Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Writing and (Virtual) Community

I often consider the notion that we write because we’re trying to bridge a gap of connection to others.

Before I had ever published, I longed for a community as if this would legitimize me as a writer. But even as I craved connection, I was wary of demands and expectations put on me, for example, if I took a writing class, or let an editor touch my work. All of which happened in due time, though not before I would let myself get burned, as I saw it. Hastily, I dropped classes before I could even know the name of a fellow student, and I cut off contact with an editor who was simply doing his job.

Writers seem to be everywhere, particularly where I live, in the Bay Area, and I have taken it for granted that I should be part of a writing community. Yet I have never been able to find a long standing, mutually beneficial community.

I would have liked to have established this writing community in grad school, but as much as I made the effort, it did not happen. I went to a low residency program, and it’s been difficult to maintain connections with my colleagues over the years. I seem to befriend people who, due to whatever exigencies of life, gave up their writing dreams, unlike me.

I’m not talking about a writer’s group, per se. I’ve been involved in these over the years, and I rarely find writers who are as serious and committed to writing as I am.

I have some writer acquaintances, but they are mostly long distance email connections (an editor on the east coast who liked my work; a writer in Los Angeles whose work I follow). In fact, when I communicate with other writers, it’s usually through the internet.

Possibly true, not entirely benign assumption: Writers who have established themselves don’t want anything to do with writers who have yet to establish themselves. And I, having established myself in my own way, don’t want to waste time with writers who aren’t at least as established as I am. And in reality, aren’t all writers established in their own ways?

I think not having a writing community might come down to my own resistance. I’ve always believed myself to be an outsider; I don’t feel entirely comfortable in any group. To be embraced by a group, is, for me, to be an imposter. If I were more active in the local community, it seems that I might meet more serious writers like myself. My loner status may be a way for me to actually do the work of writing, since I don’t have the distraction of people talking to me about their work.

I can see that it’s easy to suggest that I’m complaining about the ability to find a thing I want nothing to do with. But what if I just accept that this all embracing writing community is a fantasy?

In the lack an actual writing community, I believe publishing keeps me in the writing world, though it is essentially a virtual world. I think the privilege of publishing gives me a voice, and maybe, in my own uncharacteristic perception, this gives me a community. I may still long for that community connection, but I’m content at least to have my writing practice rewarded by occasional recognition.

Writing, as primary as it is to my life, of necessity comes after everything else (I’ve got a job, and a family that demands much of my time). But this doesn’t diminish writing’s vital importance to me.

Most of my friends and family know that I write, but I suspect few of them have read my work. This is possibly because I’m uncomfortable foisting it upon them, but it may just be that they are uncomfortable reading it--or, if they have read it, they probably wouldn’t talk about it. (I’m from the Midwest, where it’s not polite to make overtures about yourself). So it doesn’t come up. I think that if they are interested, they know where to find my work.

In my early adolescence, I struggled with feelings of inferiority and self-consciousness. I developed the notion that I would have to strive to do some (or many) things better than the average person. The habit has stayed with me; I’ve always worked hard on my creative work, possibly as overcompensation. My manner of coping, of overcoming, has been working on projects.

What these early struggles did was to allow me to discover my creativity, to go inward and cultivate a craft, and a knowledge base, that is invaluable. Writing has ultimately been an exploration into understanding myself. That I have gained this and found little of the community I once longed for--and expected--often feels like an acceptable trade-off.

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