Where do you find community?


This was the Fireside Conference, three days in northern Ontario, with the most fun, smart, eclectic group I’ve ever met. I miss that!


By Caitlin Kelly

Many people opine now about how lonely we are, staring into our screens alone at home instead of bowling with friends or joining a choir or a knitting club or…

I grew up in a Toronto boarding school, ages eight to 13, which was, technically, a community in one respect but I rarely felt welcomed and was often in trouble and shunned accordingly. Finally in Grade Nine, I was told not to return.

Ages 8 to 16, I attended three summer camps, the last one being perhaps the closest to my ideal community, combining a lot of personal freedom to explore, to test my athletic and artistic limits (and thrive in both), to make deep friendships, some of them still strong today, and to feel completely valued even though I was a quirky little thing.

The nostalgic scent of sun-dried pine needles, the typical smell of camp, to this day soothes me deeply.

Today, finding mid-life face-to-face community feels elusive. I attended little formal education in the U.S. (a few years part-time at design school) so I have no alumni networks. We have no kids.

My right knee is now bone-on-bone, so I’ve been forbidden to jump or run, (foregoing my coed softball team of 15 years.)

I can’t read music so unable to join a choir. (Yes, I could learn.)

My passions are specific and nerdy — like antique textiles — so other than online, where to find fellow enthusiasts? I am completely enjoying my Instagram feed, where I follow textile designers, collectors and dealers, learning a great deal from each of them.

I belong to at least a dozen online writers’ groups, but none offer what I deeply crave — really smart high-level discussions of craft, great ideas, inspiration. It’s often a moan-fest/brag-fest, and too many are just too young and inexperienced.




Church? Not really. I love the physical space (our church was built in 1853), but I’m not a good fit within a wealthy, clique-y crowd.

Politics? Journalists are professionally expected to stay out of politics.

Neighbors? We live in an apartment building where (I counted!) I know almost half of our residents, by face or name (there are 100 apartments) but socially…No. Most are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many quite ill and frail.

The rest, as is everyone here, obsessed with work and family.

I’m very grateful for a husband who is excellent company, but he’s not my everything, nor should he be!

So it’s a challenge…

Oddly, or not, the closest I’ve got is my three-times-week spin class, where I’ve made a good friend and know I am welcome and known. I like our town very much, and I “know” many locals by sight, (and vice versa), certainly independent businesses like the third-generation-owned hardware store and a few local restaurants. But to me, that’s not the same.

Where do you find true, lively, inspiring community?


44 thoughts on “Where do you find community?

  1. rwh

    Activism!! I have always been active in my community, but after the shooting at Sandy Hook School I got involved with Moms Demand Action. We work hard to make change and I’ve met the smartest and most passionate advocates for all kinds of causes through it. I don’t know how I’d survive without these badass hardworking people.

    1. I know it’s a great fit for many people.

      I’ve never been an activist in my downtime — my reasoning (excuse?) is the imprecation against journalists being seen to do pretty much anything (including social media comments) that makes us look anything other than “objective.” I have to abide by (if I want to publish there) by the stringent NYTimes ethics code that (!) holds us to the same standards of behavior as its staff.

      Decades ago I wanted to help elect a woman mayor in Toronto and was seen — in a TV news shot — at her headquarters. That was a professional no-no.

      I haven’t marched here (although I support it) as someone who lives with a green card; i.e. can be deported at will. I’m 100 percent innocent of any possible crime, but not willing to take that risk.

      1. rwh

        There’s lots to do in a more private way! I now gave a leadership role and have some volunteers who Bever get in pictures and only work in the background. They still benefit from the sisterhood. Something to consider- I’m sure it’s the same with most Vol orgs.

      2. I know. It just doesn’t feel like a fit to me. But thanks for weighing in as I know it’s a great option for many.

        I may just not be much of a joiner, and that’s my problem.

  2. Rich

    I have not responded much, just reading your excellent blog posts. I am awaiting your next book, but what are your thoughts on a local writing group? As I suggest this, I had left mine several months ago as it was not a good fit. Just a suggestion. Please don’t ever stop writing and please don’t stop this blog. It is in many ways a lifeline for its readers to discuss topics in a personal way not found on other sites….

    1. Thanks.

      Next book? Don’t hold your breath…I would love to be writing more books but ran through five agents and 2 unsold proposals last year. I can’t waste that kind of energy and lost income so we’ll see when or how that happens. I really miss writing books but am not sure when the next one is likely.

      A writing group is a delicate thing…writers can be so insecure or coming with such different skills or differing expectations and that can affect a dynamic. I haven’t belonged to one, face to face, in decades and I do think they can be very helpful IF well chosen and well-run.

      I enjoy the blog so I don’t see stopping — and writing? That’s my income and I am doing less of it because I’ve done it for decades…but for now will still be doing it.

  3. I’m not much of a joiner either. I have three good friends who live quite distant from me and I made a more recent friend (I wasn’t expecting that) who is likely going to move in the summer. I’m not a joiner either and neither is my M. We do almost everything together as our interests are closely aligned. Our kids have their own lives and live far from us. At work I am the boss so there has to be some separation. So, community? Not really. It’s something I’ve considered at the back of my mind. Maybe it should be more at the front.

    1. Interesting.

      Jose and I have worked in journalism since college and we learned early to be selective about who we deem peers/colleagues/trusted friends within it, as we were both burned along the way by people who were less than terrific.

      I’m someone who loathes peer pressure and I do think every community, de facto, tends to exert some of that to create and sustain some homeostasis. So maybe that’s what I resist…?

      I also, by nature and training, am very very questioning of all dogma and rules and, again, most communities have them, spoken or unspoken.

      1. Most do have them. My work is governed by rules (laws) that have to be there and adhered to, but I agree, often the club or community rules are dogmatic. I sometimes wish I lived nearer my friends because really, they are my “community.” We have known each other for a long time, are close in age and have travelled together too. We have fun. One of my friend’s kids call me Mom 2 (their dad has passed but was out if the picture long before that) and I feel particularly close to them. But right now, I have work and that’s it. I don’t want to think about the unhealthy aspects of that.

      2. Just do whatever works best for you!

        My closest friends, really, live in BC and Ontario…have become quite disillusioned with some of my NY friends and their choices, so I’ve distanced myself.

        I devote a lot of energy to my work. I think it’s fine as long you’re not REALLY boring!

      3. Thanks for the vote of confidence. 🙂 Work is more or less my life right now and my M is very supportive. I know I am sometimes boring … I talk about work a lot but M will sometimes interrupt and say that I need to stop because he doesn’t understand and doesn’t need to! 🙂

  4. I’m lucky to be part of so many communities. The Jewish community, in Columbus mainly but also elsewhere. The Ohio State community. The writing community. The horror fan community. I’m a founding member of the Ohio chapter of the Horror Writers Association. We’re having a meeting in a little over two weeks. I’m looking forward to it.

  5. Mary-Jo

    I am going on the vestry. I would Luke very much to hear about the clicky aspects of church that turn you off. I hope to work toward more inclusiveness but need to understand better. Send me an email if you like.

  6. i’m a bit of a few different little communities, a small group of friends who connected when i taught their children or taught with them, a small group of old friends, my family, and i feel like a part of my city’s community somehow.

      1. i’ve kept a few from different times in my life and i’m happy for that, but I’m finding it very hard to connect on that level with new people at this point in life

      2. Exactly! I’m not sure why that is…I have more time than I used to, but I am also being much more selective about who I want to spend time with. A few people proved to be more exhausting than nourishing.

  7. Margaret

    I really enjoyed your post. I would love to join a writing group but am put off by my experiences with other groups where there are people who, quite frankly, just annoy me. I know that sounds really awful and I’m not a horrible person, but like you, I crave conversations that are deep and meaningful. Not necessarily serious, but thoughtful. I get really bored when people just rehash the news and don’t think for themselves.
    I work with some lovely women, but I’m thinking of retiring in about 12 months so I’m very keen to establish more of a community away from work, so any ideas are welcome.
    I wrote a post about this yesterday which was partly prompted by your post called “When does ambition fade” which I loved. I was planning to share your post, I hope that’s ok?


    1. Thanks!

      I think it’s an issue many of us grapple with, and I know, for sure as I age, I have much less patience to be around people I don’t enjoy. It stops me from attending church more frequently because there are people there — and I’ve been going, on and off now for 20years, who still can’t be bothered to say hello or be pleasant.

      Writing groups can be tricky, for sure! I’ve spent my life around other writers and have made some very good friends but of late have seen too many people stampeding into the writing world and demanding entree because….it feels cool to them. Not for me!

      Sure thing…

  8. Jan Jasper

    Another interesting topic, Caitlin. My sense of community, if you could call it that, used to be, sadly, networking groups I went to in Manhattan – I made some actual friends there, not just business friends. Since moving to New Jersey and semi-retiring, that no longer happens. I’ve noticed that people in NYC would usually ask – and not just at networking events – “What do you do?” Work is so central to the lives of New Yorkers. In central New Jersey, I am almost never asked that. Even though I’m mostly retired, my work, while largely in the rear-view mirror, is still a big part of my identity, My neighbors here are friendly, but they know almost nothing about me. I go to lectures of the secular/Atheist community in New Jersey, and I’ve made some friends, which is great because the secular community comprises of very science-minded people – they don’t ask my astrological sign, nor do they make nutty remarks about fate, Karma, “everything happens for a reason,” or similar delusional thinking. As the widespread suffering around the world worsens, that is important to me.- don’t blame the dispossesed for their misfortunes. I don’t really have a community, now.

    1. I worry quite a bit about this….as someone who’s been a writer from the age of 19. BUT…I also have a plan to start a photo website (we’ll see if that works!) and sell my my images, so there’s another identity.

      One of the challenges of American life is the endless emphasis on work, as being our sole or primary identity (and consumed by its demands) when we have (ideally) so many other interests! I want to study classical music history; floral arranging and film, to name only three of my passions….

      But will I be willing to lose my writing community? Not sure!

  9. yes, i think that i am a bit more discerning, and having lived life, a bit less tolerant of some of the negative qualities in people. life is short and i like to be near people who i feel positive about. that being said, it makes it harder to make those connections.

      1. I hope this doesn’t sound insensitive, but one thing I really fear is that I’ll keep working and then findi have some kind of mystery illness that prevents me from doing all the things I planned to do when I retired. I often think that I’ll be really annoyed if that happens so I should retire sooner rather than later, just in case.
        It’s a ridiculous notion I know!
        I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy good health all of my life but I sometimes worry that I’m too smug about my future. You seem to have managed your cancer diagnosis so well, I have marveled at your strength and fortitude.

      2. I think about it DAILY.

        My new motto (sort of true) is — post BC — I don’t care. I don’t care about work (the way I need to, given our stupid cost of living.) I dion’t care about being blunt. I don’t care about cutting off tedious people.

        I think this fear of yours is very real and quite common — my paternal grandfather, who I never got to meet — was a self-made millionaire from a tiny Irish town who came to Canada. Retired at 59. Dropped dead.

        That profoundly affected how my father lived (still alive and healthy at 90).

        I try not to think about cancer even though tomorrow morning I am back to see the oncologist to check my tolerance of my new medication (which is OK for now.)

        I just try not to think about it and am determined to enjoy the hell out of life while I have it. My diagnosis was a very good one so I have to try to be optimistic that I won’t get a recurrence and/or something worse…My GP said, “You have a nuisance, not a problem.” I only pray that this is true. Of course I am very scared at times but what can I do? Get on with it.

        I try to keep that POV.

  10. I’ve got to be honest here, I’m not very easy to like. I don’t suffer fools gladly and I’m generally not that willing to put in a whole lot of work on a relationship that is most likely going nowhere. I would never expect that from someone else, so I’m OK.
    My real friends know all about me, warts and all. I don’t have to bite my tongue or lie to spare their feelings because we all know how we feel, opinions aside, about one another.
    I’ve tried going to a couple mental health support groups but, unless they are moderated by someone who lives outside the experience, I don’t think they are all that helpful. The bipolar group I attended was, well, full of bipolar people. Half of us were bouncing off the walls and half were staring at their shoes. I spent some time doing both. Another group was a mixed bag of mental/emotional problems that seemed to always devolve into a contest to see who was the craziest. Gets boring fast.
    I guess I live in sort of a gated community. Black, gay, republican, brown, trans, white, liberal, any religion or none at all, none of these things exclude someone from the group. What does, however, is unwillingness to find some common ground and connect over that. We argue. Friends always should. The important part is that we don’t argue to prevail, but to understand one another and consider the effects on our opinions at our leisure. I think it’s a pretty rare thing to invert someone’s well-considered opinion on the weight of a single conversation. Agreement comes more slowly and carefully than that.
    There’s a sign up ahead that says “Albuquerque next left”, so I think I’m going to stop here before I digress all the way off the internet. Good post with lots of great comments, thank you.

    1. Groups are difficult.

      There’s always someone — or several — you dislike (and vice versa.) A true community (as camp was for me) allows room for difference and celebrates it. Our current church community is too wealthy/white/corporate for them to truly value what Jose and I do and why we chose to make far less $$$ and produce great journalism…it’s a mis-match in values. Not to mention the stay-at-home mothers who can’t even ask us a question.

      In general, though, I’m very uncomfortable around dogmatism of any kind. (she said dogmatically?)

      1. I don’t do church. When I tell people I don’t believe in God it’s not to say I don’t believe God exists, as that would be somewhat arrogant. Rather it is to say I have no confidence, no faith in God, much less the church.
        I really can’t abide the cliques. It’s like junior high school all over again, only not as honest. There I was a dork who wore stupid clothes and spoke with too many big words so Hell no, you can’t sit with us. At church I was loved by the Lord and accepted as a brother by the congregation. I was also a dork who wore stupid clothes and asked too many difficult questions so my brethren were always saving that empty seat for someone else. I do like the buildings, though.

      2. I love the physical space of our church (1853, same architect who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral) and many others.

        But am SO SO weary of the cliques. Just fed up.

        I plan to write a letter to our new rector (arrived barely a month or so ago) with some ideas. But I doubt this will shift much, sorry to say. I know I would likely find a much more hospitable crowd in a funkier/less wealthy/more diverse parish, esp. in NYC. But also lazy. I did try 2 other local churches and neither felt like a fit right away…and I have made a few good female friends in the one I am with now.

      3. I will also say, I find something very comforting to be in a spiritual community. I did an 8 day silent (yes) Buddhist retreat with Jose in the summer of 2011 before we married (he’s Buddhist) and it was really great to share that experience with 75 people from around the country and world.

  11. Many of my most important relationships have either started online, or are mostly maintained through the internet. At the moment I’m lucky in that there are people I like who live in walking distance, but I’ve done some years of being physically very isolated, and the internet has been my saviour. Reviewing books has often been the key thing here – even some of my local friends have been a consequence of book reviews. It’s easy to think of the online connections as less real, and it is certainly true that there are more benefits to be had from being in the same place, but any connection that works is worth investing in.

  12. Batsu

    Some time ago I borrowed a book on financial/business success from a friend, and was surprised to find a part of it dedicated to making friends. At first I thought it was very strange for adults to be reminded of the importance of friendship and how to build and maintain relationships, but as time has passed I think I’m beginning to understand what the author meant on a deeper level.

    Out of all the friends I’ve made and lost contact over the years, the only ones I really miss are my highscool friends. I knew my elementary school and college friends for a longer amount of time, but the reality is that I experienced far more of life’s hardships and joys during highschool: we learned how to drive, we went on trips together, got our first crappy jobs, helped after the loss of a parent, kept each other sane in our lousy dating, had lots of fun and helped each other get into and through the first semesters of college. After going throught that, college and work friendships have seemed like a repeat of the previous ones, and shorter lived as well.

    The point the book’s author made was that real friendship was maintained through a constant taking up and discharging of responsabilities and gifts, and that the best gifts were meaningful experiences. I think there’s more to friendship, and its big brother community, but I try to keep those basic ideas in the back of my mind.

    1. Thanks for this…lots to think about…

      I am still friends with one woman I attended high school with in Toronto and a few from my university days there. I’ve been careful to keep up my Canadian friendships even though I moved to NY in 1989 — these people know me well and I may still retire there part-time or full-time.

      The dividing line for me has been having to re-invent my career in NYC, which was very hard for a long time. My Canadian friends, most of them, never left Toronto so we have quite different adult life experience as professionals. Only those who have had to reinvent know what a toll that takes.

  13. I am really enjoying this conversation. There are so many aspects to community. Identity, self-worth, being truly known and admitting that we may not always be easy to like. Wonderful stuff.

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