Yearning for a Front Porch

The sound of laughter and jokes from the front stoop below my bedroom window almost every summer night when I was around nine (my daughter’s age now) tortured me as I lay in bed, yearning for the days when I could stay up later, imagining that this tradition would carry over even after my more popular older (by five years) sister had moved on. I was wrong. By the time I was old enough to participate, there were only a few fleeting moments on my front stoop, as the neighborhood kids opted for other activities that I wasn’t always welcome at. (Let’s just say the neighborhood got a little rougher over those years).

I don’t have a lot of pictures of Deb and I when she was in high school, so this will have to do.

I feel like I missed out on something special.

Not that I didn’t have some time experiencing the porch life. There were the occasional games of Truth or Dare where I actually had to kiss a boy. The stoop became home base for games of tag that spread around the neighborhood.  There were hook-ups and break-ups (none which involved me, just the lone Truth or Dare kiss). But that only lasted one or two short summers, while my sister’s reign as queen of the neighborhood lasted pretty much throughout her teen years.

(Yes, I admit, I was jealous of her).

Of course, I had a few other front porch experiences as a child that live on in my memory. Perhaps the strongest of those memories was sitting on the front porch of my Great Aunt Irene’s house near the beach and listening to the stories of times gone by, of relatives long-gone, and of my father’s childhood that even as we speak fades deeper and deeper into lost memory.

As I was reading Kathy’s post called “Redefining Front-Porch Culture: Bloggers and a World-Wide Notion of Neighbor” flashes of these “front-porch” moments came into my head, and I realized that I really want a front-porch.  Our first house in Vermont had a lovely front porch, but it was on the corner of a busy street, and we weren’t there long enough to establish a front porch community. Actually, most of the meeting and chatting took place in the yard between two homes.

I miss that.

Our homes since then have been front-porch-less. Of course, in Durango, CO we would meet with friends in the neighborhood and chat in the driveway, but it still wasn’t the same. Again, we were on the curve of a somewhat busy street, so it wasn’t exactly the safest place for hanging out and chatting. I had to go to other people’s homes for that.

Now, in our current home, not only are we front-porch-less, but we are also up a steep driveway and hidden behind trees. It’s beautiful, but doesn’t lend to casual stopping by as someone takes a walk down the street.

No porch here.

Across the street from Sarah’s front window. A gap in the trees.

 

Kathy suggests that blogging is perhaps

“. . .  a front porch, of sorts—a place from which virtual neighbors come and go.  When we leave comments, we take the time to stay and ‘set a spell’.”

I like that image and that idea, but I still yearn for a real front porch. I want to live in a neighborhood where people know each other. I want to have friends that drop by for tea, and I want my house filled with the sound of children playing on the front porch or stoop.

I wonder if those kinds of neighborhoods even exist anymore? I’ll keep holding onto that dream and keep looking.

But for now, I guess I will enjoy my virtual front porch.

Would anyone like a cup of tea?

 

In Absence: Wisdom Learned from the Gaps

When I was in college I had a crush on a girl.

No . . . not that kind of crush. 😉 I had a crush on a group of women who would have been the popular kids in high school–the girls with brains, beauty, and all the guys. Blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect bodies, but also intelligent. They would have been the presidents of their classes, or the head of important committees. They were the people who traveled in the center while I remained on the fringe.

I admit, in what I now perceive as pathetic puppydom, I clamored for the attention of all of them, but of one person in particular. She gave it to me, while trying encourage me to perfect myself–to lose weight, to be less shy, to exercise more, to take risks. I lapped up her attention like a dog eats treats. I was there for her when she needed a shoulder to cry on, or when a boyfriend broke up with her, even sometimes when she needed a little extra spending money.

Truly pathetic.

It’s only now, years later, that I am able to see through the blinders of who they were and the thrall they cast on me. I was willing to do anything to spend time with them, and I tried to improve myself to be worthy of their attention.

Of course, eventually someone would cut me down, telling me that nobody would really want to spend time with someone who was not confident or came of depressed a lot of the time. I was working on that, seeing a counselor, trying to become a better me-0 but now I realize that they, perhaps unintentionally, kept my doubts and dismay alive. By having someone like me follow them around, glorifying their existence, it made them shine all the brighter.

I wasn’t completely stupid. When they truly cut me apart I would say “I don’t need them.” I had other friends, I had the theatre, I had really difficult major and an extremely challenging school. I focused on work and projects, making sure I never ate at the same time as them and was always busy.

If I did that long enough they would come looking for me. She would come looking for me.

Many of them went to different programs during Junior year, but I didn’t for numerous reasons. That year I thrived, I expanded new (healthier) friendships, I grew in confidence.  When they returned they didn’t have me as completely ensnared any more. I didn’t need them as much. But She in particular, still needed me.

When a woman in a position of power started harassing Her in the hopes of forming a relationship, She would run to me for help. I gave her advice, I played the middle man to try to soothe tensions, I helped solve the problem.

I thought we were best friends, but learned the truth after college when She never kept in touch. She didn’t even invite me to her wedding, when she invited everyone else.

Sometimes that still hurts.

But, looking back on that time from so many years ago, I learned something important. I learned that in absence, I am strong. I grew in strength when I allowed myself time alone, time away, time absent.

I’ve never allowed myself to be sucked in by the sheen of popularity again. I built walls around myself, entering friendships cautiously and carefully, tired of being used and hurt.

Then I started blogging.

In this strange world of the blogosphere, friendships form on the basis of words. We can only trust our instincts and the words written by people to find and form connections. We never know if someone is representing themselves in complete honesty, or creating a character which they share on-line.

That hasn’t stopped me. I’ve tried to make connections anyway, meeting people, in a virtual sense, who fascinate me even if we don’t agree on everything. I’ve connected outside of the blogs as well, a couple of times in person, but mostly over e-mail and/or Facebook. I admit to being seduced by some of the glitter of the popular kids here, the ones who have followings well beyond mine and manage to maintain their momentum. I made efforts to connect with some of them, but only maintained those connections if I felt they were real.

But how does one know its real, unless you meet in person?

As you know, a few weeks ago I decided to take a little time off from the regular blogging. I needed to re-evaluate everything in my life. I am at a crossroads and have yet to decide which direction I am heading. So I’ve only written a few posts. I have read some (although I admit not many–I apologize if you feel neglected) and commented here and there.

As should be expected, my numbers dropped.  A part of me felt saddened by the drop, but recognized that people don’t have time to read through the archive of my work if I am not producing new works. My absence did not, does not, change the fabric of the blogosphere–and I should not expect it would.

However, the longer I didn’t write, the more I began to wonder if my blogging even mattered to any of the people I’ve met here.

I know the answer. A few people have dropped in for comments, or said hi on Facebook. A few people have reached out through e-mails. And yesterday, the fabulous Victoria from Victoria-writes reached out to me when she had a little Wobble starting with the words, “How are you? I miss your blog posts!”

Magic words that made me realize that I have indeed created friendships with my words.

I know that someday, perhaps far in the future but someday, I will take the trip to England that I have always wanted to take. I will wander into a lovely coffee shop with decadent pastries and I will meet my long-time friend and blogging buddy, Victoria.  She will, of course, by then be a famous author, but she will make time in her busy schedule to meet with me. Offer our delicious treats we will discuss the trials and tribulations of writing, as well as our lives and our families, and the other things that connect us. I can see it now, and it makes me smile.

Her note made me realize that despite distance, I still have wonderful friends out there. As I was typing this, I got a message from a college friend (not one of the golden girls, a true friend) asking if I would like to try to get together sometime (she lives about 1 1/2 hours from me).

In absence I am learning what kind of friends I really want, and really need. In silence I am slowly discovering where I want to take my life, even if I am still unclear of the path. In not writing, I am writing, as I find new ways to form my words and new reasons to write them.

I still have a long way to go, but I am no longer the girl blinded by blonde hair and fairy dust.

I am present in my absence.

I realize now I may never be the center of the popular crowd, but I am content on the fringe, with the small group of friends who support, question, challenge and inspire.

There are many of them.

A fabulous couple!

Creating a Community

“He was the force behind the first community of professional writers in the New World, a community whose work and ideas underlie almost everything we write and think even.” (Susan Cheever, Louisa May Alcott)

Photo of American Transcendentalist, writer, a...

Image via Wikipedia

The above quote refers to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wanted to gather writers around him in Concord, MA. Sometimes he offered them a rent-free home, sometimes they simply visited, but it seems he managed to bring together some of the brightest creative minds of the 19th century.

This fact got me thinking about the changing face of community in our century. In many ways, this blogging community is a virtual gathering of the kind Emerson envisioned. I’m not saying we are all the most brilliant minds of our generation (although I’m sure some of you are) but the way we interact and write about our life and times will certainly have unforeseen effects on the future. It is already affecting the present; with easy access to information and each other’s words we have to reflect on artistic and intellectual property as well as on the proper ways of interaction in a community that has no real rules. Do we need rules?

There are no real leaders in this community. There are bloggers who have tons of followers, but some of them don’t seem to interact in the same way. Smaller bloggers guide each other to other blogs, in a way that creates a complicated web of relationships. When you think about it, this is a fascinating community guided–except for on rare occasions–by mutual respect and interest, rather than having leaders and followers. (Sounds almost socialist, doesn’t it?)

In the aftermath of my changing addresses, my numbers havedropped. At first this bothered me, but then I began to think about the advantages to a smaller, more intimate community. In a smaller community we can exchange ideas more readily, thus helping each person achieve their individual goals and strengthen themselves as artists and writers. In a smaller community, like those gathered around Emerson’s dinner table, we can really discuss and debate without having to slough through a lot of excess chatter.

While I’m sure many of us wish to “make it big” perhaps the true joy comes from the intimacy of a small community.

What are some of your thoughts? I’m struggling with what all this means to my little brain and the project that I’m pondering that brings many of our community stories together.

What communities do you belong to?

On a side note, I would like to point members of my community to this little video/post by Steve, who has given me a new perspective on myself and what I do.

I’m Back . . . Sort Of

I told you I just needed a tiny break.

I know, you’ve barely missed me, especially since I kind of posted anyway and even managed a couple of comments here and there. But I didn’t spend the whole day reading posts, writing posts, and commenting on posts. I read all of your wonderfully kind comments to me, and I truly appreciate every one of them. I just needed a little time to clear my head.

Even now, I approach the keyboard with hesitation, as I’m not sure what words will pour out or what I even want to say. I’m not blocked . . . it’s not that. I think I’m more overwhelmed by this community, by the complexities of our world, by all the transitions that have been happening in my life for the past three years, by amazing writers and friends like Mark and Vicky who are on their own journey of struggle right now and who I wish I could help but I don’t know how.

So I stopped. Just for a couple of days I stopped. I focused on finding movies to help me cry (only partially successful). I tried to sleep. I wrote in my morning pages. I spent time with my family. I tried not to stress about finding work or creating a meaningful life all over again. I tried not to feel alone.

I both succeeded and failed.

For several nights now I’ve had dreams too complicated to describe, but all with a common message that no matter how hard I tried I would never belong. Now, I know that’s not true, but I can’t help what my subconscious tries to feed me.

So this morning I woke up and completely melted down, at least partially. I held it together for Sarah. I almost held it together for Nathan. Then I cried, a little.

Finally, I went to help at the library at Sarah’s school, and that centered me. From there, I decided going home was a bad choice, so I took myself on an adventure to find a bookstore that I’ve been meaning to find. It turned out to be only so-so, but at least I broke my routine.

 I sat in the little cafe at the bookstore and tried to focus. Then I got an Facebook note from a young friend of mine, asking for my opinion as mentor and educator.  At first I didn’t want to deal with it, because it was on a topic that I’ve discussed with her before, but then I answered anyway. Through answering her question, I remembered myself as a talented mediator and mentor. I finished her answer and wrote a Hub called “Battling Depression in a World Gone Mad”.

You might wonder why I wrote it as a Hub rather than a post here. I had to approach it more as an observer–an observer of myself. I feel like here I can write with my more personal voice, and their I try to sound more logical. I’m much more comfortable writing here, but I had to analyze my thoughts there before I could share my thoughts here. Does that make sense?

So, I guess I’m back. Thank you all for your kindness and patience as I work my way into joy. Your thoughts helped a lot.

And now, a few moments of quiet beauty I found outside my back door after I got home.

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Today’s Aha! Moment

This morning I was interviewed for a profile in the local paper because someone suggested I might be an interesting person. I don’t know how interesting a character I am, but I’m flattered that someone thought I was interesting. I also hate interviews about myself, but if it means free publicity for the show I’m directing I do it anyway. I feel like telling my story, or talking about myself, just reveals how chaotic and direction-less my life has become.

After the interview I was struck by something. The reporter asked, “What made you end up in Kansas?”

What made you end up in Kansas?

This is the exact phrasing that every person who meets me uses. What made you end up in Kansas? It’s like Kansas is the end, the bottom, the lowest pit of hell; someplace you don’t want to end up in. No wonder I am having mixed feelings about this move.

Seriously, if the locals refer to this place in those terms, then why wouldn’t someone who never expected to move to the middle of nowhere be a little confused about what it means to be here?

I always feel guilty when people ask me how I am adjusting or if I like it here. I like some things. I’ve met some wonderful people. I’ve had some great opportunities. But, my truth is that I don’t feel at home and I don’t know that I ever will. I am open, however, to working hard and doing my best for this community for however long I stay.

But if the community implies somehow that it is “lesser than” should I feel guilty about my own confusion?

Aha! The answer is no. I will work hard and create wonderful things while I am here, but when the time comes for me to leave I will not look back (except to keep in touch with friends).

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