but not an easy place to break into socially, friends have told me.

      Working at/from home has many pleasures and benefits, but social isolation (hello, long cold winters!) is a real problem for some of us. Social media really is social in that regard!

      Glad this post resonated with you. 🙂

  6. I’ve been traveling alone for the past two months and found some incredible communities in my hostels. Everyone comes from a different place and background but we are all looking for the same things – new experiences, new friends, new culture. It’s interesting to see how much we have in common. I had a group of six in one hostel who had all read the novel I just finished!

    1. How fun! I hope (?) you’re blogging about it. I traveled alone for four months at your age (terrible phrase!) and was then too shy and introverted to try hostels. I’ve done it many times since and they are a lot more fun. Sounds like a great trip!

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