The Need for Community
Updated: May 25, 2019
I live in a small town in rural Vermont. Most of my friends live an hour or more away, so I don't see them as much as I'd like. I work in a small nonprofit with just four other staff members three days a week, but am otherwise home writing alone. While I enjoy the solitude and space, I sometimes find myself craving human interaction. If I don't see people much I can become depressed and lonely. For the first two years my husband and I lived in Waitsfield, we didn't know anyone in town (OK, technically a work acquaintance of his, who is several years older than us, lives down the hill. But we don't hang out with him, so it doesn't count.). We don't go to church, we don't have kids, we work out of town. Luckily, I've been able to cultivate several communities that keep me going, give me a sense of camaraderie and connection, and bring me joy.
Writers groups have long been a salvation for me. The "Renegade Writers Group" has been meeting in and around Burlington for six years now. These people have become my close friends and most trusted readers. They've become important advisors to me, both in writing and in non-writing things. Whenever I write something new, I look forward to hearing what ideas they have for it; it's always something insightful. I am grateful to be part of such a smart, kind, and creative group. I've also had the pleasure of seeing early drafts of several books now on my shelves (all with sweet notes in them). I loved seeing how these ideas had developed into something beautiful, and knowing that I played some small part in that. I took pride in my name in the acknowledgements of some brilliant books, including Riverine by Angela Palm, People Who Hate America by Kim MacQueen, and Shape of the Sky by Shelagh Shapiro. (Read them. They're all great.)
For the last two summers, I've spent a week at the Lost River Writers Retreat in Lost River, West Virginia. It's a scenic and quiet place on a mountain ridge overlooking farmland. Ten writers spent a week working most of the day, taking in the scenery on walks or runs down the steep hill. In the evenings we'd get together for drinks and to discuss a story, essay, or article we all read. Two people lead the discussion, which is always lively and smart (sometimes, I'll admit, I felt a leeettle intimidated). It's like a more mature and thoughtful version of my writing and literature seminars at Sarah Lawrence College. The combination of solitary writing time, surrounded by other people hard at work, with a specific end time (5:30 drinks and reading discussion), it gave me just the right balance of structure and freedom. This was a different kind of community, one with similar goals, motivating each other silently. We'd run into each other in the kitchen or on a walk and talk about what we'd been working on, what we were struggling with. Talking it through often helped me to see my work in a new light.
I found another amazing writing community at the Bennington Writing Seminars. The beautiful people pictured above are some of the kindest, most supportive, and smartest people I know. We all went through this intensive and demanding MFA program together over two years. I've reached out to the group when I needed help or just motivation and they've always come through. I consider them some of my best friends. I've shared a lot of personal stuff I've through with them over the past few years because I trust these people completely. Through our shared passion for writing, I feel like we understand each other. The downside of graduating this past January is that I don't get to see them every six months anymore.
I also play soccer and hockey weekly these days, which gives me these close-knit groups that share wins and losses and injuries (for instance, I accidentally broke my friend John's pinkie chasing after a ball. For some reason, he's still talking to me.). Hockey works my body and gets out my emotions, reduces my anxiety, and always makes me feel better. There's a special bond formed in team competition. Especially the other night, when the opposing team was extremely dirty and rude, we banded together and won. Sharing those victories and frustrations with a group of people from their early twenties to fifties is a particular kind of friendship. You share this thing, this passion that excites and sometimes angers you. It's emotional. One of the beautiful things about sports is that you get to know people whom you might not have come across otherwise. After joining my local "Old Folks Football League" (meaning soccer for people thirty and over), I had friends in my community, some of whom I've gone skiing and for drinks with and run into at the farmer's market.
Following my passions for writing, reading, and sports has led me to good people who share them. They inspire me to show up and keep going, even when we lose, even when I get a rejection - and I get a lot of them. These communities are essential to my creativity, motivation, and mental health. They give me a place to turn to when I feel stuck, burned out, or hurt. Though I cherish my alone time, my time to read and write, I've realized I also need communities to keep me balanced.