I am a member of a lot of communities. I have 772 friends on Facebook. Now, I have not even met all of these people face-to-face, but each one of them is part of a community I am a part of. Some are current or former students. Some are friends from high school or earlier. Some are people with whom I work. Some are people in the larger fields of rhetoric and composition. Some are gay men I know from local and regional gatherings. Some are friends from my various graduate programs. Some are people I met through being a relatively early blogger in the late 90s and early 00s. Within these larger communities are smaller communities. There are faculty who taught me in graduate school. There is the ProfHacker gang. There are people I worked with at the Houston Center for Photography when I was an undergrad.
There's a certain irony to all of this. I was the kid in elementary school who worked alone when other kids worked in groups or pairs. I remember in sixth grade language arts that we had an odd number of students. The teacher would often have us work in pairs, but I asked to work alone from the start, and she let me. She knew I could get the work done alone, and I think she saw something promising in me, so she wanted to encourage that. But that's a pattern that has run throughout my entire life. I am an introvert, no question. My husband's introversion is deeper than mine, but it is clearly an area where we mesh well. And that also says something about how I interact in my various communities.
I'm rarely at the center of things. I try not to be overbearing, but I also try to do my part and not disappear. And, in each of these communities, I tend to have a deep relationship with one or two others. Often, if I am in a group that I know I will be in for awhile, I try to find that one person who will be my confidant. And you know what's really funny? Most of those confidants turn out to be the same kind of woman. I'm talking hair color. I'm talking style of talking. I'm talking deep intelligence. I'm talking a sense of humor that can be both ribald and quirky. Those of you who know my best friend from high school will know the type. Seriously, it is kind of funny how I can list women who are quite similar and who often become that one person I connect with in a larger community, the individual who helps me get through the hard times and enjoy the good ones.
When I think about community, I think about individuals. I remember when I started my doctoral program. They had a meeting in the summer of all the new PhD students. I actually sat at the head of the table (they had nametags in alphabetical order, and I was in the middle) and looked around, wondering who would be the one who would be a crucial part of the next couple of years. I thought it would be one of the women but wasn't sure. On the first night of my first seminar on Women in Film, I walked in early, and one of those women was already there. That was it. We hit a movie the next afternoon and hung out constantly for two years. I'm not sure where she is now (there are people who are not on Facebook!), but I hear she's well.
But when I think of communities, I think of the people, the ones who are next to me as the community does its work, the people who make my life worth living.