Last week I wrote about the community support my mom has to help her after the passing of my dad. Some people thought it was a sad post, as I noted that my husband and I don’t have the same bonds with our community. I actually meant it to be a reflective post, to understand the importance of ties to people other than family.
So how does one build community?
My dad used to canvas for the Canadian Diabetes Association, so he knew most of his neighbours fairly well from knocking on their doors and soliciting donations. His advice to us was to have a barbeque and invite all the neighbours over. We could even talk about our water table. But I suspect that wouldn’t really work. We know our neighbour’s names and occupations, but they don’t really know who we are or what we do – and likely aren’t that interested, to be honest.
Our neighbourhood is not set up for socializing informally with neighbours: everyone is on 2.5 acres and has a long driveway, often gated, and no one really walks by – at least not our immediate neighbours. The woman at the end of the street who has the sheep that we can hear baaing some evenings will often yell hello as she walks by with her dog. But we don’t know her name or what she does – just where she lives and that she has a dog.
Another way to build community is to join a club – like I joined the local garden club when we first moved here. Unfortunately, most of the members were much older than I am, so I felt a bit out of place. I also joined a dog club to train our new (at the time) puppy, but although she got a solid foundation of training, it wasn’t a good way to meet people as it was so individualized.
Another option is to go to the gym or the pool and meet people who are always there at the same time you are. It’s a bit odd meeting people in your underwear in the change room, though, and with the COVID the pool has been shut down and we don’t go to the gym.
What I think it comes down to, though, is the fact that I’m an introvert who enjoys my own company. I am happy to go for solo walks or read a book or work on a piece of writing or fabric art. I don’t feel like I’m lonely. Sometimes I wish I had a friend to go for coffee with, but most of the time I’m fine doing things on my own.
Practically speaking, it’s hard for introverts like myself to build community, because it doesn’t come naturally. Most community-building exercises are not designed with introverts in mind. We’re not going to go knocking on people’s doors to solicit donations for a cause, for example.
Perhaps that’s where things like book clubs come in – you can read a book in the quiet of your own home and then talk about it with like-minded people once a month. Or if you live in a small enough town, like my friend who lives in Whitefish, Montana, you can strike up a friendship with the local bookstore clerk. Hmmm I’m seeing a pattern here – books as a way for introverts to build community.
I know there are a lot of virtual book clubs available – there’s one run by Zazie Todd, a pet expert in Maple Ridge, that reads an animal-related book a month. The Council of Science Editors has a virtual book club. In my Slack group of close science-writing friends, we often recommend books and articles to each other and give mini-reviews of books we’ve read or are reading. But it’s not the same as talking books in person. Sometimes I wish we could meet up in person and get caught up on everything going on in each other’s lives, and have the bigger conversations that are necessarily so pared down when we’re online. Now that would be my ideal community.
I feel like building community would be easier if we lived somewhere where you saw your neighbours more regularly on foot (here we are always in cars), if we had more like-minded people in our area (people who love books!), and if we had clubs to join that had more people like us (book clubs!). Well, maybe photography clubs are ok, too.
Now is also not the time to be building community with the COVID – you don’t want to put a bunch of new people in your bubble. But maybe next year, in spring, when we’ve had vaccinations and there is a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, maybe then is the time to put a community-building plan into action.